Erik Griffin is a workaholic. Workaholics, the show that introduced him to a broader audience with his portrayal of Montez Walker, recently ended its seventh and final season. But Griffin is keeping himself on the radar this summer with his role in I’m Dying Up Here and his first hour-long comedy special, The Ugly Truth, which premieres tonight at 9:00pm on Showtime. I talked to the comedian and actor about the new special, how he was discovered onstage for his role in I’m Dying Up Here, and how he surprised himself with his unknown acting chops.
This is your first hour-long special. Why did you feel that now was the right time to put a special out?
I don’t know if it was so much the right time as much as I just got the right partner. The timing was right with the new show and having this relationship with Showtime. It just felt right. It felt like it was time for me.
It has been a minute since you have released anything major in the way of standup. In 2013 you had your Comedy Central half hour and your album Technical Foul. I know that you got busy with acting and Workaholics, but were you keeping up with standup, doing shows, touring, etc?
Oh yeah, yeah. I’ve been doing standup since the very beginning. It’s just that the acting work was more visible. Some people think I’m just an actor, so this special will help people realize, “Oh, wow. This guy is actually a standup.”
Did you notice a big pop in your audiences when Workaholics took off?
It just depends. Workaholics fans don’t necessarily have money to go out to comedy clubs. I mean, I could tell there was a portion of the crowd that was there because of it, but it wasn’t huge for me. I think that this show will make a bigger impact because it caters to an older crowd and older crowds have disposable income to go out for an evening at the comedy club.
You got scouted for your role in I’m Dying Up Here, right?
Yeah, accidentally. I was at The Comedy Store on a random Tuesday or Wednesday night. The owner of the club was like, “Hey, Jim Carrey is here.” I was a little upset at first because I thought he was going to bump me. I thought he was going onstage. What I didn’t realize was that the whole crew was there: him, Dave Flebotte, Michael Aguilar, Jonathan Levine, writers and producers. They were there just checking out comics. They saw me and the next thing I knew I had an audition the next day and about three weeks later I was on the show.
What happened to you was the dream of the naive open micer who moves to LA and thinks they’re going to be discovered. But for you it happened 14 years into your standup career, quite possibly long after you had given up any such young dreams.
Exactly. But it’s still exciting to think about. Even when I talk about it now it’s like, “Wow, I can’t believe this happened.”
Your character Ralph is a comic who served in Vietnam. There’s an episode where one of your war buddies comes to visit you at the club and I have to say, there were a couple scenes there that not only hit a level I hadn’t seen in the show, but also a level I’ve never seen from you as an actor. There’s a really powerful and emotional moment that happens in that episode that I didn’t see coming.
Me either. That was one of the biggest challenges of the show for me, having to dig deep like that. I didn’t know I had it in me. I hope people enjoy the show and I hope that people who make big decisions about things start to look at me in that way.
Another facet to your character is that he’s pretty comfortable with where he is in comedy. He’s a regular at the club, he’s got a steady TV writing gig. But coming up around him are hungry, ambitious, young comics trying to make moves. That is still a dynamic that exists in comedy today.
It’s called “golden handcuffs.” That happens a lot to comics.
How difficult is it as a standup to play a standup? Standup happens in the moment. Trying to recreate it clearly has to present some challenges.
It was very challenging, actually. I don’t necessarily do comedy the way Ralph does comedy. “What is this guy’s voice? What is his point of view?” It was a challenge, but a fun one.
In your opinion, does I’m Dying Up Here accurately capture the world of standup and what it’s like to be a comedian?
I think we did great. The comics on the show – me, Al (Madrigal) and (Andrew) Santino had some input. If we were doing a scene we would very much be like, “Hey, we wouldn’t do this.” That’s one of the biggest things we fought about. Some of that stuff slipped through, but a lot of times we would be like, “Hey, we wouldn’t be talking like this in the room.” So then we would move the scene to the bar. Even something as small as having a stool on the stage, we fought for little things like that.
Photo by John Coyne/SHOWTIME.