Many of you know Erik Griffin as the competitive office worker with an open-book marital sex life, Montez Walker, on the hit Comedy Central show, Workaholics. However, you should take some time to get to know him as the talented stand-up performer he’s been for the past decade. You should also immediately download his debut album Technical Foul: Volume One. I recently sat down with Griffin a few hours before his first show at Carolines on Broadway in New York City, where he was headlining. There are no gimmicks in his act: just straight-up stand-up filled with witty observations and personal anecdotes. Griffin shared with me how, although he’s thrilled to be on Workaholics, he just wants it to improve his opportunities to do stand-up when the show is over.
But he’s not against the Hollywood atmosphere. On stage, he talks about how Workaholics will never be nominated for an Emmy, but how he’d love to go to the awards ceremony. “I want to go to the Emmys, but I wanna go weird. I wanna, like, take a dwarf with me on the red carpet.” Keeping it both real and weird, check out my interview with comedian-first, actor-second, Erik Griffin.
Where did you start doing stand-up?
I’m from Los Angeles. So I started doing comedy in the open mic circuit over there. It was very difficult because there are only a few clubs in LA and it’s a very ‘showcase’ town. So a lot of stars were always around. When I started I was like, ‘How the hell do you get on stage?!’ Because here was Dave Chappelle and all these people. So I came from that world, just trying to get on those showcase stages. Then I realized I needed to get out of town— so I got out of town, doing little one-nighters in Montana and places like that. I built up my time and built up my reputation. It was a hard road for me because of the nature of stand-up comedy in Los Angeles.
How long have you been doing stand-up?
Since 2003, so like 10 years now. When I was really young, like 21 or 22, I tried to do it, but I was just going to open mics like once every two weeks. I was like, ‘Ugh, why haven’t I made it? I’m funnier than these people.’ You’re just young, and arrogant, and stupid. I remember I went to this one show, and I had such a bad experience that I didn’t want to get back on stage for another six months. I didn’t love it. I didn’t really chase after it the way I should have. It’s one of my biggest regrets. So I stopped for eight years and did something completely different. Then it just hit me: I didn’t want to wake up 50 and be like, ‘I didn’t follow my dreams.’ I always tell people, always follow your dreams– especially young people. Whatever it is. If you want to be a deep sea fisherman, whatever it is, take the steps to find out if you can do it or not. Otherwise, you’ll regret it. Most people you see are failures, unfortunately.
That’s very inspiring.
Look around. Most people fail because they can become a slave to relationships.
So you were working in an office before you started stand-up?
Yeah, I had an office job.
And now you’re still in an office.
Ironic, right? It’s just a weirder office. Workaholics is a fun little show. It’s the Little Show That Could. If we get like two million viewers, we’re going, ‘We did it!’ It’s like the greatest thing ever. But that would be an epic fail on NBC.
True but Workaholics fans are incredibly passionate.
Loyal and passionate. A little too passionate at times. If they see me on the street they go crazy. Even in New York, I was surprised. As soon as I left the hotel and went on the street I had to take five pictures. I don’t like to notice it. My friends who are with me notice it more than I do. When it’s over, I don’t want to miss it.
There’s probably a lot more than two million people watching because of how often they air full episodes online now.
Yeah, well, that’s just another great way they can not pay us. (Laughs)
Speaking of the not-paying thing: have you heard about the whole UCB controversy?
No! Tell me! Their pretentious mountain is going to fall.
There’s been an outcry about how the UCB doesn’t pay its performers on their weekend shows that they charge admission for. Kurt Metzger went on stage there and riffed about not getting paid and they ended up canceling the producer’s show, allegedly, for ‘not controlling their comics.’ (This was later vehemently denied)
The problem is that the UCB thinks they’re doing you a favor. They’re not doing you a favor. You’re the talent You’re doing them a favor. Pretentious assholes…that’s what it is. Here’s my thing about alternative comedy: they think they’re so high-brow. Alternative comics, you might as well have a guitar. Having that alternative persona is like having a puppet. It’s not any better than anything else. And there are a lot of bad versions of that. I’m tired of this whole, ‘We’re better than you, so we’re going to be on top of the mountain.’ No, you’re just a building just like any other building. You have good performers and you have bad performers and how you treat them is the measure of what kind of place this is. Don’t get me started.
But I want to get you started. And I understand the business part of it that the successful shows cover the shows that are in the red so it may not appear that the venue is making that much overall…but at the same time that doesn’t matter because we’re not their business partners. We’re an expense line in their budget.
It’s like they’re a Starbucks and they don’t want to pay for the coffee they sell. No, no, no, this is a cost. They think they’re doing you a favor. The problem is that there are so many comics that go, ‘Oh well, I just love doing it and I’ll do it for free because I love it so much.’ That’s not how it works. They should pay the comics. If you feed a comic, that goes a long way. Order a pizza or something.
