Published in Dhaka Live on 21 December 2010
“I’m not giving sermons,” says comedian Eddie Brill as he leans into the back of a plush sofa in a Dhaka hotel lobby, “But lately, in the States, I’ve started my shows by talking about lying.”
Eddie then throws out a statement of epic rhetoric proportions: “If you think you never lie, you’re a liar.” His pale eyes stare at me evenly. To disagree is to assert perfection, but remaining silent is proof enough of occasional dishonesty. And then suddenly, having opted to say nothing, it feels good to be honest about lying. Eddie then changes the subject – sort of.
“In dating, we sometimes create a character we think the other person wants. It’s like advertising ourselves instead of being who we are. I dated a girl who created a character, and it was very attractive to me. But the more I knew her, the more I realised she wasn’t that person. Then the wheels fell off the bus. It was a waste of time.”
Eddie recounted the (hopefully) true story he often tells audiences about the time he lied to a friend. “I felt I was being yelled at and that I was seven-years-old again. I wanted him to like me, so I lied.” Eddie tells this story in order to make it clear that he’s “not above anybody else” when it comes to lying. It’s an approach he uses consistently in his shows, regardless of the subject matter. His golden rule is, “Never tell an audience they suck. WE suck.”
But is it comforting to establish that we all lie at some point in our lives? Or is it just plain sad? Perhaps Eddie doesn’t care so much either way – his point is to foster greater candour through humour, and he does it exceedingly well.
Eddie’s role as warm-up comedian and talent coordinator on “The Late Show with David Letterman” affords him around 90 days a year to travel for stand-up performances. However, having established that it was Eddie’s first trip to Asia outside of Hong Kong, I asked him how he prepared for what would surely prove to be an eclectic audience in Dhaka.
“I’m not prepared for it,” he said nonchalantly. “I have ideas and material in my brain. I pretty much know where I’m going to start and then I’ll see where to go from there.”
Looking down guiltily at my list of pre-prepared questions, I asked, “Don’t you go blank on stage?”
“Not really, he said. “Because I do it so often.”
And how does a comedian – or at least, this comedian– ignite his creativity to produce funny sketches?
Sometimes ideas come to him in dreams, as he explains, “Once I dreamed that I was on stage and I had a funny friend in the audience. I started getting nervous and began making things up on the spot. When I woke up, I wrote it down and now that’s in my act.” Eddie also talks into a tape recorder or jots down his ideas, but he mostly tries them out live on stage.
Eddie shrugs his shoulders at my disbelief and says, “It works for me. I’m very confident on stage, so if it doesn’t work, I just go onto the next thing. The audience will forget about it.”
Along with an abundance of natural confidence, Eddie is very down-to-earth. “I don’t look at myself and say, ‘I’m an entertainer.’ I’m having fun and I have a very short life and I am going to make the best of it. And the best of it is to laugh.”
Eddie grew up in an Italian neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York. His step-father died at the age of 37; Eddie’s sister died when she was 34 and his brother died when he was 35. “I’ve lost a lot of people in my life,” he reflects. “But I’m 52-years-old and I’ve learnt to live every moment, because life is too short. Nothing else but now exists. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow hasn’t happened.” Although not religious, Eddie describes himself as a spiritual person. He enjoys poking fun at biblical characters Adam and Eve during his shows. For one, he doesn’t understand why the only two people on Earth needed names in the first place. He also lampoons the notion that Jesus Christ was a white man, rather than being Middle Eastern in appearance.
As a performer with a heavy schedule, Eddie has discovered vast reserves of energy after losing weight. He’s shed a staggering 45 kilogrammes since May. The secret to his success, he confides, was converting to veganism, which means that he eats neither meat nor animal products, such as eggs or dairy foods.
“I can’t find wheat grass in Dhaka,” he says in a New York drawl. “But I’ve been eating salads here and although I’ve been told to be careful of the water, so far so good.” In any event, there’s no risk that Eddie will tire of Bangladesh’s seasonal vegetables – he’ll be in Ireland by the weekend.
FYI – Eddie Brill has met the vast majority of Hollywood A-List celebrities during his 13 year career on Letterman. The following have made it into his personal hall of fame for being nice people: Julia Roberts, Whitney Houston, Lyle Lovett and Sophia Loren. He describes the star of action cult movie series “Die Hard”, Bruce Willis, as a “fun, loving and caring guy.” So there you go.