That’s what Greg Giraldo said to me when I first met him face to face. It was 2005, the year I launched Punchline Magazine. Greg had literally turned 40 minutes before, and having just wrapped up a masterful early show at Carolines in New York City, he was taking a breather before his next set with his friend and fellow comedian Russ Meneve, who was opening for Greg that night.
I should note that his comment was well-founded – not just hilarious – as I’ve worn my hair unkempt and natural (read: Afro-esque) for most of my adult life.
A few days prior, I had interviewed Greg by phone for a long feature story, which was great; but this – finally getting to shake the dude’s hand – was a real treat. During that interview and a quick follow-up days after the Carolines show, I feel like he really opened up about his station in life. He told me:
Turning 40 has affected me much more dramatically than I would’ve expected. I’ve made some pretty drastic lifestyle changes recently. With that has come real reflection…
It finally dawned on me: 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.
And so continued my enormous admiration for Giraldo — one of the main reasons I decided to start writing about stand-up comedy.
Specifically, his 30-minute Comedy Central special from 2000 is what made me realize that, when done well, contemporary stand-up comedy is an important art form that deserved to be analyzed and championed the way movies, music and television had been for decades. I had recorded the special on VHS and watched it somewhat compulsively (along with half hours from Zach Galifianakis, Nick Swardson and others). Here’s a little bit of what that show looked like:
|Greg Giraldo – Illegal Alien Investment Banker|
Luckily, running this site for the past five years has afforded me many opportunities to hang out with comedians whose work I love and respect. And Greg was one of those comics. Let me disclaim this now: I am in no way submitting that he and I were great friends. But he headlined Punchline Magazine’s third-anniversary show in 2008; I’ve interviewed him three (or more?) times and have had many a brief and awkward chat at comedy clubs; we even had occasional text chats, which usually were good for a few laughs.
In May of this year, I texted him after his appearance on NBC’s The Marriage Ref, hosted by his longtime friend comedian Tom Papa, and he responded in his typically sarcastic manner.
In the end, I’d like to think that Giraldo knew that I was someone who was incredibly passionate about the way he delivered the art form in which I’m most interested. I hope he knew that I was inspired by his performances. On his albums and during his live shows, no matter how frustrated or angry he seemed while dissecting society’s foibles, there was a quiet, constant and underlying fragility that endeared him not only to me but also to all of his true fans.
I’ve been reading a few of the mainstream Giraldo obits; both The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly call him an “insult comic” in their headlines. There’s nothing wrong with being an insult comic, per se, but it’s a lazy – and just plain wrong – way to describe Giraldo’s comedy. I get it: Most of America knew Greg from the insults he hurled on Comedy Central roasts, but that’s what every comic does at roasts. That’s why they’re fun — because you get to see a guy like Brian Posehn (nowhere near an insult comic) become an insult comic.
The thing about insult comics is that they rarely offer their audience a deep look into the person they are; they’re playing a character. Giraldo let his audience in all the time, making references onstage to his substance abuse, failed marriages and the challenges he faced as a father. And through our interviews these past five years, I got an even deeper look and shared that with comedy fans. Last year it seemed Greg was heading into a new, positive direction in life. In that interview he said:
It always depends on what mood I’m in. My moods shift rapidly. I feel more or less optimistic. I just woke up at 2 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio, and it’s raining out. So I feel a little less optimistic than I might if I were someplace else where it wasn’t raining. But I actually feel really good about things, and everything is definitely moving in the right direction.
Later in the interview he said:
You know, I’m never fully happy about anything but, yeah, I’ve gotta say in the last couple of years, I do seem to have a lot of fans that seem to really appreciate and like what I’m doing. I get a lot of e-mails, and I see the crowds getting bigger in all the clubs, and people seem to really be getting what I’m doing. So, yeah, I am actually pretty happy with the way that’s going.
My last interaction with Greg occurred on March 24 of this year, when I sat down with him at Comix comedy club in New York to film A Tight Five, a web series wherein I interview comedians. Even more than during our interview in 2009, he seemed to be in a great place. He had just started work as a judge on Last Comic Standing, he looked in good physical shape and was in a great mood. Right before we started, he ran across the street to a bodega to get some trail mix so that hunger wouldn’t set off what he described as his horrible ADD.
Unfortunately, because of technical problems and staffing issues, I was never able to post the interview — which runs about 30 minutes in its uncut form. We’re working on getting that on the site as soon as possible. And I feel like shit because a few weeks after the interview, Greg actually texted me to ask about the status. Specifically, he asked, “What happened to our interview, homecheesefriesplate?”
Six months later, he’s gone. And I’m pretty fucking sad about it. So I can’t even imagine what his family and the comedy community — especially those comics who climbed the ranks with Giraldo the past 15 years or so — are feeling. All I can say to the comics is, no matter how surreal this feels, keep getting onstage and making us laugh and think. And to Greg’s family, please know that an entire generation of comedians and comedy fans feels passionately about what Greg gave. I hope that brings even the tiniest amount of comfort to you.
I’m going to stop writing now and instead leave with one of the favorite quotes, from the aforementioned 2005 interview, that Greg gave me:
On the brighter side, I feel pretty good about where I am both professionally and personally. 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.