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Just For Laughs – In Conversation with Gina Brillon

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Gina Brillon – For Gina Brillon, comedy has been the ultimate career choice for her since she was a kid growing up in The Bronx.

“I fell in love with comedy at the age of 14. I was watching such comedians as George Burns, George Carlin and George Lopez (the three Georges) on TV, and I became obsessed about being a comedian. I just knew it was in my blood,” said Brillon.

Then it was no surprise that Brillon – and her twin sister – launched that career when they participated in a local stand-up comedy contest at the age of only 17. Although her sister decided to leave comedy to pursue her own career path (she later became a personal trainer), Brillon decided to stay along the comedy course, and for a rather unselfish reason.

“Laughter makes people happy, and when you make people laugh, it’s really something. You don’t see them all upset anymore. That’s who I am; a person who likes to make people happy,” she said during a recent phone interview.

With that goal in mind, Brillon established herself as a mainstay on the New York comedy scene. She has used her talents as a comedian, writer and actor in such comedy platforms as “Live at Gotham” on Comedy Central, “Chelsea Lately”, “Gotham Comedy Live”, “The View”, the CBS sitcom “Kevin Can Wait”, “The Fluffy Movie” with Gabriel Iglesias and her own stand-up comedy special “Pacifically Speaking”. As well, in 2012, Brillon became the first and only female and Latina to win NBC’s Stand Up for Diversity Showcase, which earned her a year-long holding deal with the network.

And from July 11 to 21 and 24 to 26, she will represent Puerto Rico at Just For Laughs’ Ethnic Show, where she will join up with Maz Jobrani, Orny Adams, Matteo Lane, Francisco Ramos and Loyiso Gola (who was recently announced to replace Arthur Simeon in the line-up), for a 10th year of multi-cultural diverse comedy.

When she grew up in The Bronx, Brillon admits that there was a much larger Puerto Rican community when she was younger, but the close, connected sense of community was always there.

“That connection was really a beautiful thing, especially when a lot of us were put in a box and were told by the rest of the world that we weren’t going to make it in life. That became our personal fight; to work toward becoming a success. That is why the success of such Latinos from our neighborhood like Jennifer Lopez is such a big deal to our community, and so near and dear to our hearts,” she said.

And when it comes to the plight of her fellow Puerto Ricans who are surviving from the damaging effects of Hurricane Maria nearly a year ago, Brillon says that she doesn’t make a lot of references to it in her act. “It’s a very sensitive topic. Instead of talking about it in my act, I participate in fundraisers or donate money to aid those who are still affected by the hurricane,” she admitted.

Needless to say, Just For Laughs has been very good towards the development of Brillon’s career in stand-up comedy. Besides the Ethnic Show, she has been part of the festival’s New Faces showcase, and last fall, joined illustrious festival alumni Alonzo Bodden and Sugar Sammy as part of the line-up of Just For Laughs’ annual cross-Canada tour.

“For me, getting the chance to perform at the festival has been the ultimate goal for me; it’s like a comedy sleepover,” she said. “I still like watching other stand-up comedians perform, and at Just For Laughs, you’re surrounded by the best of the best. It’s really something to be standing there (at the Hyatt Hotel) and see some of the biggest names in comedy just walk by me. It’s something that I look forward to every year. And they really know how to mix the business aspect of the comedy industry with the fun part of it.”

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In other Just For Laughs news, the festival recently announced its final two Gala hosts, who will fill the three remaining slots during the final weekend of the festival. Comedian Jeff Dunham, who made his Just For Laughs debut back in 1991, returns after a 22-year absence. Dunham, who has headlined a series of top-rated comedy specials on Comedy Central and the Comedy Network, as is mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records for his achievement of selling the most tickets for a stand-up comedy tour, will host two galas on July 27 at 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Acclaimed actor William H. Macy, best known for his performances in Boogie Nights, Fargo and Shameless, makes his Just For Laughs debut as the host of his own multi-comic gala on July 29 at 7 p.m.

Comedian Lil Rel Howery, last seen in Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning film Get Out and star of his own upcoming sitcom on Fox, returns to the festival for the second to host his own show “Lil Rel and Friends” on July 28 at the Cinquieme Salle of Place des Arts. Brent Butt, a Just For Laughs favorite since the 1990s and creator/star of the hit Canadian sitcom Corner Gas (and its recently animated reboot that has just been renewed by the Comedy Network), returns to his stand-up roots with a solo show on July 28 at Maison Theatre.

On the OFF-JFL front, comedians Dulce Sloan, Liza Treyger, Alonzo Bodden, Mamrie Hart and Matt Braunger have been chosen to helm the “Hosts with the Most” series, which runs from July 24 – 28 at Theatre St. Catherine. Comedy writer Eliot Glazer will be your host for the musical-comedy show “Eliot Glazer’s Haunting Renditions” at the Katacombes on July 28. And controversial Quebecois comedian Mike Ward will be staging an additional performance of his show “Infamous” – due to popular demand – on July 28 at the Salon Claude-Leveille of Place des Arts.

And more live podcast tapings have been added to its already expanding line-up at the Hyatt Regency Montreal Hotel, including “Sh*t They Don’t Tell You” and “2 Drink Minimum” with Mike Ward and Pantelis (both on July 25); and “Off Book: The Improvised Musical”, “Homophilia”, and “Los Culturistas” (all three on July 28).

For more information – or to purchase tickets – to the Ethnic Show or any other Just For Laughs show, go to www.hahaha.com

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