Eddie Griffin seems out of place at the wintry independent world of Sundance. Looking a bit weary when we met at his Park City hotel, Griffin had just flown in from South Africa where he had been shooting a new action film called Ultimatum. “I love it there especially since it’s summer time down there” as opposed to the freezing temperatures he can do without here in Park City. He was in town to help spread the word about his stand up feature concert feature, Dysfunctional Family, which the rest of America can laugh with when it opens this Friday. Unlike conventional concert comedy films, Griffin inter-cuts his often politically incorrect stand up material with footage of his family, which Griffin shot returning home.
The comedian, who was seen in last year’s 70s spoof Undercover Brother, said that Dysfunctional family was always intended “as coming home, like a chest opening up your soul.” Griffin recalls that the idea for the comic documentary hit like three years ago. “I wanted to do something different, cause, you know, it’s always the same old shit, so I wanted to take the concert genre and do something different with it.”
Griffin says he’s thankful when the film’s political incorrectness is pointed out to him. “Thank God it is,” he says laughingly, as he reminds me that he’s no politician. “You know how incorrect them motherfuckers are.” But part of that political incorrectness comes through from the outset when he has the temerity to poke fun at 9/11, often taboo ground among comedians. THIS comic is unapologetic, denying that it was risky for him to include 9/11 in his routine. “No, because the best humanity comes out in some kind of tragedy and the best way to deal with emotions is to face them,” Griffin explains.
Much of his material and the reason for his return to stand up, he says, was a reaction against September 11, in part. “You know, there’s a whole lot of shit that has been going on before and after 9/11. That was a bad day but there are plenty of bad days that were before that. I mean you grow up in the projects and it’s a bad day every motherfucking day, “says a laughing Griffin. “You know, somebody gets shot, and we say: Go deal with that, what the fuck. I think the media has overblown 9/11 and used it to their advantage, for the sake of TV ratings,” Griffin says angrily. “You know it was a bad day, but we always rise from the ashes. December 7 of World War II was a bad day, but we really shot their fucking asses, you know?”
While there seems to be a lot of anger in Griffin’s abrasive comedy, despite his tough early days, he says he turned to comedy more for therapy than escape. “I cannot afford Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey did not live next door,” he says laughingly. Griffin admits that even today, with his success, comedy remains therapeutic. “It is a way of emptying oneself emotionally. You can take whatever pleasures and pains of life there are and empty yourself in front of a live audience, which is kind of strange. But, that is the way I do it.”
Griffin says that his two greatest comic influences couldn’t be further apart but equally important. “Firstly, there’s Bill Cosby, the early years; when he was doing comedy albums, I think he remains one of the greatest storytellers ever. I also used to be in the basement listening to Richard Pryor. In those days there was no HBO, so the comedy albums were big and they were left to your imagination by the storytellers.”
Black comedy continues to stand the test of time, transcending racial barriers “Cause it’s true,” Griffin explains. “You know, black comedians are there to get up and tell the fucking truth and bare their souls, while lot of times Caucasian comedians get up there and try to be clever. Black comedians do not have that option because the education system is kind of fucked up. So, when you get up there you have to use what you got and you go up and what you have is truth. I think the harder you grew up, the more opportunity for funny stories you have because the more fucked up the situation, the more pain you have to draw from to find the humour. If I’ve grown up in the suburbs, and was a nice decent family, the illusion of that is kind of hard to say.”
Griffin has managed to take past despair and turn it on its comic head, which he satirizes with Dysfunctional Family. The actor says that he’s working on a sequel and is finding plenty of comic ammunition along the way.