There’s no denying that 2020 has been one hell of a year. If we thought the coronavirus pandemic was going to be the hardest thing we were going to face — we were so wrong. The vicious killings of black lives including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Manuel Ellis among many others, have shaken this country up. We can’t ignore it — the Latinx community especially. If there’s been any time to address the internalized racism, colorism, and the anti-blackness that exists in our community it’s now. But if there’s one thing I can actually look forward to this week specifically, it’s Bronx-raised Boricua comedian, Gina Brillon’s new one hour Amazon Prime special The Floor is Lava. If comedy really does heal, than Brillon’s new standup is the exact medicine I needed to unnerve and enjoy a good laugh — even if just for an hour.
Brillon has always known her purpose. She knew she wanted to be a standup-comedian ever since she was a little girl growing up in the Bronx. Making people laugh— especially those in her Puerto Rican household — brought her so much joy. Growing up in the south Bronx, violence, and crime against POCs — particularly the black community — was something that happened on the regular. Humor became her own form of survival and eventually became her way of bringing folks healing even when life was difficult.
“My first audience member was my grandmother. She was real strict and from Puerto Rico,” she tells me. “All the English my grandmother knew was from TV. She learned English from watching television programs like I Love Lucy. I would do anything to make her laugh and it was the highlight of my day.”
Brillon was 14 when she discovered her calling after watching a Brett Butler comedy special, which she mentions at the closing of the Floor Is Lava. “I was flipping through my parent’s cable and then all of a sudden Brett Butler’s special came on and I see this beautiful southern woman talking on TV. Like I say in the special, when you grow up watching Latino television you don’t see women in positions like that. I had never seen a woman controlling a room of people with just her mind. With her intellect. With her wit. I was so drawn to that,” Brillon says. “I just remember staring at the TV and not being able to keep my eyes off. And then I saw a special with George Lopez because my mom actually encouraged my love of comedy. I think that’s when it hit where I was like yo, I was so drawn to it because I’ve seen a woman and then I saw a Latino doing it and I’m both of those things.”
Brillon recognized the healing effects of comedy after a standup she did following 911 in NYC when an essential worker came up to her and thanked her for making them laugh for the first time in literally months.
“I love healing people. It’s the best way I can say it. I feel like laughter is really healing. When I would see someone going through something and I had the ability to make them laugh, there was something incredible about feeling like I had aided them in their healing process,” she says.
The timing of The Floor is Lava is tricky but also in a way perfect timing. Brillon who has been down herself this past week with the death of George Floyd and others is hoping that her one hour special could bring folks — in particular people of color — a moment to just laugh and smile.
“I was in tears talking to my manager about George Floyd. She’s wonderful— also a woman of color. It made me feel better to have someone to talk to about it,” she says. “I’m always at a crossroads where I’m like I want to make people feel better without acting like nothing is going on in the world.”
If you’ve seen Brillon’s other standup specials including her 2015 special presented by Gabriel Iglesias, Gina Brillon: Pacifically Speaking and her HBO special, Gina Brillon: Easily Offended, you know that Brillon has a way of finding that balance of knowing how to tell a joke without disregarding what’s happening in the world. “It’s a delicate balance of what you say, how you say it, and when you say it,” she says. “It also has to fit in with who I am. I’m not a person who goes on the attack. I’m a super emphatic person in terms of what people are feeling and what people are going through. I can not speak for the African American community. I’m a Latina and a light-skin Latina at that. What I can speak from is from a place of this is just painful as a human being to watch.”
It’s an art that not enough comedians — white male comedians especially — haven’t quite been able to master yet. With that said, Brillon isn’t afraid to tackle topics that are still seen as taboo in the Latinx community, like mental health and the importance of therapy. She even makes a point to share her own therapy journey on The Floor is Lava.
“I think it’s important because there is still such a stigma for all people of color when it comes to mental health and therapy. It’s looked at by a lot of older generations in such a bad light. ’If you go to therapy people are going to think you’re crazy. People are going to think I failed as a parent.’ And therapy is not about that. Therapy is about helping yourself,” Brillon says “I started going to therapy because I was in a dark place after an abusive relationship and discovering why I allowed myself to stay in an abusive relationship… diving into the wealth of how I became the kind of person that ended up in that situation is so important because it helped me to heal and have a better relationship with my now-husband and get in a better place in my life. In order to change that stigma, it has to be openly discussed. You have to have people comfortably saying that they go to therapy.”
In the special Brillon brilliantly highlights the duality many people of color navigate living life in the states. She refers to them as: hood me and evolved me. “It’s that duality that I feel like a lot of people deal with but particularly people of color because we’re under this thing of if I use my anger, it’s not just me being mad. Now I’m an angry Latina,” she says. “We’re not allowed to have those regular expressions of emotion. We have to cap it at some point so that our point gets across and if you talk too hood nobody’s going to listen to you but if you play it too safe nobody is going to respect you. So you have this fine line to walk of how do I gain this respect without coming across so aggressive that they write off what I’m saying because of my aggression?”
She also talks about the conditioning many POCs — especially from immigrant families — have with fearing and respecting authority even when that respect isn’t actually deserved. “Growing up in a lot of households with people of color, we’re told respect your elders. Don’t do this — don’t talk back. And so when you get to the workforce and whoever is above that you feel you are subordinate to, you then become afraid to have your voice heard. These could be people who are blatantly disrespectful but you still maintain that respect because of how it works for people of color, where if I step out of line no matter how disrespectful you were to me — now I’m wrong,” Brillon says. “It’s incredibly toxic because it forces us to stay in positions where we are miserable and keeps us disempowered… we’re looked at as aggressive, playing the race card, doing this, doing that, that’s how we’re looked at when we empower ourselves which makes us purposely quiet our voices, which is very dangerous. Our people need to have our voices heard.”
One part of the special that every single person would appreciate — single Latinas especially — is when Brillon talks about when she went on her hoe stroll faze. This part of the skit was inspired by her own experiences with dating, as well as,, conversations she had with her homegirls over the years. She talks about how she hit a point in her dating life after breaking up with her long term ex — in her mid to late 30s — where she became less concerned with finding “the one” and more focused on just discovering what she wanted and what she didn’t.
“This was my first time really experiencing the dating world and it was really confusing for me and I acted out in ways that I didn’t like. I acted out in a lot of ways that I wasn’t really proud of,” she says. “I tell people in the dating world that pressure to decide on a person is such a big decision to make that you should take your time with. You should date this person and figure out what you don’t want.” It was when she stopped looking and focused on herself that Brillon met her husband who she is now expecting a baby boy with.
The Floor is Lava is relatable on so many levels and really does speak to the healing powers of comedy. “If I had to state my purpose I would say that it’s healing — the ability to heal people through laughter,” Brillon says. “To make someone feel better and maybe see a different perspective that can begin their healing process through stories I tell or stories of my own life. That would be my personal purpose. But I want my legacy to be when people talk about me they say they always felt good when they were around me. I want to have brought joy to people.”
The Floor is Lava is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, June 5, 2020.
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GUYS!!!! The moment is finally here!!!! June 5th my hour special #TheFloorIsLava will be out on @amazonprimevideo 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼 tag anyone who was waiting on the date to drop or anyone you think would like to watch ❤️ much love you guys! Busy and exciting day thank you to #amazonprimevideo and @comedydynamics for their amazing work ❤️ #comedy #standupcomedy #latina #latinx #latino