If you’ve ever watched the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson or Conan, you might recognize the cynical stylings of comedian Nick Griffin.
His act and latest album Bring Out the Monkey consist of short, sharp one-liners dealing with relationships, sleep and depression — sometimes more than one at once, such as his claim that sleep “is like killing yourself, but you wake up refreshed.”
Now Griffin will be visiting Side Splitters Comedy Club in Tampa from Thursday to Sunday.
In a CL Q&A, Griffin talks about road touring, napping and meeting Joan Rivers.
CL: You’ve said you’re in the midst of a 13-week road tour. How is that going so far and how have you been able to keep your sanity?
Nick Griffin: Well, I’m not sure I’ve kept it. I’m just trying to be productive — that’s the only way I know. I try to write a lot everyday and work out, but endless hours alone in an apartment or a hotel room is not the best way to maintain sanity. So I’m sure a little bit whacked-out at this point, but I’m hanging in there.
Has anything exciting come out of the tour so far?
Yeah, I guess in the middle of it, I taped the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, which will air sometime in the next couple of months. That’s always fun anytime you get to do a TV spot, it makes a lot of these road gigs worthwhile. You know all that hard work is ending up in a place that a lot of people can see it.
How does it feel being described by (WTF Podcast host) Marc Maron as one of the only comedians “more unhappy than I am”?
Yeah, that’s true. I’m working on that. I don’t know — I mean, look, I get the blues and I write a lot about it and I try to make my comedy as personal as possible. I am a kind of a depressive guy, but hopefully it comes out somewhat joyful on stage, at least for the people to hear. Comics are general are pretty miserable people. The nature of comedy is to look at the world and find out what’s wrong with it and tell everybody. So you spend 23, 24 years doing that and you’re going to get down after a while.
You’ve talked at length about how much you enjoy sleep, even saying “it’s getting real close” to sex. Has that become your new vice?
It has. I actually had to talk to somebody because I was so sleeping so much. I got some new medication to keep me up a little bit more. I don’t drink or smoke anymore, and I try to limit my other vices. But yeah, sleep is something that I’ve indulged heavily in the last few years. I don’t know if it’s a product of getting older or if I need it, but I’m a huge napper.
Do you think it’s your only road tour vice left now that you’re now picking up waitresses and drinking in comedy clubs?
Yeah, I think it is that. Ideally, I’d like to be in bed with a woman. But at the end of the day, if it’s just me in there, at least maybe I can fall asleep and imagine what would happen. I think that’s where I’m at right now.
You’ve done David Letterman several times now, but you didn’t do your first spot until your mid-30s. What were your early years as a comic like?
I started in the Midwest — Kansas City — and I was kind of taking cues from comics in the Midwest. Comics in the Midwest basically are guys who just try to work every week on the road. So I was spending 30 to 40 weeks a year driving around the Midwest working Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, Missouri and just kind of making my chops that way.
But I worked with a woman in Nebraska probably three or years into my career named Margaret Smith, who had done Letterman probably 10 times. I had always grown up really admiring and asked, ‘How do I get on Letterman?’ She said, ‘Move to New York City and L.A. and get into the kind of clubs where people will see you. It might take six or seven years, but you’ll get on.’ I moved to New York City and 16 years later, I got on. So I guess I was a slow learner or something, but it took me a lot longer than she suggested, but it was kind of worth it.
During your last Letterman appearance, you were on at the same time as Joan Rivers. Did you get to meet her at all and if so, what was that like?
She was coming off stage just as I was stepping out, so I didn’t get to talk to her much. I never really knew much about Joan other than what I’d saw on TV, but I remember as I was coming off, she was just super kind to all the kind of people who were taking her mic off. There was a sound guy who said, ‘I used to work on your old show 20 years ago’ and she remembered him. She was just very present and really cool to the people on the show. That kind of struck me as something I didn’t expect because when you see Joan, she’s just making fun of how people are dressed.
I think the one thing I noticed was that she was being really, really cool to these people and then she turned to me and said, ‘They’re great, you’re going to do great.’
Who were your own influences early on in stand-up?
I really liked Richard Lewis early on. I don’t know if it was because he was depressed, but I think a lot of it was he just talked a lot about his personal life and dealing with his problems. I found that very attractive, very kind of brave to talk about the things that probably bothered him most about himself.
I really admired Bill Hicks growing up just because I saw perform a bunch of times where he wasn’t doing very well, but he didn’t care and just kept going and had these very strong opinions that he didn’t back down from. I think that’s something I really admire, I think that’s something that’s really, really hard to do. He was very young back then — probably 28, 29 — and he had these very strong opinions about big issues. Hell, I was just trying to get laid and probably take a nap, and this guy had big ideas.
What are your plans for the future? Do you plan on touring off Bring Out the Monkey for a while or recording a new album soon?
I’ll probably tour on it for another year and hopefully, probably a year from now, I’ll do another one. Some guys are really great at churning out new material. Louis C.K. does a new hour every year, and there’s a couple of other guys who are able to do that. It takes me three, four years to do it because my jokes are just very short, concise. I’m not able to produce as much material as I like, but that’s just another one of my faults.