Louis CK created, wrote, directed and edited most of his new TV comedy on FX, Louie, but he has fought with YouTube and FOX this weekend over sharing his content with the masses. After a couple of attempts, he says this comedian poker roundtable scene -- which if you didn't catch it last week, aired in a cold open for the second episode -- is available for your viewing pleasure.
In it, comedian Rick Crom has to defend his homosexuality after several barbed comments from Nick DiPaolo and jokes from others at the table: Jim Norton, Hannibal Buress, Eddie Brill and Louis CK. Crom also answers CK's question about the use of the word "faggot" onstage with a history lesson. Needless to say, language therein is Not Safe For Work. Roll it. Fun fact: In real life, Brill has been hosting the long-running weekly comedian poker game for 17 years now; William Stephenson (not pictured here, but pictured in the Louie premiere) acts as t
Earlier this month, Eddie Brill performed stand-up on The Late Show with David Letterman. If you're an aspiring comedian who wants to get your own spot on Letterman, you might want to take extra notice of this because Brill also books the comedians for the show.
Which is one of a couple of complications for Brill. If he's booking himself, that's one less spot for everybody else. Also, Brill serves as the daily warm-up comic for Letterman's studio audience. If you've ever been to a comedy club where you later see the doorman or the ticket-taker onstage, it's that disconnect, multiplied by the factor of network television. Brill told me that of the nine times he has done Letterman (he has worked on the show for more than 12 years), he's dealt with the audience in a variety of ways beforehand -- from not mentioning he'd also be introduced by Letterman during the show (awkward surprise!), to not doing the warm-up (regular surprise!), to what he did this most recent time, which was to get any awkwardness out of the way during the warm-up. He told me Letterman was interested to hear his latest stand-up set and gave him kudos afterward. Let's roll the clip so you can see him in action:
You might take some solace in knowing that just like many of you comics out there, Brill told me he second-guessed a couple of things he said and how he worded things, knowing that he'd already have a better take on it for the next headlining set when he's on the road. I gave him a bit of his own medicine, too, by exchanging a couple of notes I would have had for him had I been Eddie Brill counseling him on his Letterman set. If you guessed that one of them had to do with cutting out part of the bit on Noah and the Ark, then you win the imaginary prize of your choice. Now. Everybody back to work.
UPDATED WITH VIDEO! Boston-based comedian Joe Wong will make his network television debut tonight on Late Show with David Letterman, and many of you will be seeing him for the first time. Wong taped his set on Monday and was terrific. Which is great news, not only for Wong, but also for Eddie Brill, who books the comedians for the show (and also warms up the studio audiences) and gets credit now for giving Wong his big break. Wong, a Chinese immigrant who graduated from Rice University in Houston, would joke a lot about the clashing cultures when he emerged in the Boston comedy scene. I remember seeing Wong more than hold his own on the lineup of a charity show three years ago that wedged him between Lenny Clarke and Steven Wright. Audiences warm easily to him. Here's a quick joke from Wong:
My friend Nick Zaino talked to both Brill and Wong about how they worked together for years to get the comedian ready for his TV debut. One tip that stood out to me was how Wong has changed his facial expressions since I last saw him.
"I used to laugh or smile after my jokes," he says. "So they put a stop on that one. After that, I do the jokes with more of a straight face, and it actually works better. That's something I never noticed before he pointed it out."
Related: Eddie Brill offers his next six-hour "intensive feedback workshop" for comedians on Saturday, April 18, at Gotham Comedy Club. There was still an opening or two for this limited day-long workshop when Brill and I chatted this morning.
UPDATED WITH BETTER VIDEO! So much to love about this clip. How Wong looks without smiling after the jokes. How he pauses between tags to allow each one to hit. How the jacket makes him look so young. How innocently he reacts after his set, wanting a quick bow and heading offstage, as if it were just another set. Great job, Joe! Will include this clip until Wong and/or CBS puts an official one up. Enjoy:
Whether you want to see David Letterman or tell jokes on his TV show, your gatekeeper remains the same. Paging Eddie Brill!
That's because Brill has two jobs on The Late Show with David Letterman, warming up the live audiences at Letterman's Broadway "Ed Sullivan" theater each weeknight, then also booking the comedians who perform on the late-night TV show. The first part is easy, Brill says. "We've got it down to a science," he says. "It's like hosting. You're an emcee. Our whole job is to take an audience that is not cohesive and cohese them. That's the best way to describe it."
How much of a science is it? Watching it unfold is, well, literally, clockwork. Eighteen minutes before the hour, Brill bounds onstage with the microphone, says hello and introduces a hilarious classic clip of Letterman working the Taco Bell drive-thru to get the crowd in the right frame of mind, and remind them about just who they're here to see. Then Brill gets a few minutes to warm up the crowd, joking about New York City and how much Times Square has changed in recent years. Examples: We now have an Applebee's, we no longer get to play the Adam's Apple or Not game. "That game's gone," Brill tells the audience. Within a few minutes, it's time for announcer Alan Kalter to take the stage and Brill introduces the band members one by one. The band plays. Here comes Paul Shaffer. Then Letterman himself leaps into the picture, riffs on whatever is on his mind, takes a question, and away we go. Whiz, bang, boom. Time to start the show."The whole thing about it is being positive and letting them know exactly what they're going to see and let them know they're a very important part of the show," Brill says. "We want them to be involved. They're our soundtrack."
