Tag Archives: stand up

“If you think you never lie, you’re a liar:” In conversation with comedian Eddie Brill

Published in Dhaka Live on 21 December 2010

Eddie Brill and David Letterman

“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.”

Eddie Brill performing at the Amazon Club in Dhaka, December 2010

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.

A funny man on a serious mission: Naveed Mahbub

Published in The Independent on 24 November 2010

Stand-up comedian Naveed Mahbub

The owner of Bangladesh’s first stand-up comedy club is working hard to find the funny side of Dhaka’s mind-numbing traffic jams and relentless power outages.  As the club’s front-man comedian, this is his duty – and he claims it is easy.  Yet if we rewind the clock to the 1990s, when Naveed Mahbub didn’t know such a job title existed and was yet to speak formally in public, his easy-going confidence and outright success becomes all the more impressive.  Naveed talks to Dhaka Live about how Hollywood transformed him from engineer to stand-up comedian, and how much further he wants to take it.

When Naveed immigrated to the USA after graduating from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in the 1990s, his friends in Dhaka lost a person they described as “the life of the party” for almost 20 years.  But whilst others may have stepped up to the role in his absence, Naveed grew intent on turning his humour into his trade.  His initial interest in stand-up comedy was sparked when a friend in California invited him along to a show – thereafter, Naveed and his wife began to regularly attend them.  One evening, Naveed began chatting with a comedian, who encouraged him to enrol in a course at The Comedy Store in Hollywood.  Naveed did so, thereby following in the footsteps of a glittering alumni which includes Eddie Murphy, David Letterman, Whoopi Goldberg and Jim Carrey.  Naveed began performing in cafes and bars a few months later.

“The first few shows were absolutely terrifying and I wasn’t that funny,” he admits.  Yet Naveed persisted, and soon enough received precious recognition by winning best male comedian in The Original Las Vegas Comedy Festival in 2007.  He began trotting a regular path on the notoriously competitive U.S. stand-up circuit.

Naveed’s Comedy Club in Baridhara

Naveed returned to Dhaka in 2009 and by March the following year, Naveed’s Comedy Club in Baridhara was opened.  Its interior was designed by his wife, Zara, and resembles a typical American comedy club with its brick-patterned walls, tight rows of seating and most importantly, a raised platform stage.  Shows in Bangla take place twice a week, and once a month in English.  The club has also hosted comedy nights in Dhanmondi, and Naveed hopes to perform at the Shilpakala Academy in the near future.  Naveed believes that the demographic make-up of his audience is irrelevant, so long as he delivers relevant material intelligently.  He has, however, observed some cultural differences, “Generally, Bangladeshi audiences are more sensitive about laughing at ourselves.  We tend to ask questions before laughing.  Some might protest by saying, ‘But this isn’t true’ – and I say, ‘Well no, it’s comedy.’”  Naveed explained that for the last 40 years, comedy in Bangladesh has mostly been of the slapstick variety, and that it will take some time for the public to develop an appetite for the “cerebral humour” that defines stand-up comedy.  Yet Naveed remains upbeat about its potential in Bangladesh.  “Things are changing rapidly – who doesn’t want to laugh?”

Although most would tremble at the mere suggestion of appearing live on stage with the sole mission of making others laugh, Naveed swears that, “Stand-up comedy isn’t rocket science.”  But nor is it about simply telling jokes that begin with something along the lines of, “There were two men walking down the street…”  Naveed describes his “brand of humour” as “observational.”  He tells his own stories, refining them with comic exaggeration.  Nevertheless, there is no such thing as a guaranteed laugh.  “Even with the same venue, with the same crowd and the same material, you don’t know how people will react,” he said.  Stand-up comedians are notoriously vulnerable to attacks from hecklers, but Naveed humbly believes that he has been “fortunate” with his audiences so far.  “I’ve only been heckled three times in my career – each time in Bangladesh,” he said with a sporting grin.  Naveed has adopted a generous attitude towards those who deliberately try to unsettle performers.  “Most of the time, people don’t want to misbehave – it’s the comedian that prompts them.   We comedians think that because we’re up on stage with a microphone, we have the power.  Well yes, we do, but we have a responsibility not to say something very offensive.  Offensiveness causes people to heckle and to be offensive in return.”  Naveed said that as a comedian, he could destroy his career in an instant if he were to lose his cool on stage.  So rather than do that, he tries to stifle any disruptions by responding with humour.  “Or, in the worst case, I just move on.”

Naveed Mahbub

Whilst Naveed expresses a sincere desire not to cause offence, his shows are intended to provoke thought as well as to entertain, and he doesn’t shy away from thorny subjects such as politics and religion.  “Yes, I am pushing the envelope,” he said, before adding, “But in a slow, incremental way.”  Naveed believes that humour is a powerful medium for addressing issues that may otherwise be ignored.  “I discuss religion and politics a lot more in my Bangla shows, because that’s where I need to push the boundaries.”  Naveed hasn’t encountered any form of backlash during the last nine months, although another comedian was threatened following a performance.  Naveed is keen to address the social ill of eve-teasing [sexual harassment] through humour, though he said, “I haven’t thought of anything funny yet, because it’s hard to make something funny when there are very clear victims.”

Naveed’s no-nonsense pragmatism is evident when he turns to a topic he believes everyone in his shows can relate to – power outages.  “It’s an issue that we can resolve,” he said.  “It’s just bad planning because we care less about the future than we do about ourselves.  That’s why this problem has been lingering on for 40 years – and if we don’t say anything, it will continue to.”  During a show, Naveed joked that if Bangladesh was viewed from outer space, it would resemble a strobe light in a disco, because its lights constantly flicker on and off.  As he recalled the joke he grinned, then fell silent before adding, “There is so much that needs to be said.”

To visit Naveed’s Comedy Club Facebook page, click here