Outrageous and irreverent stand up comic Eddie Griffin gets to send up those classic seventies Black exploitation films of the 70s in the farcical Undercover Brother, in which he plays the title character. Talking to the brazen comic is no easy task, though there were moments of seriousness, just a few, as Paul Fischer discovered when he tried having a conversation with the actor.
Question: How did you get involved in this goofy project?
Answer: I was in jail, and [producer] Brian Grazer called me up…. (laughter)
Question: Go on…
Answer: Yeah, we was visitin’ through the glass, and uh, he’s like, you know, hey look, I’m tryin’ to help, you know, make sure you don’t have to pick up no more soap. So we’re gonna bail you out but you have to play Undercover Brother. I was like who?
Question: What were you in jail for, actually?
Answer: It was a, uh, uh, a triple bypass attempt without having a doctor’s license, you know. It was a small child from Bangladesh, and I was over there, you know, after the war, and uh…
Question: Did you have a chance to check out the whole Undercover Brother Web site thing?
Answer: Yeah, I was a big fan of Undercover Brother on the Web site, you know, forget about it, I mean I was tunin’ in weekly and then e-mailin’ people and say you got to check this out. So really I got the call from my agent over at William Morris and she said look we got this project, Undercover Brother, I said Undercover Brother! You know, they ain’t on, I’m already on top of like…I’m like I’m already in. They sent the script over and John Ridley is a mastermind. I mean as I read the script, you know, most comedies you get and you’re eehh, uhh, fireplace starter. That one’s a payday. I read that and I mean you’re laughing out loud, gut laughs. So I went in and met with Grazer and he signed me on, then I met with Malcolm, and boom, off to the races.
Question: What makes you laugh harder, black people finding the funny stereotypes about white people or white people finding the funny stereotypes about black people?
Answer: Both. Both. Because you’re on the outside lookin’ in, so those perspectives are always gonna be funny. Yeah.
Question: Do you work on, did you…
Answer: Did I answer your question? OK.
Question: Do you work on, I mean you seemed to improvise in this movie or was it all on the page.
Answer: Oh my God, you know, a lot of it was, you know, already on the page.
Question: Did you improvise a lot?
Answer: Oh yeah. Hell, we improvised a whole lot. But what I liked about Malcolm [Lee], he let me, Chris and Dave Chappelle have our heads. You know, so we could have standups, or people that have a comedy background like coming outside in our lot. We do one, he’d always say give me one like it’s written, you know, then he’d let us go. You know, cause you can’t handcuff standup, you know, cause you let us go. Boy. That’s when the magic comes. And now the rest of that you can fit and edit it.
Question: A lot of people have suggested that Undercover Brother is a black equivalent of Austin Powers. I’m curious what your thoughts on that are, and who you think’ll be able to get the job done faster, Undercover Brother or Austin Powers.
Answer: Let me just put it like this. The jobs that Undercover Brother does Austin Powers wouldn’t take. You know. Only thinks you wants those assignments. And what was the other part of the question?
Question: Who do you think’ll be able to get the job done faster and what do you think about the comparison?
Answer: Oh, the comparison is cool, I mean Austin Powers is a huge success, you know. So I mean if we do half of those numbers, I mean, we are elated. So I mean we love the comparison. You know, I think it’s Austin Powers meets Shaft, myself.
Question: Who do you liken yourself to mostly, Austin Powers or Shaft?
Answer: He’s totally unique. There’s no other like Undercover Brother. You can’t get that cool. I’m sorry.
Question: Was it hard for you to keep in control working with these really beautiful women in this movie?
Answer: Man, you know, I’d go to work every day with a tent in my pants. You know, one of my favorite scenes is when we were in the bed, me and Aunjanue, and I messed up 17 times on purpose. I said we need another one, yeah, baby, let’s try it again.
Question: Is Denise Richards every black man’s ultimate dream?
Answer: What you talkin’ about?
Answer: When you come out of the NBA what do you get, a hundred million dollar contract and a white woman.
Question: Do you have one?
Answer: No. I didn’t get one.
Question: Well why not? What’s the problem?
Answer: Aw, well, you know…
Question: Hundred million dollar contract.
Answer: Yeah, I’m a player, not a stayer. (laughter). I tell ’em up front when they get with me, baby this ain’t gonna be forever. (laughter)
Question: But they still come line up.
Question: As a stand-up comedian when you do a comedy, do you feel a particular amount of pressure, as opposed to an actor who’s shooting a comedy, you know, they’re just doing jokes and if they’re funny it’s cause somebody wrote ’em funny, but as standup do you feel a particular amount of pressure to make sure it’s funny because you know that everybody’s waiting on you to be funny.
