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2002’s Undercover Brother looked primed to make comic and consummate scene-stealer Eddie Griffin a bona fide movie star. The film was a commercial and critical success, but the expected sequels have not been forthcoming and Griffin has spent the ensuing years alternating between stand-up comedy and small but memorable roles in flashy fare like Norbit. Griffin is no stranger to bit parts: He made his film debut as “Gas Station Attendent” in manager/mentor Andrew “Dice” Clay’s concert film Dice Rules before playing characters like “Ventriloquist” in The Five Heartbeats, “Messenger” in Brain Donors and, of course, “Guest at Kid’s Bachelor Party” in House Party 3. From 1996 to 2000, Griffin co-starred opposite Malcolm Jamal-Warner in Malcolm & Eddie (a sitcom that was mercilessly mocked in the web series that inspired Undercover Brother.) Griffin recently released a DVD of his latest stand-up special, Eddie Griffin: You Can Tell ’Em I Said It.
Eddie Griffin: You Can Tell ’Em I Said It (2011)
The A.V. Club: How do you think you’ve evolved as a stand-up over the last 20 years or so?
Eddie Griffin: Let’s see, it’s gotten wittier, it’s gotten smarter, and the subject matter has gotten grittier.
AVC: What do you mean by grittier?
EG: I’m taking more chances, daring to say what people think.
AVC: What kind of things do you think people think but are afraid to say for whatever reason?
EG: I think men are afraid to say that they would love to have Michelle Obama in their bed, but they think it.
AVC: Why would they be afraid to say that?
EG: You know, Secret Service showing up at your house, shit like that.
Dice Rules (1991)—“Gas Station Attendant”
EG: That was fun. I had actually met Andrew at the Comedy Storm on Sunset in Hollywood, and I was doing an impersonation of Andrew Dice Clay as a homosexual. So I got off stage, he walked over to me and said [adopts Dice Clay voice], “Hey kid, I wanna talk to you,” and I thought we were getting ready to fight, he’s like, “No, you’re funny as hell, I got this tour coming up, don’t get excited I ain’t saying I’m takin’ you. I’ll come back and check you out tomorrow, then we’ll talk.”
So he came back the next day and watched me again, and I could feel him waiting on me to ask about the tour, so my subconscious kept saying, “Whatever you do, don’t ask about the tour.” About 10 minutes went by and he said, “All right, fuck it, I’m taking you!” The first show was Providence, Rhode Island, 17,000 Andrew Dice fans. I think I was the only black man in the house. Bill Schiff was the opening act and I was middling, and they threw M&M’s and everything at this comedian Bill Schiff, so backstage Dice was messing with me he says, “You’re next!” So I had the DJ play some old-school Parliament Funkadelic, I came out dancing, had the whole audience saying, “Hey motherfucker, hey motherfucker, hey!” Cut the mic off, went into the jokes and stood the house up. Walked off stage, looked at Dice and said, “You’re next!” He said, “Can I fuckin’ pick ’em? Can I fuckin’ pick ’em? This guy is gonna be a superstar over here. He’s got brass fucking balls!”
AVC: Was it intimidating facing 17,000 people who just want to see Dice?
EG: Not at all, I was 19 years old. Fearless. I was too young to be afraid; I was excited.
AVC: You didn’t realize the gravity of the situation?
EG: Yeah, it was just what played in my head as a child: “This is the kind of arena that I should have, yes.” I was in my element.
AVC: Could you do some of the routine that Andrew Dice Clay responded with?
EG: “So I’m sitting there, sucking this guy’s dick, right? And he’s balls deep in my ass, BOOM!” Dice and his father managed me my first year in the business. That was actually my first film, in Dice Rules.
AVC: How was Andrew Dice Clay as a manager?
EG: Real good, you’re talking about a lot of wisdom there.
The Five Heartbeats (1991)—“Ventriloquist”
EG: I remember doing one day of work, and I was so good I ended up doing 25 days on that movie. And all of it ended up on the editing room floor. That was my first Hollywood lesson: Just because you filmed a movie doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in it.
AVC: What was your character? What was his relationship to The Five Heartbeats?
EG: His relationship was to the lead singer, played by Michael Wright, and he was their opening act at every show, and he and Michael Wright spiraled out of control into drug abuse. I did a whole background for the character, the ventriloquist: He was an only child, adopted, and they bought him this ventriloquist doll as a child, so to him it was really like a brother. But he was never good at getting his mouth not to move and the dummy’s mouth to move, and he would get booed off every show. The last show that we filmed him opening for The Five Heartbeats, they threw tomatoes, and they were canned. And we had all these things, I had the dummy snorting cocaine with me, and it was wild. It was very dramatic, there’s a lot of crying backstage with the dummy. I put tears on the dummy.
AVC: Does the dummy commit any crimes?
EG: Just cocaine abuse.
Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (1999) and Deuce Bigolow: European Gigolo (2005)—“T.J. Hicks”
EG: Who called me on that one? I think it was Adam Sandler, and that was just a fun character to play, just pimping.
AVC: When you read the script did you get the sense that this could be a breakout character?
EG: Oh yeah, when I read the script I said, “I can kill this.”
AVC: Was the language hard to get your mouth around? Because the language is intentionally confusing.
