Gina Brillon: AGT's First Latina Comedian Finalist on the Importance of Representation
If you've been watching season 16 of America's Got Talent, then you know that the folks who will be competing in the final round have been no joke. It's been straight-up brilliant talent.
In fact, there's one creative who's really captured audiences with her wit and her relatable take on being a Latina from NYC. Yes, we're talking about comedian Gina Brillon, who was born and raised in the Bronx and takes any opportunity to proudly rep her borough. In fact, pulling from her experience as a Latina advanced her to the semifinals. Judges Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara looked like they were experiencing big belly laughs throughout the entire performance. Brillon already beat a record by being the first Latina comedian to make it to the finals, but if she wins, she'll make history as the first Latina comedian to win on AGT. This is major, folks!
From aerialists to the World Taekwondo Demo, this season includes a hell of a lot of serious talent. The finale is broken up into two nights. The first part will kick off tonight, Tuesday, Sept. 14, at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on NBC. We'll get to see all the acts perform their final routines, then at the end of the show, viewers can vote for who they want to see win the grand prize of $1 million. You can vote either by downloading the America's Got Talent app on your phone or by logging onto NBC.com/agtvote. The results entirely depend on the public's votes. The judges have no say on this one, so if you want to see your favorite win, we suggest you get on it.
"I feel like as a culture, especially with women and all the machismo we deal with in our culture, we have a tendency to silence our voices, silence our dreams, and make ourselves smaller because we are taught at a young age that's what a woman does."
As for how Brillon is feeling about making it this far in the competition — she's beyond thrilled. "It feels incredible, because I feel like I can be an example to a lot of younger Latinas in terms of what we can get and what we can accomplish. I feel like as a culture, especially with women and all the machismo we deal with in our culture, we have a tendency to silence our voices, silence our dreams, and make ourselves smaller because we are taught at a young age that's what a woman does," Brillon told POPSUGAR. "We're taught to fear authority, not ask questions, and not take risks, and I think that as much as I appreciate the old-school way that I may have grown up seeing, I like being an example of a new kind of way and what's possible for us. You can be respectful and still question authority. You can be bold and still be a beautiful, wonderful, and vulnerable human being. You can take a shot on yourself, and it's not cocky or conceited."
Brillon literally represents all that, and you feel it almost immediately after listening to one of her skits. In fact, the performance that advanced her to the semifinals really captured the essence of not just who she is but also the secret sauce behind her humor: her knack for storytelling, relatability, and natural way of always representing the culture. She even pulled from her 2015 special presented by Gabriel Iglesias, Gina Brillon: Pacifically Speaking. "You gotta pacifically tell me," she said, leaving the judges cracking up. "I tease, but I love. It's part of Latino culture. We tease because we love," she added at the end of her performance. She admitted to us that she has found herself at times pronouncing the word "specifically" like "pacifically."
Even legendary and iconic comedian Mandel, who serves as one of the four judges on the panel, has sung Brillon's praises. "It's funny because we had not run into each other. Anytime I had been in LA, we had not run into each other. But the very first night when I came for the quarterfinal, the very first night I was here, I went to a club to perform, and Howie was there," she said. "I went to a show at Supernova, which is pretty close to the hotel. So I went there, and Howie showed up as their special guest, and so he saw me there my first night getting ready for the quarterfinals, and then he saw me there two nights later at the same club running the set again and doing new stuff that I wanted to work on, and he's a real comic's comic. He loves to see people putting in the hard work. And just to know that your hard work is acknowledged like that. To have somebody like Howie, like, 'No, I've seen her. She's working hard for this,' and to be like, 'Yeah, she's really taking this seriously.'"
Brillon shared that part of her rehearsing strategy was incorporating the two- to three-minute bit in her 15-minute comedy-club performances. She'd find a way to insert them in, whether it was at the beginning, the middle, or the end of a skit, all in an effort to get a sense of how the audience would receive them. In other words, it was her way of getting feedback and learning if the material was good enough or if it needed improvement before bringing it to AGT.