Brill recalls a recent weekend in Atlanta at the Punchline in which he and the other comedians on the bill had varying degrees of success with the audience. "First show on Friday, everybody felt out of sorts, none of us felt like we'd connected," he said. "But the second show was magical. Everything was clicking."
On the weekends or when Letterman is in reruns, Brill is on the road, traveling the globe performing in comedy clubs and scouting new talent. "I probably do 20 to 25 showcases a year," Brill says. "Clubs will let me do a showcase of comics when I come in to work the club. I work all over the world, and I'll be able to see comics from that country. That's very helpful to me."
A veteran stand-up comedian himself, Brill has worked with the Late Show for more than 11 years, booking comedians for the show since March 2001. How has his job impacted his relationship with his fellow comics? "I had already booked a comedy club in New York in the 1980s," he says. "Knowing what it's like and being a comedian whose dream was to do the Letterman show, I was aware of that, so I made myself very approachable. And I'm also very honest with the comedians." He can see the difference in how comedians treat him publicly. "The good thing is, people respect my stand-up, and that kind of helps," he says. "The weird thing is, I have to say 'No' 99 percent of the time."
Thousands of comics ask and beg to get on the show, but Brill only had 15 slots to hand out each of the past two years. His best advice for comedians looking to get on the show? First of all, you'll need poise to make it on TV. Be smart. Be clever. Comics also need to know that while profanity might get them laughs in the club, it's never going to fly on network television. "All I know is that it's not the Eddie Brill show, it's David Letterman's. So I have to book comedians that make David laugh, the style he wants on the show. He wants material-based comedians. The real one-of-a-kind, one-of-an-art comics," he says. "Not the most popular comics. If a comic is very popular that's a bonus, but most times, that doesn't match."
What common mistakes do comics make when trying to impress you?
Eight finalists have made it to tonight to compete for nice prize money and who knows what other rewards at the inaugural Great American Comedy Festival. And they are...
Erin Jackson, Shane Mauss, Deacon Gray, Marianne Sierk, Chris Coccia, Drake Witham, Jim McDonald and Chuck Bartell. Really a cross-section of America, come to think of it. How about that. They'll tell jokes again tonight in Norfolk, Neb., at the 1,234-seat Johnny Carson Theater, although this time, their judges will be Robert Klein, Dick Cavett and Wende Curtis (owner of Comedy Works in Denver).
Some other info, courtesy of Mr. Eddie Brill, coordinator of the fest:
The winner gets $5,000, but second and third place aren't exactly shabby, taking home $3,000 and $2,000, respectively. Also, Brill notes: "The Saturday night gala will be hosted by Robert Klein. Also performing that night is Nick Griffin, Jeff Caldwell, myself, The Brave New Workshop, and the three top money winners from the comedy finals. Jeff Caldwell is hosting the preliminaries. I am hosting the finals of the comedy competition. Nick Griffin will be closing the competition shows while the judges votes are tabulated." Cavett, who will receive a Legend Award, will take Qs & give As. Other events include a weeklong comedy camp for kids, workshops and a Christian comedy show.
Related: Did you know Dick Cavett blogs for the New York Times?
The inaugural Great American Comedy Festival got under way last night with an amateur stand-up contest in Norfolk, Neb., hometown to the late Johnny Carson. Eddie Brill, David Letterman's comedy guy, is coordinating the effort, and we all know how Letterman felt about his late-night TV mentor. Robert Klein is set to perform Saturday night along with Brill and the winner of the following...
There's also a competition featuring 24 comics from around the country, with $5,000 going to the winner. Participating: Jesse Joyce, Vince Maranto, Micah Sherman, Matt Braunger, Roy Wood Jr., Erin Jackson, Joe DeRosa, Chuck Bartell, Chris Coccia, Deacon Gray, Robert Mac, Jamie Lissow, David Powell, Paul Varghese, Drake Witham, Myq Kaplan, Joe Klocek, Shane Mauss, Tapan Trivedi, Jim McDonald, Dan Boulger, Marianne Sierk, James Smith and Darryl Lenox. They'll be split into four groups, with two of each six advancing to the finals, all needing to deliver TV-friendly sets. Each night also features a late show hosted by David Reinitz.
Eddie Brill just handed the reins of the show back to host William Stephenson for the final "regularly scheduled" two-hour show to get us to 50 hours, and Stephenson's voice is breaking up a bit as he gets this final audience ready and rarin' to laugh. "We've already done something that has never been done," he says. First up to finish it out...Christian Finnegan.
Before I get to recapping the year in comedy, circa 2007, let's look back at some of my more illuminating, insightful and interesting comedy interviews from the year.
My sit-down with Ricky Gervais has to take the top spot in my mind, because his strongly held opinions on sticking to your creative guns and not sacrificing your beliefs in your own sense of humor (and humour) are words that any creative artists -- whether they're comedians, musicians, writers or actors -- can live by.
