Ever since she was a little kid growing up in the Bronx, Gina Brillon knew she wanted to be a stand-up comedian. Well, maybe not that specifically. She just knew she enjoyed entertaining her family. Her vibrant Puerto Rican household, after all, was always bustling and crackling with music and laughter. The turn toward comedy wasn’t that much of a left-field choice. Which is not to say it didn’t come with challenges. Her parents, supportive as they were, still stressed to young Gina that she needed a career to fall back on and an education to go along with it. And so, despite getting a taste of what the thrill of being up on a stage and garnering a laugh at seventeen years of age as a stand-up comic, Brillon made the kind of compromise many kids from Latino households make: she went on to get an English Lit degree, a choice in keeping with the bookworm sensibility she’d had all of her life.
If anything, that detour merely reinforced just how committed Brillon was to making her dreams of becoming a comedian a reality. And she had two unlikely role models that first gave her a taste of what being a professional comedian was like: Brett Butler and George Lopez. The star of Grace Under Fire showed a young Brillon that women could be funny and disarming, while the Mexican-American comedian gave her an inkling of what a Latino-infused brand of comedy could look like. “I’m those two things — female and Latino — so I can do that too!” she remembers thinking. In a way, her comedy exists at the intersection of those two figures, twinned North Stars that both inspired and paved the way for her.
To see Brillon’s current resume, her goal of making comedy her life is one she’s very clearly achieved. Not only does Brillon already have stand-up specials under her belt (Pacifically Speaking and Entre Nos: A Stand-Up Comedy Special) but she has appeared in sitcoms like The Conners and Kevin Can Wait, on late-night shows like Chelsea Lately and Late Night with Seth Meyers, and, of course, gotten to tour with Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias (she even had a part in The Fluffy Movie). Iglesias, who she credits as being one of the nicest and most hardworking people she’s ever met, gave her the most valuable piece of advice she could’ve ever asked for: “Be inquisitive. Ask questions.” While such an expression may sound quite philosophical, the ever-practical Brillon thinks of it in much more pragmatic terms: “If you don’t care about your career, why should someone else?” And so, she’s always made a point of asking questions about everything that has to do with her work. To become a successful comedian nowadays, as Brillon is, requires knowing everything about your contracts, your bookings, and all those other pesky details that many are quick to pass off to someone else. Not Brillon, though, who likes to be hands on and who clearly wants to make sure she’s in control of where her career is headed.
Currently, that journey has her marking two career high points. This August her HBO Latino half-hour special Easily Offended will air while that same month she’ll be serving as host of the “Latinos Stand-Up” competition that’s taking place during the New York Latino Film Festival. The special, as its title suggests, has Brillon joking both about her husband’s lack of social skills as well as an overly policed sensitivity that’s taken over when it comes to comedy. Comedians are at the forefront of prickly conversations and to be made to walk on eggshells lest someone in the audience be offended undercuts the very purpose of comedy, she told Remezcla. Such an environment does a disservice to both comedians and audiences alike, she believes. That may explain why her own comedy tends to favor broad concerns — about family and relationships — that cut across the kinds of audiences she’s gotten to play to while touring with Iglesias’ Beyond The Fluffy World Tour.
“If you don’t care about your career, why should someone else?”
“I love it out here,” she tells the roaring crowd in San Antonio at the top of her stand-up special. “I absolutely adore Texas in general because everybody out here is suspiciously nice.” For a born-and-bred New Yorker, such niceties always feel put-on. But Brillon clearly enjoys playing to an audience that has such a warm energy, the kind who clearly lap up the fun-girl humor the Nuyorican comedian has honed for the past two decades.
As she looks forward to seeing a new generation of comics in the “Latinos Stand-Up” competition, she admits that it’s hard to see herself as a mentor (her podcast, after all, is all about being a “Mess in Progress”). But she’s eager to be a part of such a worthy endeavor that will give a spotlight to five finalists who will perform before crowning one as a winner. When asked what it is that Latinx comics bring to the table, you can hear her light up on the other side of the phone. “There’s something in our blood. We’re entertainers! We love to make people laugh.”
Easily Offended is available August 16, 2019, starting at 9:30 p.m. on HBO Latino and all of HBO’s digital platforms (HBO GO, HBO Now, and HBO on Demand) along with all Entre Nos comedy specials.