Many comics make bold statements. That is primarily because it is so easy to make one. For a comic to make a bold statement is like for a cook to use vegetable oil. It really is something that goes hand in hand, no matter who the comic is. However, the general rule of thumb when you do it is to at least try and make it funny. Despite such, it is alarming how many comics actually forget the fact that they are supposed to still maintain their wit and humor when they are basking in their big moment of boldness.
Erik Griffin sure as hell is not one of them.
In his newest special Erik Griffin: AmErikan Warrior, which airs tonight on Showtime, Erik holds back nothing, exploring a large variety of topics from the NFL kneeling situation to society’s desensitizing to how Workaholics helped get him out of jury duty. As you watch him onstage in the special, it is remarkable just how much of what he’s saying comes from a place of passion, not of anger. Sure, he may be stirring the pot, but that’s what comedy is supposed to be. That’s why this works.
We recently spoke to Erik about the special, his role on ‘em>I’m Dying Up Here, on the sensitivity of society, and yes, reflecting on Workaholics.
This is your second special with SHOWTIME, as your first special The Ugly Truth, came out around the same time as the first season of I’m Dying up Here. Was that a result of your role on the series?
I actually had already made the special, because the show took so long to come out from when we filmed it. I made the special in hopes of selling it to someone, and because I was on the show, SHOWTIME bought my special as well as another two guys from the show. And then this year, because the show was coming out, I inquired about it. I said ‘Hey, I’d like to do another special.’ And then they saw some of the current material I was doing and they were like ‘Okay, can you do it by this time?’ So that’s how it came about.
Was there anything that you learned while doing the last special that you wanted to apply to this one?
I wanted it to look better. I wanted it to feel a little bigger. Again I wanted the material to be more current. I wanted it to be a little more not political correct. I wanted it to be more message orientated. The first one I just wanted it to be funny. The first one I just thought ‘Let me just show people that I’ve been a funny guy for a while, and this is the material that I’m doing.’ This time I wanted to be a little more thoughtful about what I was talking about. Those were the really big differences.
While doing the special though, did you ever get the feeling of “Maybe I’m going too far or being too critical”?
Oh sure. All the time. But that’s what we do. As a comic, that’s what you do. Unfortunately you have to look at negative things and you have to be over critical and find a way to convey that in a funny way. And it doesn’t always work because you’re saying things that people don’t agree with. You’re saying something that makes someone uncomfortable. But that’s just part of the game. That’s what we do. I just hope people find it entertaining, with all that being said.
And I’m sure that there may be some people who will take something out of context from the special and take it the wrong way, but there’s nothing you can really do about that.
Exactly. There’s nothing you can do about it. People want to look at this and be critical. That’s the thing. We’re too sensitive. We just have an over-sensitive culture right now. Everything has to be black and white, and things don’t work like that. There’s gray areas. Just because somebody has an opinion you don’t agree with, their opinion shouldn’t be removed. It’s just something where you go ‘Okay, I don’t agree with that person,’ and then we move on. We live in a society right now where it’s only their opinion that matters, and everybody else’s should be shut down.
In addition to all of the, as you called it, the “little more not politically correct” material here, I really enjoyed you talking about trying to get out of jury duty.
That’s why I did that whole section. That was like more fun like the first special. I said ‘I can’t be ranting and raving my whole special. Let me have a little bit, something personal in there.’ I don’t know why I filled out that jury stuff. It’s such a nightmare.
That it is. I found that out myself earlier this year. And you were talking about how you got recognized while at jury duty as Montez from Workaholics. Does that happen a lot to you?
Yeah, that still happens. I think it’s always going to happen I feel like. It’s just one of those shows that touched that age group and it’s going to stay with them forever. It’s literally every day where somebody’s like “Hey, Workaholics!” And I’m like “Okay.” No matter what else I do, people are still going to be like “Oh, it’s Montez from Workaholics. But that’s not a bad thing. That’s the whole reason why you got into the business anyway. To make an impression on people. It was like a perfect mix, a perfect blend. So I will always cherish that “Workaholics time.”
Having grown up in L.A., were you always finding yourself drawn to the stand-up world?
