(Originally published Dec. 2005)
Comedy saved him from the clutches of corporate law. Now, who’s going to save the world from Greg Giraldo?
Moments before Greg Giraldo arrives on the New York City set of his show, the producers fill no fewer than seven stage monitors with a brief best-of reel of the comic’s recent TV appearances. For hardcore stand-up fans, the clips are an entertaining review. For those less familiar with the veteran comic’s work, the segments serve as a primer– an appetizer to prep the audience members’ tummies so they can properly digest Giraldo’s caustic, scathing assault on the country’s politics and social idiosyncrasies.
The tall, slightly scruffy comic eventually takes to his area of the set where black pillars and a black picket like fence loosely surround his modest throne. Dressed in a chocolate-hue blazer, black print tee and distressed jeans, he looks confident — and a bit slimmer in person — studying index cards, penning notes and chatting with the crew who move furiously to make last minute adjustments. The space mimics a downtown Manhattan lounge. Some guests sit on faux- suede or tan-leather couches with squat red lamps nearby. Some perch on pillow-lined bleachers. Still others hang out at small tables adorned with martini glasses.
It’s a delicate place for a guy who doesn’t immediately present himself as such. After all, he’s made a name for himself barbing other comics and our nation’s more questionable residents. He was a writer and regular panelist on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. He jabbed Pamela Anderson on her Comedy Central roast and toured with Dave Attell for his Insomniac tour, where, on stage, he berated women for wearing “clit-hugger” jeans and got red in the face over restaurants that trivialize death by offering “death-by-chocolate” desserts. But for the anger and frustration Giraldo shows and for the amount of success the man has had, he’s sure to keep it all in perspective.
“My whole career has been a long, gradual two steps forward, one step back type of thing,” Giraldo says days before this particular taping from his office at Screen Gems Studios. “But each year it’s improved and it’s all moving in the right direction.”
His current full-time gig at Comedy Central, no doubt, has helped him in that direction. The interstitial Friday Night with Greg Giraldo runs two-and-half hours and features an opening monologue, interviews with other comics, hilarious field pieces and of course, Greg tossing to taped stand-up specials. “I’ve been loving doing it,” he says “It’s a quiet little corner of TV. But I’m not going to fool anyone into thinking it’s an organic show. If you don’t like puppets, you’re not going to like the episode with Jeff Dunham. There’s nothing much you can do about that.”
A NEW LEAF
Two days after the taping, Giraldo is playing to a packed room at Carolines in Times Square. It’s an amazing thing to see a comic so raw and unforgiving who can still find a way to create a cohesive hour of comedy. He lets “fuck” and most variations thereof fly somewhat liberally. He’s careful, however, not to let his masterful command of profanity become the show. Giraldo’s appeal, rather, comes from his presentation. His hostile-meets-matter-of-fact style of couching jokes leaves you barely aware that he’s performing and not just spontaneously spewing the things he bottled up that day
Most times, he doesn’t even attempt to smoothly transition between bits. Rather, he peppers his set with audible pauses like “let’s see” and “what else?” as if he’s checking off a mental list of things pissing him off. His controlled ranting allows him to work in a gem like, “any sex that doesn’t end with you limping out of the rectory,” and has him renaming the adductor-workout machine — that’s the contraption that works the inner thighs and thus puts females in seemingly compromising positions – “the twat spreader.”
During his set, he also finds time to fire back at the audience, a solid mix of tourists and true Giraldo fans. At one point a group of twenty-somethings shout out the phrase “underwear goes inside the pants,” the name of a song by techno artist Lazyboy (aka Soren Nystrom Rasted) in which some of Greg’s best bits act as lyrics. Giraldo tells the group — as nicely as possible — to pipe down and proceeds to explain to the rest of the room that he hasn’t seen one dime for the song; eventually, he calls Rasted “some Danish cocksucker.”
And one bit in particular took on a slightly heavier meaning, if you cared to read into it and just happened to know that Greg was minutes away from turning 40. It was one of his classics about how watching MTV Cribs is depressing, especially when “I’m 39 years old sitting on my bed slash sofa” and the pop stars the show features are half that age bragging about their giant manses and fleet of Bentleys.
