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Published on January 13th, 2012 | by Sharilyn Johnson


Eddie Brill Does Not Hate Women

When the New York Times published its profile of Eddie Brill yesterday, I learned about it on Brill’s Facebook page, alongside some commentary that suggested he found an out-of-context quote rather irksome.

Not knowing what Brill’s specific concern was, I read through it, and sure enough I had some issues with how he was portrayed. What is with all this stuff about conflict of interest and misusing his power as the show’s booker? He’s very well-respected in the industry, I can’t believe they’d imply these things, and I —

— Wait, no, that wasn’t the contentious issue.

What’s proven to be a problematic quote is something that didn’t even jump out at me on first read.

“There are a lot less female comics who are authentic,” Mr. Brill said. “I see a lot of female comics who to please an audience will act like men.”

This is accompanied by his reasoning for not booking a comic like Tig Notaro (though she did appear on Conan).

I think Notaro is brilliant, and was amazing on Conan. But I wouldn’t book her on Letterman either. In fact, despite how many amazing women are doing comedy right now, I’d be hard-pressed to name one suited to Letterman’s audience. (Funny thing: my only thought was Kathleen Madigan, and instantly dismissed that possibility due to her being a Leno regular. Turns out, she’s the only suitable comic LAIst could come up with, too.)

But women are up in arms over this as if Brill is the second coming of Christopher Hitchens, because only one of the comics booked on Letterman last year was female.

As we touched on at last night’s WIFT Women in Comedy event, sometimes as a woman you are excluded from something, and you just don’t know why. It frequently has nothing to do with gender. It can be your style, it can be luck, it can be anything. It’s not always possible to know. And yet, today, the internet seems quite confident it’s because Brill is sexist.

Even if Brill’s words about authenticity were taken out of context, I don’t think the quote is wrong. I do see a lot of women latch onto mask of bravado, and be very reluctant to let it go. I talked last night about women’s tendancy to be “either bitches or sluts” on stage, but how that’s changing thanks to better comedic role models.

Is it okay for me to observe that just because I’m a woman? Do Brill’s somewhat similar observations make him sexist just because he’s a man?

A late night standup set isn’t the career changer it once was, but nobody should be given the opportunity if they aren’t ready or aren’t a good fit for a particular show’s audience. Brill’s job is purely to find the right people to put on that show.

So what’s he supposed to do now?

If he continues doing what he does, and just happens to book more women in the next year, it will be seen as an admission that he was being sexist. If he continues to book women at the same rate he does currently, he’ll be seen as purposely maintaining the systemic marginalization of women in the industry. He can’t win.

And either way, the next woman he books will have that accomplishment diminished because now there will be an assumption that she’s a quota booking. Yeah, as a gender, we’re pretty great at doing ourselves favors.

Incidentally, Brill was recently quoted by some rag called the Washington Post, saying that some of the best comedians in the world are women. Which I also agree with. So there’s that.

Discussions about gender in comedy are important and valid. But knee-jerk reactions like this only spawn tokenism, which doesn’t help equality in a meaningful, long-term way.


About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

2 Responses to Eddie Brill Does Not Hate Women

  1. I disagree with your assertion that women tend to be either “bitches or sluts” onstage. What you’re saying is that women tend to either be mean to others OR open about sexual enjoyment onstage. I’ve seen so many female performers over my years in comedy, and their work runs the gamut. Sometimes we speak about things in a nasty way, and something we talk openly about enjoying sex. We may even use the words “bitch” and slut.” But we also talk about literally every aspect of the human experience, as do men. In addition, I see nothing wrong and everything right with a woman being honest about her interests on stage, and if they happen to include sex — or being an asshole — well, I don’t think she ought to hold back simply because she has a vagina. My opinion is that if it’s funny, it’s fair game. And what comedian DOESN’T display some bravado? We have to do it in order to be in this game and to believe we have a chance. Simply getting onstage is an act of bravado, even if your demeanor is deceptively timid.

  2. Sharilyn Johnson says:

    I purposely kept the context of my comments brief to match what Eddie was afforded. But in my past experience, a LOT of young female comics have tried to get by on t&a. That’s improving, and
    on the panel I refer to, I also said that I’ve noticed a definite swing towards the “strong, intelligent, but flawed” — which is more of a reflection of what we typically ARE as humans(and as women).

    This has nothing to do with talking about sex on stage. At least in Toronto, most women who’ve established themselves do talk about their sex lives to some degree. It’s a part of life. But they don’t start jokes with “so I was blowing this guy…” and then have no real punchline. That’s something I still see a lot of in younger comics, more along the lines of “*giggle* *giggle*, walk of shame, I’m so baaaaad.”

    Men are equally guilty of starting out with tough talk. But women still use gender stereotypes as a safety net, and I think it’s harder to break away from that than a guy shelving his favorite dick joke.

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