Woks and yuks

Eddie Brill still remembers the moment he decided to become a comedian.

On a family vacation in the Catskills years ago, Brill’s parents had just returned from a Buddy Hackett show, staggering into their hotel room convulsed in laughter.

“Why are you laughing?” young Brill asked them. But his folks were too hysterical to respond.

That seemed like a pretty cool thing to do. Years later, by then a successful comedian himself, Brill told the story to Hackett directly.

Brill’s career is full of those kinds of “full circle” moments. Now close friends with many of his boyhood comedy idols, Brill travels the world doing stand-up. He’ll be making his way to the Bay Area Dec. 24 to 26 to headline ChopShticks in Palo Alto.

Like Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in San Francisco, ChopShticks offers Jews the ultimate double-deal for Christmas: comedy and Chinese food. Brill, along with comic Brian Malow and host Norm Goldblatt, is Jewish.

Brill is happy to be performing in California once again (he’s a born-and-bred New Yorker), and especially to play ChopShticks, known for booking more cerebral comedians.

“My act is not braniac,” he says, “but there’s an intelligence to it. I can’t say everyone who’s Jewish is intelligent, but primarily they don’t want comedians to take the easy way out.”

That’s probably why he ranks George Carlin and Richard Pryor as his favorite comedians, though he reveres many of the great names of comedy down through the decades. Not so coincidentally, many of those names are Jewish.

“There has to be some kind of pain in people’s lives to be funny,” he theorizes. “It brings you inward. The pain of growing up Jewish throughout history has made us laugh to forget about our problems.”

Even though his ChopShticks crowd will be mostly Jewish, Brill doesn’t tailor his set for any particular audience. His humor tends towards the conceptual, often poking fun at the peculiarities of the English language. For example, pondering the letter “c,” he notes: “It doesn’t have its own sound. It uses k’s sound and s’s. If you don’t have your own sound, get out of the alphabet!”

Currently, Brill has a great day job: serving as warm-up comedian for David Letterman on “The Late Show.” On weekends he tours the country hitting all the top comedy clubs. He also found a unique niche, performing for expatriate English-speaking comedy fans from Paris to Hong Kong.

But perhaps his proudest achievement is teaching the art of standup to young aspiring comedians. He runs workshops throughout the year, a task he considers akin to tending the flame. “For any business to be successful you need a strong base,” he says, “and if you help young standups early in their career it helps the business. Besides, you learn a lot from teaching, almost as much as by doing.”

But for the moment, those students will have to wait until Brill wraps his three-night stand at ChopShticks. He predicts a house full of satisfied customers. “Hey,” he says, “how can you not like Chinese food?”

ChopShticks plays 7:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Dec. 24-26, at Ming’s Restaurant, 1700 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto. Tickets: $60. Information: www.chopshticks.com.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.