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Gina Brillon Knows How To Make You Listen Through Comedy

The rising Bronx comic levels about social norms, weed, and why there’s resentment toward Millennials.

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Gina Brillion Knows How To Make You Listen Through Comedy
Courtesy of Gina Brillon

Rain pelts my car windshield as I navigate through Friday night traffic in Los Angeles. I call Gina and tell her I’m running 10 minutes late but she’s calm and unfazed. “Take your time bruh, no rush. I’m already massively high.” And for a good reason: She’s about to embark on a monster three-month tour with Gabriel Iglesias.

When I finally arrive at Gracias Madre, a hip, plant-based restaurant in West Hollywood, Gina is all smiles. Our table is situated toward the middle of the outdoor patio and our casual sweatshirts stand out amongst the bougie birthday parties and tinder dates taking place in the immediate periphery. We first fall victim to chips and guac but are then able to enjoy some flautas, have a deep conversation about the purpose of comedy, and explore how cannabis helps with cluster headaches.

Given the legalization and medical advancements in the cannabis space, why do you think some people’s perceptions of pot still haven’t changed?

My husband laughed when I told him I was being interviewed by High Times. But it was a nervous laugh. People still have such resistance to marijuana because it changes your mood. But they don’t think about the other things that change your mood like coffee, sugar, tea. People drink chamomile tea to “relax.”

And alcohol.

Alcohol makes you do stupid things. Weed makes you do nothing. It takes you out of your own way. You just be, you just exist.

We spend so much time in our heads. I’m filled with anxiety, constantly over things. I was suffering from terrible panic attacks, awful insomnia, all this stuff. I took everything over the counter I could, never wanting to take sleeping pills or be prescribed any kind of Adderall for focus issues. And then I discovered the power of marijuana.

Stephanie Girard

How did you discover it?

Somebody gave me an edible. Now, mind you, I had been around people who smoked my whole life. I had smoked once or twice before but never got into it. I never liked smoking.

The bigger issue for people with weed is, they know you can smoke it, and smoking has such a negative connotation in any form. It’s not the edible form or topical cream that bothers people, it’s the smoke. It’s all about how we perceive things.

And how we have been conditioned to perceive things.

Absolutely. People have been conditioned to believe that potheads—I don’t even like the term ‘pothead’ because it’s so negative—that people who smoke marijuana or use marijuana however they use it do so in some dark alley wearing creepy hoodies like meth addicts. Just being little weed gremlins. Like offering sex acts for weed. Cannabis users aren’t crackheads.

What’s crazy is people are never as judgmental about alcohol as they are about pot. I had a friend of mine who, when I told him I have a vape pen and take edibles, was like, ‘oh my god, I can’t believe you do that.’ Meanwhile, he was on his third vodka soda. And I’m like, ‘are you really judging me? You’re poisoning your body in a much more dangerous way than I am. Alcohol is sold to us by advertisers on how sexy and sophisticated it is. Have you ever seen anyone trashed be sexy and sophisticated? No, you act like a douchebag, you probably get punched in the face, or you cause some other havoc. Have you ever in your life had anyone who has smoked or taken marijuana in any other form wreck havoc other than maybe picking a bad movie to watch?’

It’s just funny the negative views people have toward cannabis and they ignore the more serious addictions. You have a snickers bar every day but you wanna judge me for putting THC in my lemon water so I don’t bash my head against the wall with stress?

(NOTE: We promptly ordered two mezcals.)

Back to how you first discovered pot.

I had smoked in the past, but never seriously, probably because my dad sold cigarettes for like 13 years. He worked for Reynolds tobacco and I grew up hating anything you had to smoke. Again, I tried cigarettes as a kid because I was curious, but thought it was gross and was like ‘I’m never doing this again, this is nasty.’ I associated weed with all of that. I was ignorant. I apologize, weed.

You’re just like everybody else. Looping it all together.

I was basic. Then as I got older, the more I got offered pot, the more I was curious about it.

