Are there any fat pride anthems out there for chubbier men to get down to? Erik Griffin doesn’t think so, but if Diplo released a remix of the sound of bacon sizzling a Fat Burger, that’d probably be it. Consequently, Griffin also thinks ordering something healthy off a fast food menu is like going to a whorehouse to cuddle. It just doesn’t make sense, and that’s what makes Griffin so likeable: he’s one of us.
Griffin has been making waves in Hollywood as a funnyman for years now. He’s had cameos in Arrested Development and Bob’s Burgers and, perhaps most recognizably, he co-starred as Montez Walker in Comedy Central’s Workaholics. For all that time, Griffin’s star has more or less shined as bright as one of the people’s. That’s about to change.
Earlier this month, Griffin debuted as a lead in Showtime’s comedic Polaroid of the 1970s Hollywood comedy club scene, i’m Dying up here, executive produced by Jim Carrey. His costars include Oscar winner Melissa Leo and Sundance darling Ari Gaynor. So you know the man has to have acting chops to make it on that billing, not to mention with Carrey’s stamp of approval.
Next, on July 9, Griffin’s first-ever stand-up special, The Ugly Truth, hits Showtime too. In a few words, it’s a master class in storytelling. Whether he’s fuming about babbling babies on his flight—”I didn’t get to enjoy making the kid, so I shouldn’t have to deal with it”—or trying to convince us that the crucifixion of Christ would be funny if our Lord had been fat, it’s easy to fall for Griffin’s pragmatic conviction. His act is purposefully genuine and resonates with the everyman because Griffin is the everyman.
Playboy Contributing Writer Bobby Box recently chatted with Griffin about his new special, crossing over to melodrama (i’m Dying up here gets dark), the perilous state of politically incorrect comedy (did Bill Maher and Kathy Griffin go too far?) and why our freedom to laugh should never be taken for granted—especially in times of turmoil.
You were scouted for I’m Dying Up Here after Jim Carrey attended one of your stand-up shows. You’re no amateur, but do you still get nervous on stage?
It was a random Tuesday or Wednesday night at The Comedy Club in Los Angeles when Jim Carry was there. I was going up to do one of my regular spots when the manager walked up to me and said, “Hey, by the way, Jim Carrey’s here.” My first thought was, “Well, is he bumping me?” Like, I was so mad because he’s already made it. What the hell is he doing here? [laughs].
It was him, the show’s producers and all of the writers. They were all in the audience scouting comics and I had no idea. So I went up—I already had some angst because I was mad about Jim being there trying to bump me—and I had a great set. I got an audition the next day.
You had no nerves at all?
Let me tell you something: if I had known they were there scouting for a show, I might have been nervous. But because I thought, “Oh, Jim Carrey is in the audience for fun,” I just went up there with my regular energy and I had a great time. I’m really glad it happened that way.
The public is a bunch of sensitive assholes.
i’m Dying up here is a drama about comedy. For those who have yet to check it out, should they expect more drama or more laughs?
It’s funny that you say that. I think you just answered the question. It’s a drama. If it were a drama about steelworkers, you would already know that it’s a drama. So just the fact that comedy is in the name when you talk about it, people think there should be more laughs. But, no, this is a drama about people trying to do a certain profession. The profession just happens to be comedy.
Everything that has to go with [the 1970s]—race, gender, social politics, actual politics—as well as what goes on in these people’s lives make the show. They have families. They have goals. They have desires. They have a checkered past. They have a messed -p father. It’s more about that stuff.
i’m Dying up here suggests that much of comedy is borne from misery, which is a sentiment that’s been around forever. Why does misery love comedy?
Laughter is the base reaction for every emotion. What I mean by that is you could laugh at a funeral. Sometimes you laugh when you’re super angry. Sometimes you laugh when you’re super sad. When you’re frustrated, you laugh. I think that comedy is basically expressing the frustration—or the joy, the triumph, the anger—about something and the base reaction to all of that is to laugh. So when people hear the word comedy, they think that it means “feel good" or that it means that it has to be high-spirited. But no, it’s just an observation, and people are going to love it or hate it. You can agree with it or disagree with it. We have to intellectualize it as performers, but when it’s all said and done you’re making people feel something.
I don’t want to draw a comparison to HBO’s recently cancelled Vinyl, about the rocky early starts of rock stars in the 1970s, so I won’t, but do comedians get women like rock stars do?
Well hey, women like to say all the time that what they like most is a good sense of humor. I could agree with that. I think there’s a certain level of confidence you get from being paid for being a performer. Anybody who performs and does what they do well is going to find that people are attracted to that.
How long did it take you to write your new Showtime special, The Ugly Truth?
