Comedian Eddie Griffin on the Purpose of Comedy, Showing Off in History Class, and His New Special | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 28th, 2024  

Comedian Eddie Griffin on the Purpose of Comedy, Showing Off in History Class, and His New Special

The Dude with the Horns

Apr 05, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

In a way, longtime comedian Eddie Griffin is the King of the Colloquial. Listening to the man talk or watching his new comedy special, Laughin’ Through Your Mask, which came out last week, one gets the sense that Griffin cares deeply about the (his?) idea of common sense. Griffin, who grew up first in Kansas City, Missouri, and later moved to Compton, California, has seen a lot. He’s also starred in movies like Undercover Brother and played roles in Armageddon and A Star is Born. Over the course of his life, he’s lived in dangerous areas and mansions. Doing so, one picks up on a through line to the world at large and Griffin does his best to express what he sees and what he knows of this thread.

But all that isn’t to say that it’s not brusque, at times. It’s easy to think that many in today’s culture might be put off by what Griffin has to say. But Griffin makes fun of everyone, from people who look and act like him to people who look and act quite differently. Everything is fair game because, as Griffin says below, the point of comedy is to induce laughter. Plain and simple. We caught up with the comedian to ask him how he came to the world of joke telling, what inspired his new special and tour during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what he loves most about entertaining.

Jake Uitti (Under the Radar): When did you get your first good laugh?

Eddie Griffin: My first good laugh was in my history class. I was a freshman in high school and I used to cut-up a lot because I didn’t understand the meaning of history. I still don’t get most of it because nobody’s ever asked me on a job application what George Washington did for a living or if Thomas Edison married a Black [woman]. I mean, you know. So, I used to clown and my teacher at the time, she said, “Alright, Eddie. If you be quiet and study, I’ll let you get on top of the desk at the end of class and give today’s lesson as Richard Pryor.” And that’s how—when I got that laugh, matter of fact, I ended up getting straight A’s in history after that.

That’s incredible. So, you grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and I wonder how the city influenced you. But I read also that you grew up in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Did that help you as an artist, since there’s usually so much rejection going door-to-door?

[Laughs] Well, yeah, that’s a point well taken because they rejected us every door we knocked on. “We don’t want that shit!” I tried to tell my mama but she was a member of the cult and I finally got her out of it. You know, when they sing, it was spooky [sings monotone, low] “We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. We speak out in fearlessness.” That is not singing, that is not a joyful sound. That’s brainwashing. So, yeah, Kansas City helped immensely, with my uncles, pimps, hustlers, and players, you know.

Did you work with the Chiefs, is that correct?

Yes, I was a dance choreographer. I choreographed a couple of halftime shows.

I believe another major turning point in your life was an open mic comedy performance you did on a dare. Is that something you think about often?

No, I don’t think about it often but I’m thankful that my cousin did dare me because it turned into a lucrative career.

Okay, last historical question, if I may, before we go into the new special. You moved to Compton, California at some point in your life. How did that area influence you as an artist or a person?

It taught me to not wear the color red in Compton, California, because, you know—my birthday is July 15th. So, I had this big, red Adidas sweat suit and I had just got to town and I was walking to the liquor store to get me a 40-ounce to celebrate my birthday. I came out it was blue Smurf people all over the place like, “Hey, cuz, what you doing with all that ded on? For real though, you know what I’m saying?” They had all the guns on me. I said, “Hey, hey, hey, I ain’t from around here?” They said, “I know that cuz. You need to ask your people because you can’t be wearing that ded!” I found out that Crips don’t use the letter “R,” that’s why they said “ded.” I said, “I’m quite alive, what do you keep saying ‘ded’ for?” [Laughs] I got back home and said, “So, somebody in this house don’t like me. Y’all seen me walk outta here with this big red suit on and I could have been merked by the blue Smurfs.” So, then I started wearing tan and black, neutral colors. Or yellow, ain’t no yellow gang is there?

What was the genesis of your new comedy special and what made you want to go on tour during the pandemic?

I just wanted to make a point that, you know, America should not live in fear and hide out in the house. You face your fears, you know what I mean? I know I got to wear a mask on the plane, in the car. But once I’m doing my thing, mask off, baby! That’s the genesis for me going on tour during the pandemic.

Did it feel successful, did you achieve what you were hoping to achieve in that time?

Oh, yes. Yes, I did.

Do you have a favorite memory from the tour or special, itself—perhaps about the Jan. 6th insurrection?

One of my favorites is the FBI showing up at the house of the dude with the horns. In the interview, they were all just giving their address. “I live at 1717 14th Street!” So, the FBI showing up, knocking on the door like, “This is 1717 14th Street, are you the dude with the horns?”

There was a point in the special where you talked about coming on the stage with honesty as the intention. In the special, for example, you come on and you’re in Dallas and you talk about the weather but it also sets the dynamics and context for the whole show. When did you come up with that technique?

I think it was four or five years ago. My earlier specials, I’d come out with a real manic energy. You know, I’m just comfortable in my own skin right now.

What is your opinion on the role of comedy in everyday life? Because it seems like you push boundaries and aren’t concerned with offending people, which is not how everyone might go about it.

Well, it’s like I said at the end, if you’re offended, then you’re the motherfucker I was trying to offend! The job of comedy is to make a motherfucker laugh. Did I not do that? That’s the role of comedy. The role of comedy is also to speak knowledge to power because power becomes drunk in power. I think I pulled that off also. Comedy, there are no boundaries? What? Boundaries? No. Boundaries were set up by fake motherfuckers that want to keep people in a plastic little square. Think outside the box? Who said there’s a box? I ain’t seen one motherfucker on Earth with a square head. Everybody’s head is round. So, 360 degrees is my point.

You’ve worked for many years. You’re a very memorable person, you’re indelible. Have you ever dug in and thought about why that is?

I’m just cool! I put the C and the double-OOL in the cool! Smoother than ex-lax! [Laughs]

What has changed the most in your life in the past two decades and what do you see for yourself when you look ahead?

What has changed a lot? Well, you know, I don’t go out as much as I used to. I used to be a party animal, I was out 24-hours a day and those that were with me know that to be nothing but facts. Yeah, I’m a homebody.

Yet you have so much energy?

Yeah, man. I’m at home right now. Shit, I’m at home. But I swim in my pool, I go play ball with my sons. So, I’m still active. I still box!

Boxing, that’s interesting. That’s sort of a good metaphor for my last question. What do you love most about entertaining?

The give and the take, the take and the give. That instant gratification that I was talking about on the special. The audience gives it to you, which makes you give it back even more. I think that’s what every entertainer is addicted to, the drug of instant gratification. There’s no other high like it on Earth.

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