Gina Brillon grew up in a part of the Bronx where seeing violence and crime was part of her daily life. However, she survived by using her humor, which led to a career as a stand-up comedian.
This Friday, Brillon, 40, a Soundview native, will have an Amazon Prime stand-up special, “Gina Brillon: The Floor Is Lava.”
Brillon pulls no punches when discussing her childhood, culture and the transition from single to married life with her Midwestern husband Jeremiah. In the hour-long special, Brillon guides the audience on a journey of love, laughter and heart.
“This special is such a labor of love,” she said. “The central point of it has a lot to do with the message at the end of it.”
Brillon’s most recent half-hour special “Easily Offended,” was one of the top shows among the Entre Nos franchise on HBO Latino and is now streaming on all HBO digital platforms
She has made appearances on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham,” E!’s “Chelsea Lately,” AXS’ “Gotham Comedy Live,” “The View,” “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Brillon also has been seen on “Kevin Can Wait” on CBS and “The Conners” on ABC.
In 2012, she became the first and only Latina winner of NBC’s Stand up for Diversity Showcase. She was selected to be part of Montreal’s Just for Laughs New Faces Showcase.
Brillon spoke with the Bronx Times about her rise from the Bronx to stardom.
“It was pretty bad when I was growing up,” she said. “We used humor to deal with a lot of trauma. Laughter was healing. I love bringing joy to people.”
She saw kids get jumped, do drugs and girls get pregnant at a young age. In high school she became friends with a bully because she thought Brillon was funny.
One of her worst experiences was when she was as a cashier at a pharmacy at the age of 16. One day a woman came in claiming she won $10,000 from scratch offs, when it was obvious that she did not. After refusing to give her money, the lady pulled out a gun and pointed it at her.
She pulled the trigger, but it was fake. In that split second, Brillon saw her life flash before her eyes.
“Everybody in the store was frozen,” Brillon recalled.
Even though she always cracked jokes, she still considered herself shy. Brillon did theater but was never the star and was often a part of the stage crew.
Everything changed a year later when her mom, Emily, entered her in “Funniest Person from the Bronx” contest. She was nervous and excited and killed her audition.
“She [her mom] knew I was funny,” Brillon said. “She always believed in me. My grandmother [Vivian Castillo] always told my mom I was going to be in comedy.”
While she bombed the call back, she was determined to make it big. Brillon was a hustler. She went to college at Marymount Manhattan College, waitressed part time and did stand up at night. She performed in comedy clubs 14 times a week.
She watched every comic, including George Burns, Richard Pryor, George Lopez and Lilly Tomlin. But she shared that her biggest influence was Brett Butler.
Brillon, an Astoria resident, said her big break was when she was featured on Gabriel Iglesias’ “Beyond the Fluffy Tour,” hitting 46 cities around the U.S. and gaining thousands of new fans along the way. Working with such a big star was life changing, she said.
While people are home now due to COVID-19 and dealing with the riots, Brillon hopes her special Friday brings them some joy.
“Being in the Bronx will always influence my point of view,” she said. “There’s always going to be that element of the Bronx girl in me.