For the past 15 years, Comedy Central’s half hour specials have showcased the future stars of standup. Looking back, the early years of Comedy Central Presents included memorable sets from the likes of Mitch Hedberg, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Dane Cook and dozens more. Re-branded The Half Hour in 2012, the series continues to feature the best up-and-coming comics in the country.
For many comedians, it’s that history that makes doing a half hour special so significant. While a half hour may once have been a comic’s first major exposure, comedians now have many ways to build an audience. Almost everyone who taped a special this year does non-standup comedy as well, branching out into the worlds of podcasting, sketch and improv, web series, acting, and more. In this new series, I sat down with each of this year’s 16 Half Hour comedians to talk about their specials, their careers, and their generation of comedians. Each interview will also feature an exclusive clip from the special. All the interviews can be found here.
Best known to many fans as the loud mouth Montez Walker on Comedy Central’s Workaholics, Erik Griffin has been doing standup for 10 years, and recently released his first standup album, Technical Foul: Volume One. I caught up with him over phone to talk about Workaholics fans and forging a new path in comedy.
So how did your taping go?
I thought it went well. There were a lot of Workaholic fans that made me really comfortable. I was a little nervous but I said a couple of things in the beginning to take away my nerves, and it worked. It just became very comfortable and loose.
Comedy Central’s half hours have such an amazing history. What did doing a half hour special mean for you?
It’s a sign of progress, for sure. I mean, there’s so much entertainment out there in the world. So many stations, not a lot of people might see this, as opposed to how it was before. Or a lot of people could see it, so you never know. So I just look at it as, I’ve been working hard in my career and this is one of those things you check off on the list of the bucket list of things you want to do as a comedian, because of all the people that came ahead of you.
If people aren’t as familiar with your standup, what’s your typical gig like? Are you on the road?
Oh yes. I’m on the road a lot. I’ve actually just been on a tour. I just released my first comedy album, and I’ve just been touring. And I was preparing for this special, so I was like six or seven weeks on the road for the special, and then I’m still on the road from it. So, you know, I tour a lot. I’ll do a lot of colleges, because Workaholics is a very college friendly show.
Obviously there are a lot of fans of Workaholics out there. Do you find that they don’t necessarily know what to expect when they see you live?
Yeah for sure. They have no idea. They’re always really surprised, because I’m not that character. And so they, they’re surprised that I even do standup, because that’s not as common a knowledge as it was before. It used to be that, if you say comedic actor, you already know that that person’s a standup. It’s not like that anymore, so now they go, “Oh wow, you’re a standup?” And then, “Oh wow, you’re not like your character.” So it’s always a shock to people.
Is that a challenge for you, or do you find that fun?
No, it’s not a challenge. I don’t think about it. They don’t know me, but I’m still the same standup. I still do what I would do. They’re just being introduced to it, so it’s not challenging or frustrating or anything like that. I kind of like surprising people.
I’m really interested in how everyone doing a Half Hour this year does comedy things other than standup, in your case acting. Do you find that doing other types of comedy work ends up informing your stand, or do you see them as totally separate creative processes?
I think they go hand-in-hand. I think they enhance each other. I mean, standup is a form of acting anyway. The audience is your scene partner, and you’re still having that same sort of conversation. But, you have to do everything nowadays, because it’s not like the comedy clubs are giving everybody work. They’re basically putting it out of business in some cases, because you have to be on TV to get into the comedy clubs. That’s completely reversed. I mean, it used to be, you build up your name and you build up a fan base in the comedy clubs, then you got introduced to TV. So now, you have to do other things. You have to do commercials, you’ve got to do podcasting, you’ve got to do acting, you’ve got to try to find other avenues so you can get out there and do standup, if that’s your passion.
And now you have a whole generation of comics with all these other influences and experiences that they’re then bringing to their standup because they’ve been forced to go out and do other things?
Well, yeah. I agree completely. It’s not like when the comedy boom was happening in the 80s. People could make a living being a standup comic. Even when you were just starting out, you could travel all over the place, and they were paying more. T days are gone. I wonder who the standups are going to be in ten years. Because it’s not like the comedy clubs are giving people a chance to work, so I wonder who’s going to get a chance to really build up their standup career, build up their material, if they’re not getting the opportunity to do it in the clubs. It’s different. But there are other avenues now. People are making their own videos, people are making their own websites, there’s Twitter, people are famous from social media. There’s a lot of different avenues to get yourself out there, so the comedy clubs or the places that put on comedy shows can be like, Oh we want this guy, cause he’s Twitter famous or YouTube famous or he’s from the commercial or he’s got a popular podcast. It’s actually great times if you’re multi-talented or if you really get yourself out there and do a lot of different things.
You started in standup, right? And then you got into acting?
Yes, I was a standup first. I started doing standup in 2003, but even then, because I’m from LA, I knew that you couldn’t just do that. So I got a commercial agent right away.
And you’re interested in doing more acting?
Oh yes, for sure. I mean standup’s great, I love it, I’ll always want to do that. But I love acting too. You reach more people, and like I say, the more you’re out there doing acting jobs, the better your standup experience is going to be. Because the more famous you are, the more the money you get at the clubs, the more people show up, the better you’re treated. They go hand-in-hand.
And like you mentioned, you just put out your first album. Was there a lot of overlap between that and the Half Hour?
Yeah, there was a little bit. I wanted to do that, though, so you could hear it and then when you see the special, you’d be able to see some of that stuff. Because I’m a very physical comic, so it was really hard to select what material I wanted to do on the album. Could it translate? Could you like visualize it without seeing it? That part of it was challenging. So there’s a little overlap but I wanted it to be that way.
It seems like a lot of people do albums around the time they do their half hour special. It’s like a way to draw a line in the sand on that material and then move on to the next stage.
Yeah, yeah yeah. I want to burn all that. Now it’s done. Like I didn’t want to burn double the material, you know? [Laughs] All the material that’s on the album and the special, I’ll retire it. And then I’ll move on to some new stuff.
Speaking of that, what’s next on your agenda?
I’m just going to continue to tour. I love doing standup comedy so I’m interested to see if this half hour’s going to enhance my profile, so I could do more standup. Is is it going to raise my pay scale? Is it going to give me higher profile? Maybe I could get more acting jobs because they’ve seen me as a standup now? I hope that all the Workaholics fans now go, ”Oh okay, wow. That guy’s also a standup. I just saw his special, let me go see him live.” It all goes hand-in-hand, so I just want to continue to do that. Continue to grow as a standup, grow as an actor, grow as an entertainer/performer in any way I can. I’m going to start my own podcast, probably, and just keep moving forward in my career. And then the next thing, I do an hour.
Erik Griffin’s Half Hour premieres on Friday, May 10 at midnight. He’s on Twitter at @ErikGriffin.
Elise Czajkowski is a contributing editor at Splitsider and comedy journalist in New York City. She tweets at@EliseCz.