Flash forward years later, a friend recommends weed to me to help with cramps. So I took an edible. Almost instantly it helped with my insomnia and cluster headaches. Cluster headaches are sometimes called suicide headaches because they’re so painful. So I got my medical card and I become obsessed with the different forms of THC. Capsules, gummies, teas, medical relief creams / topical relief creams, which are amazing. My favorite so far is the capsules, because I’m still not a fan of actually smoking. But the only problem with any kind of edible is the amount of time it takes to hit your system, so you have to time them out right. Sometimes, it’s laying on top of a bunch of food that got there first, and sometimes I haven’t eaten yet. One time I took one, it didn’t hit, I doubled up, then it hit, and I puked all night.

Gina Brillion Knows How To Make You Listen Through Comedy

Stephanie Girard

You got into comedy when you were 17. What advice would you give a young woman coming up in comedy today, based on your own experience?

I always tell comics, whether young or not, get on stage as much as possible. To the younger female comics, never accept a ride from someone who isn’t your close friend and be very clear with your intentions and where the line is. Don’t blur the lines, because you’ll get yourself into situations where you’ll feel awkward saying “no” and the other person takes that as a “yes.” That’s the only thing I would tell young females getting into such a male-dominated business because although I have a lot of brothers in comedy, there’s almost an equal amount of creeps out there who will take advantage of somebody who’s not aware.

I was a street smart kid, so one or two things happened before I wised up and was like OK.

“I know the game.”

Right. I didn’t know the game before, but now that I know it…and look, I know it doesn’t have to be gender specific in that I know men get harassed too, I know that men also get assaulted. But, it’s just more prevalent amongst females or to females that it happens. You hear more about women getting harassed than you do about men getting harassed. And maybe that’s because not enough men come forward, or it doesn’t happen to as many men.

There’s a nonprofit organization called 1n6. And that figure says one in six dudes has been sexually assaulted. So it is a relatively high figure, but to what you’re saying—a lot of people don’t talk about it because of the social stigma associated with it.

There’s a bit of shame in every sexual assault. Societally, men feel more pressure not to come forward because they’re embarrassed of what happened to them and what people might think. When really, all people think is “oh my god, that’s terrible.” Which is the same way everybody should be treated when they’re a victim of sexual assault.

I’m a victim of sexual assault myself. You don’t want pity. You want to know that somebody understands you. And I’m not one of those people that blasts my #metoo story everywhere…I believe in the movement, I do….I just don’t want to be another person throwing out my story. Not to say everyone’s doing it for likes or attention, but…I have my story, and that’s all you need to know. I empathize with the movement because I’ve been through it. I understand it. Of course, I understand being a victim of sexual assault. I’m a female existing in life. Are you kidding me? We’re verbally assaulted half the time, we can’t leave our apartment buildings!

That’s fucked up.

Oh, it’s terrible. It’s terrible that there’s a double standard with sexual assault, that men don’t feel right coming forward. It’s terrible that there’s any kind of double standard like that. It’s terrible women have to go through it, but we just deal with it. It’s literally such a regular part of life.

Is there a chance that in the future, it won’t be a regular part of life?

I think that’s the hope. I think where we will see that is Generation Z. Not the Millennials. The Millennials are the ones fighting for that change, Generation Z will be the generation that implements what the Millennials fought for.

It seems there’s a certain level of tolerance amongst Millennials that hasn’t been there in previous generations.

Tolerance to me has such a negative connotation. The Millennial generation has nailed acceptance. It’s why they annoy the previous generation. Because the previous generation— and it’s something I’ve talked about in my act—spent years repressing all the stuff Millennials are fighting for now. That’s why they get on our nerves because they’re fighting a fight that internally, we never had the chance to fight or had the guts to fight.

If we were to promote more individual, free thinking (which is scary) instead of “going along with the masses,” we’d get to that Generational Z mentality faster.

We’ve spent so many years repressing all of that. I think that’s a big part of the resentment a lot of my generation or the generation before my generation has for Millennials. Because while we believed in “keep your mouth shut, keep your head down and do your job,” Millennials are just fighting for the things we should have been fighting for years ago. We look at them as entitled because they’re asking for things we never thought we had the rights to.