Because this is my first special, it took me 10 years. It’s been an accumulation. I’ve been doing a lot of that stuff for years. But I’m pretty confident in my voice now, so I’m sure that when I start working on the next one, the process will be a lot faster.
How do you know you’ve got a good stand-up routine? Is it realized as you write or purely based on audience reaction?
Everything I write, I always think it’s good. It’s the audience that lets me know I’m completely wrong. So when I go into it after I’ve done it say three times in front of an audience and after I’ve made some changes or feel comfortable to the point that the crowd loves it, then I know I did something good. Then, when you have it down, it evolves. My material evolves. I keep adding to it or I’ll break it or I’ll put it someplace else in my act. Just so it feels organic.
You get to a certain level of consistency that you never really bomb. Somebody who’s bombing is just trying to do something outrageous. They’re trying to do something out of the box. And if you’re doing something out of the box and people are just hating you for it, you’re still getting a reaction. I think getting booed and getting a standing ovation is the same energy. It’s when you don’t care about the laughter that you really start to shine.
Women like to say all the time that what they like most is a good sense of humor. I could agree with that.
Speaking of comedians getting booed, Jim Carrey defended Kathy Griffin’s severed-head image, saying “I think it is the job of a comedian to cross the line at all times because that line is not real.” Do you agree?
If you’re someone who’s trying to do something provocative, and you’re trying to do something that you know might offend people, then you have to be okay with the backlash. One of the things that raised my brow in her apology was her saying, “You guys know how he is.” I’m thinking “Well you should have known how he is.” Love him or hate him, 50 million people voted for the guy. He’s also the president of the United States, so he’s going to have a reaction. So are all of the people who love him.
You can’t just victimize all these people and then turn around and act like a victim. My thing is, just own it. Initially, I thought she did. She said she made a horrible mistake, because it wasn’t funny. So, alright, maybe she wasn’t trying to be funny. Was it a performance piece? If it is, what are you trying to say? That you want to cut off the president’s head? That is a direct threat to the leader of the free world. It missed the mark. I think she knew that. I think she is genuinely sorry for this happening.
At the same time, is the response too much? Maybe. I think both things are true. I think she went too far and I think the backlash is too hard also. I understand what Jim is saying, too. It’s what we do. So do it, but own it. That’s all.
Are there limits to what can be joked about?
Yes. I think there are limits based on circumstances. If you’re at a funeral, maybe you’re not going to do the slapstick joke that you would do at a comedy club. Maybe you’re speaking at a graduation in front of little kids. Common sense should play into comedy.
Are people too sensitive these days?
People are way too sensitive. What’s happened is people are so sensitive and they want to remove things they don’t like from society. They want to remove people instead of letting them feel shame. Shame is an emotion that we’re supposed to feel, so let somebody make a mistake, let them apologize for that mistake and make up for it. Instead, we just want to attack and criticize and tear people down.
Common sense should play into comedy.
Workaholics has a huge cult following. What was it like working with Blake Anderson, Adam Devine and Anders Holm? Who is truest to his character?
None of them are really true to their character. Adam has the same energy as Adam, but Adam Devine is not an idiot like Adam DeMamp. Blake is nothing like Blake. They’re nothing like those guys. But those guys have great chemistry. They’re the modern day Three Stooges. That’s what made the show fun. That’s what made it resonate with people. The fact that these guys are such great friends and they went through all these experiences and situations that people could relate to.
How has today’s comedy changed from comedy in the 1970s?
Comedy is oversaturated. It’s too publicized. There’s too much of it out in the public to be scrutinized. With social media and YouTube, you just can’t have a spontaneous moment, because it lasts forever. I think there’s too much average comedy out there. Back then, whoever got on Johnny Carson was probably going to be pretty good because they earned it. Now there are like, 500 stations.
Is oversensitivity killing comedy?
I don’t think it’s killing comedy, I think it’s making it harder. And that’s okay. That’s making it challenging for us. Comedy shouldn’t be easy. If it were, everybody would be doing it. You have to be thoughtful as a comedian nowadays. Something can be inappropriate but it can also be funny. You could apologize for it, but still understand that it was funny.
An example of that could be what happened with Bill Maher. He made a mistake. I know why he thought it was funny. I thought it was funny. But at the same time I was like “Ah!” You’re a political show. You’re speaking to a certain audience and this wasn’t the right time for that. Funny, but inappropriate in this climate. But he’s being vilified. He did this one thing and now all of a sudden he’s a racist. People always jump to conclusions.
By the way, that’s why we can’t get rid of the electoral college. Because a popular vote would be…it would be Twitter. We need to have informed people making important decisions because the public is a bunch of sensitive assholes.
Watch the trailer for The Ugly Truth, Erik Griffin’s first comedy special, debuting on Showtime Friday, July 9.