In the Venn Diagram of life, there have been a few people who meet in the middle of comedy and professional basketball. Michael Jordan was there, unintentionally, via Space Jam. Larry Johnson and Penny Hardaway had some moments in their 90s commercials. And for a long time, no one could touch Shaquille O’Neal both on and off the court.
And then there’s Blake Griffin. A former number-one draft pick who has a quiet demeanor off the court, he’s slowly built his comedy chops while no one was looking. While other athletes took to the gym in the off season, Griffin took an internship at Funny or Die. That, coupled with some other moves, moved Griffin into a deal to produce a short show/shoe commercial for Adult Swim starring himself. But before we get there, we should start at the beginning.
The Champs with Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher
Invited by Neal Brennan when they met working on a bit for the 2011 ESPY awards, Griffin made an early appearance on Brennan and Moshe Kasher’s Champs podcast just after his rookie year.
He managed to keep his own with the pair of veteran standups. Griffin’s low-key delivery matched wits with Kasher and Brennan, but his appearance really shone when Leslie Jones showed up in the second half. When Jones didn’t know who Blake was and admitted she wasn’t a fan of the current NBA, Blake and The Champs worked to persuade her to become a fan of his. He then delved into the daily habits of a professional athlete and how he keeps a level head despite making many millions of dollars a year.
Funny or Die Internship
The same year that Griffin showed up on the Champs he did a summer internship with Funny or Die. By 2011 FOD had been around for five years and was well established as a major player in the world of web videos. Whereas many young players are encouraged to do something in the offseason during their early years, many of them return to college, or take cushion internships with companies that sponsor them. But Blake Griffin took the summer to learn how to make comedy shorts with some of the most creative minds in comedy. He walked away having written and directed his own short in The Flight of the Griffin. It may not be the most hilarious video, but it does a good job spoofing the likes of Birdemic and Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole while also featuring Bob Odenkirk.
Griffin also appeared in the short Lil’ Blake taking a knock on the old “Lil Penny” commercials featuring Penny Hardaway in the 90s.
To wrap up his summer internship, Blake appeared in Blake Griffin Surveillance Camera Highlights. Probably the funniest of the batch, this video combines energy and music of a game highlight reel with the mundane activities of what being an internship is a lot of times. Conceptually, all three films are really solid and entertaining, making fun of Griffin without being mired down in the meta-commentary of celebrities playing off public perception.
Kia Optima Commercials
Blake became a spokesman for Kia after using their car to win the 2011 slam dunk contest, in which he jumped over the hood of a Kia while Baron Davis alley-ooped him the ball from the sunroof. It’s become the prototypical Griffin play, showcasing his flair for the spotlight on the court while keeping a low-key demeanor.
Griffin then had a series of commercials for the Kia Optima, first as a series of flashbacks to a younger version of himself, which were fine, but relied pretty heavily on nostalgia. The more recent set of commercials featuring Griffin and Jack McBrayer as a crime fighting duo “Griffin Force” are much better. McBrayer as the comic foil, or Robin to Blake’s Batman, allows Griffin to look disapprovingly at the silly antics of McBrayer.
Space Jam Table Read
Going back to the brains at Funny or Die, Griffin participated in a live reading of Space Jam, featuring Ben Schwartz, Nick Kroll, Jerrod Carmichael, and Paul Scheer, amongst others. Griffin brought along another teammate, DeAndre Jordan, to play Charles Barkley in the read, while Blake got to play Michael Jordan himself.
Space Jam has had the weird distinction of being the high bar of NBA entertainment and Blake is aware of it, but still seems to have fun playing Michael Jordan in the one of the strangest ways possible.
BGCP3TV in HD
The joint effort with his teammate Chris Paul has Griffin and Paul playing off their public images, which is their strong suit, while keeping the short program focused on the goal of selling shoes. It’s almost a full circle from the Tim and Eric days of Adult Swim – now the commercials are still surreal, but are actually selling you something. The second bit about the fans over reacting is a bit thin, so it’s a shame they couldn’t maintain the weird vibe of the beginning. The spot is obviously used for commercial purposes, but could have settled to be half of what it was.
It’s grounded enough to keep it appealing to basketball fans but would be entertaining to see them go wide enough so they could dig deep into their comedy skills.
Blake is at his funniest being able to poke fun of himself and the perception of what a professional athlete’s life is like. Given the opportunity to stay in the limelight of athletic success, hopefully we can see him stretch out his comedy chops even further.
Andy Livingston lives in Baltimore and runs the occult/basketball website and podcast Elevator Doors.