Is there a greater purpose to comedy, to telling jokes, other than just the give and take of creating laughter and receiving energy from a set?

There is definitely, for me, a deeper meaning and a deeper purpose. I’m not by any means or in any way trying to change anybody’s view on any subject whatsoever. I just want people to join together and understand that we don’t have to be on the same side to exist together. And I want that feeling for all of my audiences. I want them to leave a show looking at the fact that they might be just like me, Puerto Rican and from the South Bronx, and laughing with somebody from the Midwest who’s never even been to the South Bronx.

I want people connecting on our joined experiences, not dividing and spatting over stuff. You can’t make a person change. Change is up to the individual. I can’t make you change who you are, even for the better. You have to want that change for you.

Completely agree.

It’s so much deeper than ‘oh, I just tell jokes.’ No, you don’t just tell jokes. Tonight you saved somebody from going to a bar and getting drunk who’s been sober for a year. Last night, somebody was so upset they didn’t have money in their bank account, they came and they laughed and got over their upset, and maybe went home and were like ‘you know what, I’m gonna figure this out.’ You don’t know what you’re doing up there and how you’re saving people.

There have been times when I’ve been in tears, not wanting to exist anymore and I would just force myself to watch comedy and force myself to watch something funny. Remind myself of what my dream was and how important it is.

And this is the problem: a brilliant comic makes this look easy. Brilliant comedians make comedy look so easy. People don’t understand the work that goes into it, so it’s easy to trivialize what we do up there. And there are some garbage comics that definitely solidify that thought of “just entertaining a crowd”…I only say it’s garbage because it doesn’t elevate you in your career. 

And that’s what keeps you stuck at comedy level one. When your only concern is ‘are they laughing?’ When you graduate from ‘are they laughing’ to ‘are they listening?’ That’s a big deal. ‘Are they listening’ is much more important.

Gina Brillion Knows How To Make You Listen Through Comedy

Stephanie Girard

What’s after “are they listening?”

I know a lot of comics will read that and say ‘well that’s dumb, you’re a comic, you’re supposed to make them laugh.’ That’s so level one thinking. What I mean is, when you become so comfortable on that stage, when that stage is your second home, you don’t need a laugh per second. You get the audience. You are their friend. In their head, they are talking to a friend. They are responding to a friend telling a story up there. So what happens when you tell a friend a story? They’re not laughing every second.

They’re listening.

Once they’re invested and you insert these little jabs that lead up to a big punch…that’s when you know that you’ve got it. When you’ve gotten to that level where you know the laughter will come. I’m a comedian, I know what I’m doing. But am I patient enough to lead the audience to the laughter the way I want to lead them there.

You’re like a laughter sherpa.

Yes. That’s wonderful. Leading you up the mountain of comedy.

But yeah, totally a deeper meaning to comedy. You see it in all the greats. The reason why they were great was because they were impactful.

Do you think they were cognizant of how they were being impactful?

At some point, yes. In the beginning, of course, every comic just wants laughs. That’s comedy 101–that’s level one standup. All you wanna do is make ‘em laugh, and you should! At that stage, you better be making them laugh because you haven’t formed yourself on stage yet. So in order to get to that place, you have to put in that leg work. You gotta suffer a little bit. Because to get to that next level, you have to ask yourself “what am I saying?” This is in terms of writing. When you’re just starting.

That’s a really well-put understanding of the process and being able to see why someone is at the level he or she is at.

Most of the reason why a lot of performers do not grow, specifically comedians, is ego. Most of it is ‘I’m so great, why isn’t this happening for me?’ or ‘I’m so great, I don’t understand why that guy’s getting a break when he’s not as good as me.’ Spoiler alert! You’re not as good as you think you are, bro. You’re so busy trying to figure out why magic things aren’t happening for you, you’re not investing in yourself.

Follow @ginabrillon and check out her site for tickets and tour dates.

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