Answer: No. One of the things Malcolm tells me when we was goin’ in and doin’ this, he said do you mind not bein’ the funniest guy in the movie. And I looked at him like what the hell you talkin’ about? He’s like your job is to carry the film as an actor, you know, so I need you to be the glue. And I was like cool, I ain’t got no problems. So I mean, you know, when you’re hammin’ and things, this like, in other movies like Deuce Bigalow, that’s my job, to come in, light it up right quick, you know, and boom, I’m out, all right? But when you’re the centerpiece of a film, you’ve gotta think about the entire movie and not be selfish about I gotta be the funniest thing in the movie. So that was a learning experience and it was cool that Malcolm was there to help me, walk me and guide me through that, you know. So you can put the pin in your own I gotta be funny shit. I got plenty of time to do that in standup. I wanted to make sure we was doin’ some actin’.
Question: What do you find funny on film & TV?
Answer: What do I find funny?
Answer: (sighs). You know, when George Bush gets on TV and says the evildoers, that cracks me up. Who’s writing’ this man’s script? I mean, he needs to hire John Ridley, cause I mean the evildoers, I mean, he done played that out.
Question: As a comedian, who are your comedic influences, you know, the….
Answer: Richard Pryor. Richard Pryor. And Richard Pryor.
Question: Really? I mean, it was that straight?
Answer: It was that straight.
Question: That straightforward?
Answer: The greatest ever did it. Period. Ain’t none better. I mean the man’s got 15 albums. I mean how the hell you come up with Miss Rudolph and little tiny monkey feet? I mean, that’s a genius.
Question: People have compared your standup routine with a younger Richard Pryor. Obviously, that must be an enormous compliment.
Answer: That is a huge….Richard told me himself, he’s like look, you remind me of myself when I was 25. They gonna pay you to make it, don’t worry about shit.
Question: Are you still performing with your band?
Answer: Most definitely. That’s like, another side of yourself that you need to flex, you know, cause there’s other stuff you wanta say. You can’t say through standup, and music is the best way to get it out. So yeah, I’m gonna always do that, cause it gives me peace of mind, and you know, the way my head be going, you know, sometimes, I need that peace of mind. See I have a beautiful mind, you don’t see that? See, it’s working.
Answer: Well you learn no matter how wild and crazy we are, we’re family. I think that’s what you learn by watching the Osbournes, no matter how crazy a family that is, they’re a family, you know, so. Which I think is beautiful because everything is not all roses like it’s painted on television families, you know, so. Everybody’s family, I mean America’s one big dysfunctional family. You know, we still trying to learn how to get together and be brothers and sisters, which I think to tie it all in back to Undercover Brother, I think that this movie makes that statement of how we can all work together. No matter how dysfunctional we are, we can always get it together and get the job done.
Question: What about the first time you stepped onto a stage?
Answer: The first time I stepped onto the stage I was drunk as hell. Me and my cousin went out bar hoppin’ in Tennessee. And this is how the whole standup thing started. And he dared me to go on stage. Cause he wasn’t, we wasn’t getting our laughs, you know, we’re broke, we paid $5.00 to get in and we want $5.00 worth of jokes, and these one dry-ass motherfucker after another, and I was like fuck this shit. He goes I bet you $50.00, now I’m broke, I need the $50.00. But I was scared to go on stage. He’s like man I ain’t goin’ on there man.
Question: No material, no routine.
Answer: No. Went up 40 minutes, got a standing ovation, got kicked out of the club.
Question: What kind of stuff were you doing?
Answer: My opening night I was panned. I was just talking about my friends in the hood. They said I was too blue. And I still to this day don’t know what blue means. Where the hell does that statement come from? You’re blue. Anyhow, I was talking about, uh, people in my neighborhood, you know just, uh, uh, Butch Roberts, who used to sing to a stop sign like it was a microphone. So I did about 15 minutes on him. Then I did a piece about when my mother tried to run me over with a car. Oh, she was justified though, you know, cause I had stole her car. She said go get her some chicken, and you know that’s two blocks away. Nine hours later I came back. And she said don’t even, don’t even talk, Eddie, I know you had to drive all the way to Kansas to catch the chicken. Then you had to pluck the chicken, didn’t you. Then you cut the chicken head off, didn’t you. Then you had to boil some grease, throw the damn chicken in there, and then bring it back here to the goddamn house. So that’s when the ass-whippin started. I ran for the door, she ran for her car, and chased me down the street. I ran up on the sidewalk, she’d run up. I’d run into the street, she’d run back out in the street. Till I got tired, and she put me in the car and I had to go back and finish getting my ass whipped. And it’s way worse when you run from it, cause then they load it up. She had to run gas now.
Question: Are you developing any films, any projects on your own now?
Answer: I’m developing a drama, which’ll be me and John Leguizamo set up over at Miramax. And another film called Mojo, and another film called Bee’s Nuts, in which I play like a male Sybil with 15 personalities. And I’ve seen this cop’s partner get shot, I’m the only witness. He has to break me out the mental institution and go through all 15 characters to find out which one seen it. Thus, the Bee’s Nuts, cause he’s the renegade cop out trying to find out who saw his partner get shot.