Comedian Shaun Eli Breidbart blends his day job with his (more hilarious) night gig.
Photo by John Morrison
If you’ve seen Jay Leno’s monologues on The Tonight Show, you might’ve caught a quick-witted quip from Pelham’s Shaun Eli Breidbart, a contributor/freelancer for the show. “As a kid, whenever I thought of something funny, I wrote it down,” says Breidbart, who’s been writing jokes since 1993. “Later, when I saw something in the newspaper and thought of something funny to say about it, I thought that someone like Jay Leno might be telling the same joke, so I contacted him about freelancing for him.” At the time, Breidbart was a Wharton School of Business grad working in finance and marketing.
Though comedy and the corporate world may seem mutually exclusive, Breidbart has made a career of fusing the two. When he started to move from writing jokes to performing in clubs, back in 2003—he began taking a stand-up comedy course at the suggestion of a friend—he found that comedy helped him in business. “It helps to have a good sense of humor,” he says. “Customers would come see me in shows. Sometimes my boss wasn’t too happy about that, but it was something that nobody else could offer. Other people take their clients to comedy shows, but they aren’t in them.”
Last year, Breidbart quit the corporate world to pursue his comedy full-time, and now the tables have turned: instead of his comedy helping his business life, his business experience informs his comedy. Take, for instance, one of the shows in which he’s currently performing, “Business School…In About an Hour,” a clean routine that he performs at corporate events. “In covering risk management, I use examples in my standup comedy rather than from my life in finance and insurance.” (He’s also put together a second show, “Ivy League Comedy,” with other Ivy League grads who decided to pursue comedy.)
His finance background, he says, has helped him manage his career. “It makes absolute sense to run comedy like a business. Some
people think you can just show up and tell jokes. I do a lot of research. The worst mistake is to have someone watch you before you’re ready to be seen. If you send DVDs to bookers before you’re ready, that’s a blown opportunity.”
Of course, smartly managing a career is one thing, but being funny—well, that’s something else entirely. Like his favorite comedians—Steven Wright, Mitch Hedberg, Rita Rudner, and Robert Klein, among others—Breidbart aspires to “smart comedy.” He even has a catchy, smarty-pants URL for his website: brainchampagne.com. “I think of it more like ‘not-dumb comedy,’” he says. “It’s not the typical sex jokes. I try to get people to think a little.” His material comes from everyday life: jury duty, dating, fighting a parking ticket, his parents. (They’ve seen his act, and they still speak to him. “They need me to fix their computer,” he says.)
Breidbart has a brainy way of describing comedy, too: “Cubism with language.” He explains: “It’s bizarre to interpret a three-dimensional world in two dimensions. I think comedy does the same thing, only by perverting the language.” (For examples of his “cubist” comedy—and a couple of one-liners about our county—see the sidebar.)
He adds: “Comedy is a meritocracy. It takes getting better to realize how good you’re not. You’re better than you used to be, but you realize how much further you have to go. Stage time, stage time, stage time is like the location, location, location of our industry."
Shaun Eli Breidbart On...
...“Cubism with Language”
■ “I can’t think of a single other word in the English language that means ‘synonym.’ It’s not fair that ‘synonym’ has no synonym, but ‘antonym’ gets to have an antonym.”
■ “My name is Shaun Eli. Shaun is Irish for John... My parents are Ukrainian. Eli is a Yiddish word meaning—“He who gets beat up by the Irish kids.”
...Growing Up in New York City and Scarsdale
■ “As city kids we didn’t play the normal kid games. We didn’t play Cops and Robbers, there were no Cowboys and Indians. Instead, we played a city game: Tenants and Landlord. The way that game works, you pick a fat kid to be the landlord...then he chases you around the schoolyard, and, if he catches you, you have to give him your lunch money, or move to The Bronx.”
■ “Scarsdale’s a classy town. In Scarsdale, the pool boy doesn’t just clean the pool, boff the housewife, and leave. No—he stays and cuddles! If that isn’t ‘class,’ I don’t know what ‘class’ is...Clearly I don’t know what ‘class’ is.”
■ “In Scarsdale, the mafia doesn’t talk about burning down your store to collect protection money; they just threaten to start the rumor that ‘regular people’ shop there.”
■ “I lived in the Jewish part of Scarsdale, known as…Scarsdale.”