Gina Brillon is a regular on the New York comic scene, and she’s even been featured on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham,” but this week, she says tears rolled down her face, because her years of hard work were validated. She was announced the first woman and first Hispanic to win NBC’s Stand Up for Diversity Showcase. As a winner of the showcase, Brillon gets a one-year holding deal where she will be considered exclusively for acting roles on NBC sitcoms.
The showcase, which has been around for nine years, resembles “American Idol” but for comedians. This year’s search for the funniest culturally diverse comics, across the U.S., included auditions in New York City, Atlanta, Vancouver, and Phoenix. An estimated 450 people auditioned, and Brillon wowed the judges and crowds over the two-month-long contest.
“Winning is just amazing to be honest with you,” says the 32-year-old. “It’s a total shock. I was not expecting it. I was one of the few Latinos who made it to the end.”
One of the reasons she’s still in shock she says, is that she almost didn’t audition.
“This was my third time trying,” says Brillon who had started to doubt herself. “I had to be convinced to do it.”
She says for the first audition you are given two minutes to do your stand up, and the second one you get six minutes.
“I knew I would talk about being a Latina and what our culture is like,” says Brillon. “I also had to put things in my act which were strictly about me and showed my personality…There’s not a lot of time you have to shine…I really thought about it.”
The Puerto Rican from the Bronx, NY says there’s nothing she rather be doing than be a comedian.
“I love what I do,” says Brillon, who started working on her career at age 17. “I spend an entire day, or hours, on my material. I think, ‘Will people be offended by this?’”
But what she loves most, she says, is being able to give people joy.
“I think that’s the biggest addiction,” says the self-taught comedian. “To watch a roomful of people just laughing and forgetting their problems for a little while…I had a girl come up to me after a show and said, ‘I wanted to thank you because I’m going through a terrible breakup, and I haven’t smiled in weeks’…I love it. I love seeing their faces.”
In order to get ahead in comedy, she says you have to love it and take it seriously, because there are a lot of pitfalls.
“When you’ve been doing this for so long, especially as a female, it’s like a ticking time bomb, because you’re getting older,” says Brillon. “You get used to hearing that from people…That’s why this is such a big thing.”
Thanks to one of the auditions, she found a manager, which she hopes will help her get noticed nationwide.
“I want to be able to do my comedy across the board – not just for Latinos,” she says, adding that her favorite audiences tend to be Latino because of “the love they show and the support has been incredible.”
Although her boyfriend of five years is also supportive, she says he sometimes gets nervous, because her favorite topic is relationships.
“I wanted to be a relationship counselor before,” laughs Brillon. “I’m fascinated by the dynamic of it all…Anytime anything remotely funny happens, he says, ‘Don’t put this in your act,’ and my family is the opposite, they’re like, ‘You should put this in.’”
Although many people think her job is all laughs, she says she treats it like any other full-time job.
“It’s like being an athlete – you have to work that muscle and train,” says Brillon who tries to perform as much as possible. “I always tell that to newer comic – the more you perform, the more you will be able to handle.”
She admits the fear and the nerves never go away, but you learn how to use them.
“There’ll always be those butterflies,” says Brillon. “It will become fuel.”
Eventually, she says she would like to use her fuel, and new contract, to become a writer for a woman’s show like “Whitney.”
“There are a lot of possibilities,” says the rising star who has also had experience acting in independent films. “I’m working exclusively for NBC this year, and we’ll see where it goes…Being the first woman and Latina to win something like this, I believe anything is possible.”