What do you say to the argument that dictates if a comedian wants to be paid, they should just perform somewhere else?
They are taking advantage of comedians. Period. This is why comedians get crazy when they get a little famous: they were treated like crap coming up. That’s why you here about comedians with these crazy riders like, ‘I need to have shoes and Crown Royal.’ It’s because coming up, they were treated a certain way. Most comedians are not good. Let’s just be real about this. It’s only about the top five percent of comedians are good, that work, that can engage a crowd. The rest of them are just people who are trying to do it. Those are the ones that all clubs take advantage of. It’s not just UCB. All clubs. If we had a union, we could take care of this. But you can’t. Every day there’s someone who wants to be a comic. People think if they have a Facebook page that says ‘comedian’ and a notebook, that makes them a comic. It’d be great if you had your comic card, which means you’re a certified comic. That means you have to make a certain amount of money a year and some health insurance or something.
But for now, this is the system we’re in. It’s the least respected art form. That’s the thing about it: if they respected the art form they’d be paid. You never hear about a master pianist not being paid to do a show at some theater. Comedians, think, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ It’s easy to take advantage of comedians. Especially in a city like [New York] where there are just so many people. The UCB has branded their shows, so the UCB itself is getting people to come to the shows. They think they’re more important than the comedy itself. This brand they’ve created– they think that’s what it’s about. They think people are coming to see their brand. No. If your brand sucks, people are not going to come anymore. So you need to take care of the artists themselves, because they’re the ones who made it what it is. That’s how I feel about it. Somebody’s making money. If they were saying, ‘This money’s going to charity,’ or, ‘All this money is just going to paying the rent and the bills,’ or they’re saying, ‘We just want to provide a place for people to do comedy.’ No, somebody’s making money.
Matt Besser them claim that they haven’t pocketed any money from the theaters and that they only save up the money to open more clubs.
But more clubs for the purpose of what? To spread comedy? Probably to make money. That’s a brand. They made a brand. Then just do a percentage then, do a percentage of the door. If only six people show up, the comics only get 50 percent of six people. Why don’t they do that? There’s a lot of ways they can do this. I don’t buy it. There’s the same problem in LA. At The Comedy Store, you’re only getting $15 to do a set. But on the weekends, if you play the main room, they split the door with the comics. It used to be that the door was supposed to go to the comics anyway and the place got the bar. But that game has been flipped on us. I don’t know what happened! It’s hard in LA, too. It’s a showcase town and a lot of the people who are getting spots are people who don’t even need the money anyway a lot of times. You should pay something, you know? The Laugh Factory pays the best in LA, I think. Give them a drink, or something. I just think if they’re trying to be the punk rocks of comedy, ‘We’re not going to sell out’… please. This is the business of comedy. They’re branded. And one day they will capitalize on pretentiousness. Then they’re going to be who they hate.
Which is inevitable.
Your role on Workaholics has obviously opened doors for you to improve your own business.
Yeah, Workaholics has raised my value and helps me get my brand out there. That’s what I appreciate about it. It’s basic cable. It was my first deal, so it’s a really crappy deal. But I’ve taken advantage of it: getting with a record label and traveling around the country promoting myself, doing colleges. I’m just trying to set myself up to fall into something when it’s all said and done. We’ll see how it goes. For right now, I’m not complaining. I’d rather be on this show that people really love than a show where I make a bunch of money that people think is okay. People who love Workaholics think it’s the best show on television. When people tell me on the street, ‘I think you’re the best character on that show!’ I think they really mean it. There are two types of people: people who love the show and people who don’t watch it.
It seems like you’re a big fan of the show. I think that’s great. I always find it strange when I talk to someone on a show and they don’t even watch it.
Orny Adams, a good buddy of mine, is on Teen Wolf. I don’t think he’s seen one episode. I watch Workaholics like a fan, too. I’m not on the set when I’m not on the show. So I don’t know what a lot of the episodes are about until I watch it. Even the episodes I’m on, I want to see how much of me they’ve cut out.
Besides your own character, who is your favorite on the show?
Blake, and it’s only because I like Blake [Anderson] off-camera though. He’s a great dude. He’s like the sweetheart of the three. He’s the innocence of the group. Anders [Holm] is great. He’s the reason why I even have a job. This Montez character is someone he knew, that’s what he says to me. It’s great stuff.
What’s a piece of advice you would give to the young stand-ups reading this?
Most comics don’t know why what they’re saying is funny. If you ask them why what they said is funny, they probably wouldn’t be able to answer the question. So I would say, know that. Know what exactly you’re talking about and why it’s funny. It seems like a simple thing but it’s really not. A lot of times you don’t even know what your joke is really about. Sometimes people think because they said the word ‘rape’ it’s a rape joke. It’s not, really. Maybe it’s really just about how your cousin doesn’t know how to interact with people. So, just find out the why. That’s something that’ll help you when you’re coming up and you’re writing. It changes what it’s all about.