Comedian Gina Brillon Is Redefining the American Dream

Culture
gina brillon wearing a black and white suit holding a microphone

David Johnson courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

Bronx-born comedian Gina Brillon is the co-host of the hilarious self-help podcast Mess In Progress: A Homegirls Guide To Self-Hel‪p and star of her own Amazon special The Floor is Lava. Her next act? A spot on Soledad O’Brien’s Matter of Fact Listening Tour, to demythologize what it means to pursue the “American Dream.” Below, Brillon on perfecting the art of virtual stand-up (“It feels like I’m performing it in front of the bathroom mirror”), discovering TikTok as a millennial (“I’m addicted!”), and why the “American Dream” isn’t really for all Americans.

Tell me about The Matter of Fact Listening Tour. Why did you choose to focus on the “American Dream?”

They actually asked me to speak about the “American Dream,” and how I, as a woman of color, related to it. That’s not a question you get all the time. To me, the “American Dream” means a white picket fence, two kids. It’s this idea that you can achieve great things if you work hard. But that wasn’t like anybody I grew up with. I grew up with people wondering where their next meal was going to come from, and if they were going to be able to pay rent that month. There’s people of color out there who are like, “Yeah, I worked hard and I’m still overlooked. I have tried to get myself out of this hole and I’ve still had no luck.” It feels like you’re forever on the waiting list. I gave up the idea of the “American Dream” a long time ago. The only dream I have to worry about now is my own.

Does the political and racial unrest of the last year play a part in the act?

As a person of color, I can’t ignore what’s going on in this country. I have to be mindful of our societal issues, and I have to be able to comment on it, but that doesn’t always mean I should throw it into my comedy act. It’s important that performers speak out, but it’s not our job to fix anything.

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How do you decide what jokes go into your set?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Funny is funny. Because I spent a lot of my life dealing with trauma through laughter, it can be a very healing experience. I’m of the camp that anything can be funny if done correctly—but should it be said? I have had people say to me, “You said this in your special, and I don’t agree with it,” or, “I think this is a microaggression.” I step back and go, “Whoa, all right.” I thought I was the safest person in the world when it comes to stuff like that. But even I have to look at what I say. I can’t control what offends another person, but I can control my reaction to their offense.

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What has it been like performing without an audience?

When you first start out in comedy, you’re used to getting less laughs. So when we started doing virtual performances, it felt like I’d gone back to my early days of comedy. I was like, “Cool, cool, cool.’ It feels like I’m performing it in front of the bathroom mirror. You have to know where your beats are. It’s better if you’ve been in the business for a minute, because you know where the joke should hit. You don’t necessarily need the laughter. But it does make performing a lot easier and more fun when you hear laughter. Having to do outdoor shows and virtual shows has been a real adjustment.

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Speaking of adjustments, you’re a new mom. Congrats!

My son Jayden is eight months this month. He actually turned eight months two days ago, I think. Or one day ago? A couple days ago? I don’t know. I’m bad mom. The days all blend together. Having Jayden totally changed my priorities. I went from thinking, “Man, I haven’t had a pedicure in a while,” to, like, “Oh God, how am I going to feed this kid during a pandemic?”

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Jayden makes some very cute guest appearances on your TikTok account.

He’s too gorgeous not to share. I avoided TikTok for a very long time, because I’m not the most social media-savvy person, and I had no desire to join. Then somebody sent me lip-sync videos that people were doing of my material and I was like, “What is this now?” I really got a kick out of it. I was flattered they were doing my material. Now I’m so addicted to TikTok.

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Do you think virtual comedy shows will be the new norm?

Certain things need to be in person, and one of those things is in-person shows. I really hope we can get back to our regular performances.

Viewers can stream the special live on Matter of Fact’s website, YouTube, and Facebook Live channels, or by bookmarking this page and watching the broadcast below. Pre-show begins at 6:30 p.m. EST, with the full segment starting at 7 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 18.

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