Twenty years ago, 1979 Scarsdale High School graduate Shaun Eli Breidbart, who performs as Shaun Eli, began doing stand-up comedy at night while he was working — quite successfully — in the banking industry. Six years later he quit his job to focus on comedy full time. The laugh is on anyone who doubted his move as all these years later and his close-to-home appearances at Mamaroneck’s Emelin Theatre are proof of that.
Breidbart, who performs his clean, smart stand-up mostly in theaters, not clubs, is a regular at the Emelin, performing there with his fellow Ivy League of Comedy colleagues two or three times a year, and filmed his lone special, “The Ivy League of Comedy Live from the Emelin Theatre” featuring Breidbart, Karen Bergreen, Clayton Fletcher, Carrie Gravenson, Jim Mendrinos and Wali Collins, there in September 2019. The special was finally released for rent or purchase on Amazon in December 2022 (https://bit.ly/3IpzbBH).
“It was a very slow process,” Breidbart said. “The editing took a really long time just because we wanted to get all of the details worked out and back and forth with the editor and the director and me wanting everything to be perfect. Then it was trying to figure out the best place to put it. When all those people turned me down I went to Amazon.”
Breidbart called producing and co-starring in his own special a “learning experience.” One of the things he learned is not to produce and star in your own special.
“[The director] saw me frazzled and said, ‘I think you need to calm down. How are you going to perform?’” Breidbart said. “I said, ‘Once I step on stage I’ll be fine,’ and later he said, ‘You were right. As soon as you stepped on stage all the frazzle went away and you were fine in front of the camera.’ There are just so many details to work out.”
Breidbart used some of his best material and some jokes he wanted to burn — jokes that become so well known they don’t get used again — for the special.
“Comedy requires surprise,” he said. “We don’t really have that problem anymore because so few people watch late night TV and there’s so many choices, but my thought was there are some jokes I wanted to burn. I’ve got a bunch of jokes about my parents I’ve been telling for about a decade. I wanted to just put them in the special and never tell them again.”
His closing joke was “what I think is the best joke I’ve ever written,” Breidbart said. It was a “relatively new” joke that goes on for a couple of minutes with a few punchlines throughout, which normally is not enough, but works with this joke.
“Of course after I put it in the special I start to think of other punchlines, so now the joke is longer and funnier than it was in the special,” Breidbart said. “So now that joke will stick around until people know the joke and I can’t do that joke anymore.”
Breidbart will return to the Emelin on April 29 with Dan Naturman and Joe Larson, who are also part of the Ivy League tour he founded and runs. Breidbart graduated from University of Pennsylvania and many of the comedians he tours with, while they have different backgrounds, have similar pedigrees, hence the name of the tour group. It’s part of a busy winter into spring of touring. He’s just wrapping up a Valentine’s themed “Skirmish of the Sexes” tour with Fletcher, Carmen Lynch and Kerri Louise and has plenty of other shows booked prior to the Emelin.
“It’s a local audience, it’s the kind of people I grew up with,” Breidbart said. “Telling jokes to your friends and telling jokes to an audience are two different skills. I’m not saying one is better or harder than the other, but they’re different. But when you’re telling jokes to people who live in your area and have the same background it does make it a little bit easier to connect.
“I like the Emelin because it’s local, it’s a beautiful theater, they’ve got great tech people and a nice staff. It’s laid out well for a comedy show. And also they’ll pay me.”
There are about 40 comics who are part of the Ivy League lineup, so the combinations are always changing to bring fresh comedy to repeat venues.
“For me personally I keep track of every joke I tell at a venue so that when I go back I don’t repeat anything,” Breidbart said. “That is a humongous amount of work, but it works.”
The longest performance Breidbart has ever given was about 90 minutes, so sharing the bill with other performers he’s able to vary his material enough so that people aren’t hearing the same jokes over and over again.
“I do mix it up,” he said. “It does depend on the audience. I have a joke early on that’s kind of a smart joke and if they don’t quite follow it then I steer in that direction and if they do follow it I steer in a different direction. But aside from that it really depends.”
He likes to throw in some “local references” when he can, often coming up with a joke while on the road to a new city or venue, which is a great way to connect with an audience.
“They know it was written for them,” Breidbart said. “The only thing is comics learn early on, or at least the good ones do, if there’s something that’s really obvious, don’t do a joke about it because every other comic coming into town has already done that. It’s less of a problem in theaters where they don’t have a lot of comedy, but if you’re going to a comedy club and there’s a building downtown that looks like a phallus and that’s your joke, everybody’s heard it. Every third grader’s already made that joke, so you gotta be more original than that.”
He added, “My favorite thing in comedy is to think of a joke on the way to a gig and try it out as soon as I get there. That to me is the enthusiasm of a new joke.”
Though he got his start freelancing writing jokes for late night hosts Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon in the 1990s, starting to do his own stand-up in 2003 when he was 42 wasn’t easy for Breidbart, who at first was finding any venue he could test out his chops in.
“There’s advantages and disadvantages when you start later in life,” he said. “The disadvantages are all the stuff that would be available because you’re young and new, nobody wants a 40-year-old starting out. The advantage is there is wisdom that comes with age. That’s definitely helpful.”
When Breidbart left the financial world in 2009 he vowed to never return.
“I dealt with some pretty detailed stuff, so I don’t know that I have the expertise anymore to do what I was doing,” he said. “I could probably pick it up again, but the business has changed. I was a pioneer in the credit derivatives markets, so I invented some new financial products, but I think some rules have changed, some procedures have changed, people do things differently, so I couldn’t just walk in to what I was doing and just pick it up again.”
Living the “laughter is the best medicine” life, which he says “was true before 1900 or if you’re a Christian Scientist,” has enriched not only his life, but the lives of others. Though he admits if he gets sick he wants “a real doctor.”
“I haven’t met any doctors yet who will barter,” Breidbart said. “I can’t make them laugh and then get free medical care. Except for my brother, but he’s a pediatrician, so that doesn’t help me very much.”
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to “sleeping, reading and watching television,” Breidbart figured out how to do what other comics were struggling with, putting on a successful show over Zoom.
“One of the jokes I did was if you asked me when I was a kid when I grew up I might have said, depending on the age you asked me, race car driver, doctor, scientist. Never in a million years would I have guessed hermit,” Breidbart said. “Because that was pretty much my life. But I did a lot of Zoom shows. Comics didn’t like them, but I figured out how to make them work and I actually got pretty good at them.”
The key for Breidbart was patience. During a normal show in front of an audience there is a slight delay in the reaction time as a crowd processes a joke and the laughter catches on. Over Zoom the increased fractions of seconds that it took for that spread seemed “an eternity,” but Breidbart would wait for the response before moving on to the next joke so he didn’t step on his own laughter. “The secret to Zoom comedy is to shut up,” he said. “Tell the joke and just wait. Give them a chance to laugh and let the laughter catch up to you.”
Whether over Zoom, on television or in person, Breidbart’s career has been all about “timing.” So far it’s been impeccable.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.