Last year, Eddie Brill rolled into Boston with twenty-four spots to fill for his competition at the Great American Comedy Festival. Brill, who books the Festival and also books the stand-up talent on the Late Show with David Letterman, looked at talent from twelve different cities, and wound up taking five Boston comics – Myq Kaplan, Shane Mauss, Dan Boulger, Micah Sherman, and David Powell.
That’s a pretty high bar to set – roughly twenty percent of the talent came from Boston. But Brill expects Boston will be up to the challenge when he visits the Comedy Studio again on Sunday scouting for this year’s festival (Joe Wong is already slated to be in the Festival). ““My feeling is there’ll definitely be people from Boston because it’s just been a fantastically great city for us for finding great talent,” says Brill.
At least one person on the bill Sunday, Dan Sally, almost made the Festival last year, and Brill asked for him to be in this year’s line-up. “He was someone who was on the cusp,” he says. “I thought he could have gone last year but again, I could only pick twenty-four.”
Brill is a New York guy, but he has strong Boston roots. He went to Emerson, and he started doing stand-up here. He still keeps in touch with his alma mater, and sees Boston comedians all the time in New York.
Brill says he is looking for people who are “on the cusp of greatness,” and makes it clear he is not picking contestants for an amateur competition. “I’m looking for poise, I’m looking for people who own the stage, who call the shots up there,” he says. “People who are one of a kind, who are really true to who they are. I’m looking for great material, I’m looking for people who have a point of view, who have an edge.”
The point of the Festival, which takes place June 14-20, is to honor Johnny Carson in his hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska. This year’s gala host is David Brenner, who appeared on more Tonight Shows than anyone. And another Boston guy, Bill Dana, who was the first head writer for the original Tonight Show, will receive the Comedy Legend Award. Every comedian who goes to the Festival is placed with a host family, who shows the comedian around and shows off Carson’s hometown.
Comedians who are auditioning for the festival might want to review a few clips from Carson’s Tonight Show to remind them of the spirit of the show. “Carson, Letterman [they were] Middle America guys but they were really funny, but they were never milquetoast,” says Brill. “They didn’t mind their tongue. I’m looking for that kind of sarcasm, that really smart, funny, biting, great comedy. It’s not like these people have to Johnny Carson, they just have to honor what Johnny did. Johnny was huge for the comedy business. And this is us giving back to him, to the community that he loved so well.”
The Comedy Studio, Sunday April 5, 8PM
Line-up: Ahmed Bharoocha, Andrew Sleighter, Bethany Van Delft, Dan Sally, Dave McDonough, David Grabiner, Jennifer Myszkowski, Jono Zalay, Rick Canavan, Rob Turbovsky, Tom E. Morello, Zach Sherwin, and musical guest Ronald Reagan 80's.