A close second, then, has to have been my September face-to-face with Dane Cook. Arguably the biggest headliner in the country this year and last, in terms of tickets and CDs sold, Cook met me in a Manhattan hotel lounge as part of his promotional tour for Good Luck Chuck. But we barely talked about the movie, instead tackling every question you've probably wanted to hear Cook answer, and then some. He even brought up Louis CK!
Speaking of whom, Louis CK was just one of the many other bright lights of comedy I got to talk to at length in 2007 -- the others included Nick Swardson, Christian Finnegan, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Ian Black, Eddie Brill, Bob Saget, Artie Lange, Doug Benson, Damon Wayans, Charlie Murphy, Frank Caliendo and Tim Minchin. Of course, there were hundreds of other comedians I got to witness and talk to this past year, and hopefully, I'll get to tell you more about all of them in 2008.
Meet Eddie Brill. You want to get on The Late Show with David Letterman as a stand-up comedian? Well, you’re going to have to impress Brill first.
Eddie Brill is the comedy booker and audience warm-up comic for Letterman. On the weekends, Brill also tours the country as a club headliner, sometimes often scheduling a Letterman audition showcase around his travels.
On Tuesday night, however, he didn’t have to travel far. Gotham Comedy Club put 10 comics on for him as part of the New York Underground Comedy Festival. Two of the performers — Jeff Caldwell and Ted Alexandro — didn’t have as much to worry about. They’d already done Letterman once already. For the other comics, this was their big opportunity to let Brill know they’re ready for network TV.
So...how’d they do?
We went straight to Brill for answers, and guidance on how any comedian can make their way onto Letterman.
Brill said Caldwell is booked for Oct. 19. He wanted to see what Caldwell hoped to do onstage “so we can pick and choose” what’ll make it on-air. For Alexandro, Brill said he hadn’t seen him in a while, and “I wanted to see how he put it together.”
As for the others?
“ Joe DeRosa did a nice job. He was very good. I liked Pat Dixon. He has some work to do, though...Some of them I’ve seen for the first time,” Brill said. “I thought Bobby Kelly’s bit was hilarious, and I’m sure I can find other material from him to work around.”
Most comics you see are pros who’ve been performing for years. But are there any common mistakes you see them make in auditioning for you?
“People get nervous, obviously, and it shows in their act. You can’t be nervous on our show. What we’re looking for is poise.”
Are there some topics that work better than others in impressing you? Things you cannot say on Letterman?
“It’s pretty hard to tell someone what we’re looking for. If they wanted to they could easily call me and text me but a lot of them don’t.”
More than a few of the comics brought up religion. Is that a big no-no for TV?
“I’ve been talking about it a lot onstage myself...It’s a very uptight time, and comedians tend to hit those taboos.”
But isn’t it too taboo for Letterman?
“No. It’s not true at all. We’ve had Sam Kinison on Letterman, Bill Hicks on Letterman. Of course, there’s the history with Bill Hicks...”
“You have to be responsible and have a pespective that’s funny...as long as it’s an original perspective, it’s smart and it’s funny.”
What are the big mistakes you hear comics make in choosing material for you?
“Some people just talk a lot about drinking and getting high. That’s easy comedy. We try to stay away from that. Also, when a person comes out to do a set for television, they need to get the audience in the first 20 seconds. They have to establish that yes, they can do the job, they can make people laugh. Some people are too wordy, they take too long to get to the joke.”
How do the newbies tend to fare in your eyes?
“For a newbie, it depends. You can knock it out of the park, but most times they don’t. I’ll talk to them afterward...if they get what I’m talking about right away, that’s great. Sometimes they come back a few years later...It’s not something you can get right away. They may be funny comics...but they just don’t have the wherewithall yet. They don’t have their stage legs yet. Dave Chappelle hit a grand-slam home-run right out of the park, but most comics don’t do that.”
So how long then before they can come back and show you how much they’ve learned and improved?
“Probably six months to a year. Here’s the thing. I don’t have to see them live every time. I can see them on a tape or DVD. If they think they can get it two months later and send me a tape, great, we can work on it.
“I audition thousands of people all over the world. Next week, I’m going to London, Ontario, having an audition for Letterman. Two weeks after that, I’m going to do an audition in San Francisco. The week before I had an audition in Vancouver.”
And, of course, all of these comedians are competing for slots with the regular comedians Letterman has on every year.
“Sometimes it can take a year and a half. Again, it matters how many spots I get a year. Anytime one of the regulars has an HBO special or some kind of TV deal or movie coming out, we’d be more than happy to get them back on the program...This year, I think I had three new spots already. Last year, I had three new comics on. I always try to break somebody new.
“We had Nick Griffin. He signed with the company. Caldwell had one of the best sets ever. Roy Wood, Jr., had a great spot. We’re shooting for another one in the next month or two...”
The last time we talked in Montreal, you talked about trying to convince the show to add more slots for comedians. (He told me then that it was somewhere around one per week, maybe less.) How is that going?
“It’s always a struggle, but it’s worth the fight.”