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January 17, 2012

3

Keeping It Brill

by J-L Cauvin

I saw on Twitter this morning that Eddie Brill, the booker for The Late Show with David Letterman, had been fired as the booker for comedians on the show.  The official cause was “speaking to the press without authorization.” However,  it is clear that the furor over two quotes from the NY Times profile on him is what has caused the big problems “I see a lot of female comics who to please an audience will act like men” and “There are a lot less female comics who are authentic.”  Not to get lawyerish on this statement, but this is not an absolute statement.  This is not “women aren’t funny” or “All the women I see suck.”  This is an opinion of someone concerning the submissions he sees.  For the full article the link is below:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/arts/television/eddie-brill-and-the-comics-on-david-lettermans-show.html (http://www NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2012/01/12/arts/television/eddie-brill-and-the-comics-on-david-lettermans-show NULL.html)

I can see women getting upset over the lacking authenticity comment, but remember that the article discusses how Brill was basically booking mostly A-list comedians.  That is one way to maintain the prestige of the show.  And also Brill appears very particular about the style of comedy he wanted on the show.  This was someone who said Eddie Murphy in his prime would not be right for the show and also rejected Anthony Jeselnik, who is one of the rising stars of stand up.  But if Brill is looking to book mostly the top comics, who are they?

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(between you and me I think we should have booked Joy Behar)

Well, Laughspin.com, a popular site for comedy news and a strong advocate of women in comedy, releases a top 10 comedy albums list every year.  Of the last three years here are the tallies:

  • 2009 – 8 male comedians, 2 female comedians
  • 2010 – 10 male comedians, 0 female comedians
  • 2011 – 9 male comedians, 1 female comedian

And yet no one is bashing Laughspin for their underrepresentation of female comics on their list?

In 2010 Forbes released a list of the biggest money makers in stand up comedy for the year.  9 were men. 1 (Chelsea Handler at #4) was a woman.

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These are sources that are not accused of sexism or discrimination (it would be hard to fire or boycott money), but they bear out that at this point in comedy, regardless of how accomplished Tina Fey is as a writer, how many sketches Kristin Wiig is in on Saturday Night Live or how many people see Bridesmaids, that the upper echelon of stand up, regardless of cause, is comprised of men.  And while I understand diversity in many forms as a good thing – in entertainment I believe in letting the market and merit guide us (which sometimes leads to tragedies known as Adam Sandler’s last decade).

Now I know when some females in comedy read this they are somehow going to extrapolate that I am hateful and sexist from this, but this is the environment and the culture that Eddie Brill is from and the resources he is looking through.  Brill may have articulated in a less than stellar approach, but the fact is America clearly has a preference, at this point in time, where their stand up comedy dollars go.  It is not a bad thing or a good thing. It is just a thing.

I keep reading over comments by people saying “diversity makes for better lineups in comedy.”  THESE ARE NOT LINEUPS.  Letterman had 22 stand-up comedians appear over the course of an entire year.  Those are individual sets that occur sporadically.  You obviously do not want the exact same schtick each time, but when you have Bill Burr, Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK, Ted Alexandro, Tommy Johnagan, etc. can their really be complaints about the talent?

Women and men have different voices (a lot of the time) because of their respective experiences.  So do alternative and mainstream comedians.  But somehow Jimmy Fallon being a haven for alternative comedians with 3 minutes of television material for 5 minutes spots arouses no anger, but 1 woman out of 22 comedians in 2011 became a highly offensive incident.  Perhaps he does not like the majority of female comedians.  Why is that necessarily a sex/gender issue?  Perhaps he does not identify as well with the vast majority of female voices.  That does not necessarily make him a bad, sexist or hateful person.  And guess what – based on economics and album reviews, it appears he is not alone in preferring the comedy of men.  Not necessarily because they are men, but perhaps because they happen to be the majority of the top tier of stand up talent right now.  That may change, but it may not.

It sort of feels the same as when Don Imus was fired for calling the Rutgers Women’s Hoops Team “nappy headed hoes.”  I am no Imus fan, but to this day I believe it was a disgrace that he got fired for that.  But this actually feels worse because with Imus – it looked like America was taking comedy too seriously.  But here it appears that comedians are taking themselves too seriously.  Eddie Brill has rejected me twice for The Late Show, but he did something that other networks and shows have never bothered to do: he emailed me a respectful and helpful critique geared towards his preferences.  And my thought after one of them was, “well I guess I probably won’t get on Letterman” because I felt like what he was looking for me was not really what I did.  But I was OK with that because respect is such a rare commodity in this business that I felt like I could have some dignity after my interaction with Brill.  He is clearly someone who respects what comedians do and cares about stand up.  And it certainly is not as bad as something a friend of mine heard the high priest of comedy, Louis CK, say a decade or so ago at the bar at the Comic Strip, (“There’s no such thing as funny women.”).

But Eddie Brill had something we all wanted – spots on The Late Show, so because he had some less than politically correct statements (perhaps he still thought some degree of honesty could be respected by comedians) he no longer has what we want.  So it will be a few days and then we will cease to give a sh*t about Eddie Brill or what he said.

So Jimmy Fallon books alternative comics because he digs that voice, but Eddie Brill booked more men because perhaps he liked that voice and perspective. One is OK and one is not.  So I guess there will have to be more women on Letterman next year (how embarrassing and perplexing if there aren’t).  And that is not a good thing or a bad thing in my opinion. It’s just a thing. Unless they suck.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Don
    Jan 18 2012

    I feel the exact same way. I’ve watched to so many female comedians and my first thought was that they were not believable. I simply didn’t believe what they were telling me. They came across as trying to be funny and cute rather than honest so I could relate to it. Not sexist, just fact. And then here’s Brill getting fired for being honest. Man you’d think of ANY industry, the comedy industry would be the one where you don’t want people censoring themselves. The comedy is in the truth.

  2. Josh Carter (http://www NULL.joshcarterisfunny NULL.com)
    Jan 18 2012

    Great article JL! Although I may have disagreed with you on Imus at the time, looking back it wasn’t really that bad. It’s interesting how your views on things like affirmative action can change when it happens in an industry that you’re passionate about (my opinion of it at least).

    Keep Up The Good Work!
    JC

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