The way Giraldo tells it, most of what he says in his act, unless it’s drenched in unmasked irony, is based in truth. So telling that joke must have had an effect on him. After the show, he stands tucked away at the side of the room, sipping a bottle of water. “I’m doing my after-show hyperventilation,” he says. “I just turned 40 three minutes ago.”
During interviews and on stage, Giraldo has made no secret of his hard-living ways on the road and the way in which it has affected — and, infected — his home life. Greg’s been married seven years (to a former Carolines waitress) and has three sons– ages five, three and nearly two.
“Turning 40 has affected me much more dramatically than I would’ve expected,” he says. “I’ve made some pretty drastic lifestyle changes recently. With that has come real reflection.”
“I would go on the road and live like a fucking maniac,” he continues. “That’s just the way it was. And then eventually it starts bleeding into your regular life. At first, it starts out on the road and it’s no big deal. So you keep denying that you’re about to destroy your children’s lives because it’s happening in Phoenix as opposed to home. Slowly but surely though, it starts impacting everything and then you have decisions to make.”
“There’s part of me that wants to be an uninhibited, unrestrained lunatic doing whatever I want. Frankly, that was a lot of the fun of it at the beginning. You hear people make grand artistic statements about why they love stand-up. But really, you’re choosing to tell dick jokes in a nightclub for a living. So if you go on the road and get fucked up all the time, you have to take everything that comes with that. You can’t have it both ways. You have to be a reasonable adult or a maniacal party road machine.”
So which way is Greg leaning these days? “It finally dawned on me,” he says. “I didn’t know if I wanted to be a guy with three kids. Then I realized I was a guy with three kids. So you can be a guy with three kids and an asshole or you can be a guy with three kids who’s trying to do the best possible thing. So I’m trying that. It’s time to grow up and be a good man, husband and parent. That’s a tall order for fuck-up traveling comic.”
“On the brighter side, I feel pretty good about where I am both professionally and personally,” he says. “My new lifestyle has brought a lot more joy and peace into my home. I keep getting better and funnier. I’ve also gotten a lot more confident and a tiny bit more comfortable in my own skin. And I jerk off less.”
ONE LESS LAWYER
Raised in a predominantly Irish lower-middle-class neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., Giraldo was urged by his immigrant parents (dad Alfonso is Colombian and mom Dolores is Spanish) to go to college. Alfonso worked for the financially volatile Pan Am in the 1970s and suffered pay cuts and a less-than-stable work environment. So his advice to Greg was to find a job that would always be there, something where he could eventually work for himself.
Having graduated from Columbia University with an English degree and then Harvard Law School in 1990, Greg was well on his way. He even practiced corporate law in Manhattan for a year before quitting. “It was a ridiculous, absurd belief that I could ever pull that off,” he says. “Everyone agreed that I would not become the kind of person you’d want in charge of anyone else’s affairs.”
Out for lunch one day while working at the law firm, Greg auditioned for a role in the off-Broadway play Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. While he didn’t get the part, the improvised sketch character he did at the audition got plenty of laughs. And at the director’s suggestion, Greg started performing at open mics.
A few years into his stand-up career, Giraldo landed a deal with ABC to write and star in his own sitcom. Common Law, in which Greg played John Alvarez, a capable but irreverent attorney, premiered in September 1996. The network cut the show after four episodes. “My acting was an abomination,” he has said. “I want to go back in time and slap myself.”
The canceling of the show didn’t ground him for long. Greg took to honing his stand-up chops and became the skilled performer he is today. He would later land appearances on Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien and became a popular Comedy Central Roast comic, skewering not only Pamela Anderson but also Jeff Foxworthy and Chevy Chase.
Now more than 13 years into his stand-up career, Giraldo is in a place most comics would kill for. Though, Greg is still always up for dismembering any trace of ego with sarcasm and self-deprecation. “You have to understand that I’m extremely talented,” he says. “For me there is no downside. But for lesser beings, there’s fear and insecurity about the future. They worry about how long this can go on. Those people constantly question themselves and their abilities. But for me, I don’t sense any of those things. It’s just progress and roses.”
For more information, visit greggiraldo.com