"It would be a win . . . for Puerto Ricans, but also for any Latino performers, because we get the short end of the stick often and we don't get to see ourselves represented on television."
"This win will not just be for me. This win is for other moms," said Brillon, who just gave birth to her first child, a son, last year. "I'm not just doing this for the culture, but it would also be for women. It would be a win for female performers and a win for my first love — for comedy. For the Bronx. For Puerto Ricans, but also for any Latino performers, because we get the short end of the stick often and we don't get to see ourselves represented on television. And so to not only be that on the show but to take it all the way home and win it, again, it's just a testament that it can get done when we really have faith."
For her final performance, Brillon is going by the "go hard or go home" model. She intends on really bringing it, but don't expect to see her pull anything from previous skits, because she'll be performing all-new material at the finale. "It's a risk that I'm taking, but I think it's the good kind of risk, because the new stuff is always what you're really excited about," she said. "Stuff you've already done is great, and you're going to love it because you know the reaction from the crowd. But with new stuff, there's this thrill of like, 'I can't wait to tell you guys this new thing,' that just adds an extra amount of energy to what you're doing. It's like, 'I'm excited for you guys to hear this stuff that I love doing right now.'"
In terms of what she wants folks to take away from her time on the show, whether she wins or not, Brillon said she just wants people to see how she finally took a chance on herself, and in the most epic way possible. The comedian initially had her qualms about getting on the show after producers reached out to her. She doesn't consider herself a competitive performer and had some reserved fears about flopping on a network television show. "So many steps to this whole process have been new to me and that I've never experienced before. And so what I want people to know is that even though it was scary, even though it was intimidating, I still forced myself to step up to the plate," she said. "I think sometimes people wait until the time is 'right' to step up to the plate. But I don't think it works that way. I think you really have to give yourself that push to be like, I need to work on having more faith in myself. I need to put pressure on myself to work for what I wanted and to be passionate about it . . . you just have to know that you can't level up without accepting the hardships that come with it."
The Bronx-born comic known for her 2019 HBO special, Gina Brillon: Easily Offended, and her 2020 Amazon Prime special, The Floor Is Lava, is excited about what her potential win could mean for future Latina comics. In terms of other Latina comics she deeply respects and admires these days, Aida Rodriguez is high on her list.
"Aida Rodriguez is literally one of my favorite human beings on the planet. I absolutely love that woman, and I think she is next-level funny. She's so smart, and she's so brave and ballsy with the things that she says."
"Aida Rodriguez is literally one of my favorite human beings on the planet. I absolutely love that woman, and I think she is next-level funny. She's so smart, and she's so brave and ballsy with the things that she says," Brillon said. "And I love Anjelah Johnson as well. Anjelah is a wonderful support. She's so funny and so sweet. Both of these women are shining examples of hard work in the industry. They are just two of my favorite people to watch because I love hard workers, and the hard work pays off because you watch them and they're really funny."
And in a culture where so many of us are trying to find work-life balance while carving out time for self-care, Brillon wants to make it clear that hard work does not need to equate to burnout. She's all for self-care, creating healthy boundaries, and prioritizing mental health and overall wellness. But she doesn't believe that hard work is something people should necessarily be avoiding in order to reach their goals and desires. "Hard work is not toxic. It's just hard work. Part of the beauty of hard work is being able to look back and be like, I did that. That was hard, and I did it," she said. "Don't be afraid of hard work. It's not a negative thing to work hard for something. The only downfall to some of the younger generations is they are looking for shortcuts to get to the next level. 'I don't want to work harder, I want to work smarter,' is what they say. Yeah, you can work smarter, but there's still going to be hard work involved. There's a difference between overworking yourself and spreading yourself too thin and actual hard work. And I think the line is getting blurred for people to the extent where they are mistaking hard work for overworking, and they're not the same thing."
We couldn't agree more. In fact, it's been all these years of hard work and dedication that have brought Brillon where she is today and looking at a potential win that could literally make history. Check her out tonight, show her some love, and don't forget to vote!