The Funny Side of Life
Quazi ZulquarNain Islam
On stage, Eddie Brill looks every inch the multiple award winning comedian that he is. He focuses on topics as diverse as religion, politics and sex, but with each his delivery is equally flawless. His routine is witty and innovative at the right places. His comedy is rarely physical yet it packs a punch. Most importantly, he is self-effacing and as with all great comedians, his timing is exceptional.
Eddie Brill performed at the Amazon Club, Dhaka on December 2 and 3.
But then again, you would hardly expect anything less from a man who earns his bread doing the same on CBS' iconic Late Show with David Letterman.
Yes, that David Letterman.
"David is great. He is very smart and curious. He is going to ask me a million questions about Bangladesh when I return," says Brill when we meet up at his hotel, the day after his first show leaves audiences with splits down their sides.
And what will be Brill's response?
A smile breaks across his features. "I loved it here," he says. "The weather is fantastic and the people are so hospitable."
Coming from Brill, the lines somehow don't seem rehearsed. Plus, already in his short stay, he has been around the city more than many locals.
"I went down to Old Dhaka. And a few hours later I went to the American Club. That was an experience. From seeing starving people on the roadside to watching big blokes sit next to the pool and stuff their faces with burgers, all in that short span of time." Brill gesticulates to make his point. "It's like one of those old Vietnam movies where they cut immediately from a war scene into a pool scene with babes splashing in the water."
But that is perhaps the unique duality of Dhaka, I argue.
No, that is the duality of almost all big cities, he counters.
"Sometimes you see the poor people and sometimes you don't," he says. "But they are there, even in the US.
"What this trip has taught me is that people around the world are very similar," continues Eddie. "Wherever you live, wherever you are born, there are so many things that cut across your cultural barriers. Which is why I focused on topics like politics and friendship and funny anecdotes yesterday," he says.
…and sex and religion too, I venture.
He sighs. "Yes, I was a little bit worried about that. I had been forewarned that those might be taboo topics, and so I was wary. But once I got going and saw the kind of reception that I was getting, there was no looking back," says Brill.
And Brill, it seems, has made a career of doing exactly that. His stint at the David Letterman Show was supposed to be a two month trial in the late nineties. But already it has been fourteen years and he is still going strong.
Ironically, Brill's journey into a life of comedy started in tragedy. His high school grades were exceptional and he managed to get into a math and science program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), no less. But the sudden death of his step-father gave his life a new turn and made him ponder the pursuit of a more creative endeavour: journalism.
"I thought studying news would give my life new meaning," jokes Brill in one of his routines. "Unfortunately, I was wrong."
The audience laughs; every single one of them has made a similar decision in their lives. They can relate.
And that says Brill, is the key to good comedy.
"You have to relate to your audience. It is important for them to know that we are, for better or worse, in this together."
Or as he argued so persuasively with one member of the audience during his show; "I am not laughing at you; I am laughing with you."
Brill's baby steps in comedy came during his years at Emerson College studying news. "I met a lot of funny people and we formed a club and we were thankfully very successful. And I guess that was it," he says.
During the intervening period he has tried his hand at doing other things. Copywriting for advertising firms amongst them, but nothing has given him more pleasure than doing stand-up comedy.
"I actually have something like ten jobs and thus most of the time I am incredibly busy," says Brill, "…but stand-up is my bread and butter."
Brill isn't lying (a pet peeve he says) when he says that. Not only is he involved in his own stand up routines but he books upcoming comedians for the Letterman show, develops content and organises shows around the country. He is also a humour consultant for the Readers Digest.
And despite all of that, he still finds time to come to Bangladesh for a show.
He smiles when posed with the question but the belief is that comedy allows Brill to be himself and more importantly, truthful. On stage, he doesn't have to placate anyone.
"Comedy allows you to bring up topics with people you would normally not be able to bring up with them. It makes people more open-minded and accepting," says Brill.
The evidence certainly supports his claim. Where else but at a comedy show can you get up on stage and tell people that Jesus was most likely a dark-skinned Middle Eastern man, rather than the stomach-crunching, blue-eyed, blond haired, Brad Pitt clone most of the western media would have you believe?
Laughter, says Brill, is essential; a key ingredient of life that often gets overlooked but has numerous benefits.
"Hey, look at me. I have ad-libbed my way through life," quips Brill, putting himself forward as an example, "…and I seem to have done just fine."
So it seems has Naveed Mahbub, Bangladesh's very own stand-up comedian, who managed to convince Brill to tour Bangladesh.
"Naveed and I are discussing certain details. The idea will be to have someone from our group tour here frequently. Let's see where we get with that."
The idea is enticing, even as stand-up comedy emerges slowly as a niche for entertainment activities in a city starved of such opportunity.
Brill, for his part, believes that the only way for comedy in this city is up. His mantra is simple and he doesn't need any second invitations to state it.
"Don't take life too seriously," he says. "That's the Eddie Brill motto on life."
And, if ever, now is the time when these are words to live by.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010