No. I was just a funny kid, but I didn’t know how to make it a career. I mean I wish I would have thought about it when I was super young and said “Okay, I want to do this forever,” and just try to figure it out. No, I didn’t know. It’s like you going to the kitchen and you know how to put a recipe together and you go “But how do I become a chef?” I don’t know how it happened. I just knew I was funny and I found a way to make money at all. That’s the part that took a long time.
Now let’s talk about I’m Dying Up Here. Now how much research did you have to do on that whole 70s comedy culture in L.A.? Did you read the book by William Knoedelseder?
I skimmed through the book. I knew that the show wasn’t going to be based off the book solely. A lot of it was [Executive Producer] Jim Carrey’s personal stories. He had taken the cast to dinner and was talking to us for like 3 hours about it. A lot of the stuff that happened on the show happened to him. He lived in a closet when he first got to L.A. Just things like going to Canters, fights in the parking lot, and all these kinds of different things that were happening. So I just absorbed all that and tried to figure out who was this guy [his character, Ralph]. My step-father was in the military, so I asked him “How was it back in the day when people came back? How were these people?” I didn’t want to overact or anything or act like a crazy person. It’s just like “Here’s a fun person who just has had dark things that happened to him.” It was a lot of that kind of stuff. And then we put it together and here we are.
I’ve always been fascinated by that whole time of comedy, and everything that went down during that period that really shook things up and changed how stand-up was viewed and done.
I know exactly what you’re talking about. And the part about it that fascinated me was this was the start of people having a real point of view onstage. Like really putting themselves out there and having political thoughts and talking about what was going on. This was right after the sort of vaudeville and people having really vanilla and evergreen material not offending anyone. And then in the 70s, they’re ushered in and you’re talking about abortion and Nixon and all these things that are going on in society, especially racial tensions. That was being brought to the stage. And we look at some of the comedy greats now that we look back on and they started doing that, like Letterman and Robin Williams and Richard Pryor and all of these types of people. It’s interesting. Like Tom Dreesen was around and he was a consultant, and I’ve performed with him at The Laugh Factory. So it’s interesting to talk to guys who were around back then, so we want to have a little authenticity to it. And it’s nice when those people give us good compliments. Richard Lewis hit me up the other day just to say “Man, I love what you’re doing on the show.” And I could tell that he was being nostalgic. He tweeted out a picture of himself in the 70s and he was like “This is when this show, this is when I’m Dying Up Here, this is when I was there.” So I think that we’re doing it justice and that’s the best part about it.
Is it surreal for you, getting to know all of these people and spend time with them, as someone who grew up watching comedy?
You know, it is. I guess I’m just like a real comic now so I get so cynical. So I don’t think about it like that. But the more I think about it when I talk to people like yourself, and really sit down and analyze it and intellectualize everything, then yeah it does hit me. But when you’re in the comedy world and you’re doing comedy, you kind of feel like you’re in school and those are the seniors and you are a junior or a sophomore trying to make your own way, trying to carve your own piece of the pie. And it’s interesting when Jim Carrey, when he comes to the set or when we do a lot of press with him or the wrap parties, I really like that he comes over to the comics and he’s not Jim Carrey anymore. He’s a comic also and I think he probably misses that. So when I see him be comfortable with us, it gives me hope that this is a brotherhood that lasts for the rest of your life. So that part of it is what I like. I like talking to the old heads, because it’s like “Oh wow. We’re all in the same brotherhood.” It’s not really surreal so much as it is a beautiful thing to be apart of.
When you watch the show, what is really unique is that every single character sans Goldie has the same goal, and that is to be on [Johnny] Carson. That’s not really something you see a whole lot, with every character having the same objective outside of their own individualism.
That’s the beauty of the comedy business. There’s no right or wrong way and there’s no one path. Even though all paths lead to the same thing. That’s the great thing about that.
How do you think you would thrive in that era of comedy?
It would depend on my age. If I was in my early 20s, I don’t think I would’ve survived. Because I didn’t survive in this era in my early 20s. So it just depends on where I was in life. I could see that it was tough. But it’s tough in every era. Look what I had to do. I got on a show. That’s not easy to do. So I think I would have done alright.
Erik Griffin AmErikan Warrior airs on Showtime and can be found on the app or Sho.com