EG: Yeah, well you know, since the men, they’re not hoes, they’s man hoes. They don’t have va-ginas, they have man-ginas.
AVC: I guess the sequel was filmed eight years later?
EG: Yeah, years later.
AVC: How did that contrast with filming the first one?
EG: A whole lot different, because we shot that in Amsterdam where weed is legal and prostitution is legal, so it’s hard to get me to arrive on set.
Foolish (1999)—“Miles ‘Foolish’ Waise”
EG: Loosely based on my life, yes indeed. That was with Master P, and Master P and Mystikal had actually opened up for me back in 1991, in Louisiana, which started their rap career. I was sitting at a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, and they all walked in, and he was like, “You don’t even remember me do you?” And I was like, “Yeah I remember you Master P, what’s going on?” He was like, “Because you let us open up for you that time years ago, that’s why we’re blowing up now, and I see Hollywood ain’t let you have a starring role yet. So you got a movie, I’m financing it.” I said, “Wait right here,” drove to the house, got the script, came back, he handed me a check for a million dollars. Started shooting a month and a half later. That is Master P: he put his money where his mouth is.
Picking Up the Pieces (2000)—“Sediento”
AVC: You were a part of probably one of the greatest casts of all time in Picking Up the Pieces in 2000.
EG: Yes, it was on roller skates. He was a sage.
AVC: Who did you have most of your scenes with?
EG: Oh, that was a long time ago. The little short guy who’s a director.
AVC: Alfonso Arau?
EG: No, no.
AVC: Woody Allen.
EG: Woody, yeah.
AVC: What was it like to act opposite Woody Allen?
EG: Think of a good tennis match, you know what I mean? Somebody who’s just as elastic as you are can just bounce right back and forth.
Undercover Brother (2002)—“Undercover Brother”/ “Anton Jackson”
EG: That was one of the funnest experiences I’ve had on film. You got myself, Dave Chappelle on the set, Chi McBride, Denise Richards. It was just a fun, fun experience.
AVC: It seemed like it had the potential to be a franchise, that they were setting it up for sequels. Was that your understanding as well, that this could be a tent pole for a whole series?
EG: I’m still waiting for them to pull the trigger on part two. What are they doing? They could make a lot more money. What’s wrong with ’em?
The New Guy (2002)—“Luther”
EG: A friend of mine was running the film company—Ty Gardner—and called me up and asked if I would do this favor and do the cameo for his film with DJ Qualls. That’s how that came about.
AVC: It’s a small role, but you make a very big impact.
EG: That’s my gig. Eddie Griffin has the ability to polish a turd and make it shine.
AVC: They call you when they got something needs work.
EG: Save the movie, will you please! [Laughs.]
Pinocchio (2002)—“The Cat”
EG: Yes. That same year I did the voice and I think it finally came out last year.
AVC: How did that gig come about?
EG: That came through an agent who is no longer my agent. [Laughs.]
AVC: Was there a cause-and-effect relationship between those two things?
EG: You know it. “Go ahead! It’s gonna be a huge animated film Eddie—Pinnochio! Ya ya ya ya ya!”
Pryor Offenses (2004)—“Richard Pryor”
EG: That was the roughest acting job I had to do, because Richard was on the set. I’m like, “Rich, how am I doing? How am I doin’ Pop?” He used to call me Junior, I called him Pop. I said, “How am I doing Pop?” He said, [in Richard Pryor voice], “Boy you got it down, don’t change a motherfucking thing!”
AVC: Do you have any advice for Marlon Wayans, who is playing him for an upcoming biopic?
EG: No, Marlon is a sharp kid. I know Marlon very well. No advice I could give him except to be true to the essence of the man. That’s it.
My Baby’s Daddy (2004)—“Lonnie”
EG: I co-wrote it. It started out it was called, “My Baby’s Mama,” and then by the time the studio got done rewriting it, it was called, “My Baby’s Daddy.” Or as I like it call it, “Three Black Men And A Baby.”
AVC: Why the change?
EG: It was just because they had so much success with Three Men And A Baby that they tried to do an urban version of it and killed what the essence of the movie was about.
AVC: What was your version about?
EG: It was about baby mama drama. This myth going around that black men don’t like taking care of our children, and it’s because they are dealing with a crazy bitch. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “baby mama drama,” so it was called, “My Baby Mama.”
Irish Jam (2006)—“Jimmy McDevitt”
EG: I remember we shot it in Cornwall, England. It’s a small fishing village. I remember being in a heartfelt movie, and then the editor killed it. God, the director’s cut was amazing. You cried at the end, it just pulled on the heartstrings. And of course the suits showed up.
AVC: And they took out what was moving and emotional about it?
EG: Of course, of course. Putting in the quick jokes.
The Year Without A Santa Claus (2006)—“Jingle”
EG: I did that one for my children, because most of my movies they cannot watch.
AVC: So you want to throw one in for them every once in a while.
EG: Yes indeed. So they can look on TV and say, “Oh, that’s what daddy does! That’s why he’s always gone.”
Norbit (2007)—“Pope Sweet Jesus”
EG: Pope Sweet Jesus. That came from Eddie Murphy, and me and Katt Williams played the local hustlers, pimp types, that were looking out for the character of Norbit. I remember asking Eddie when we got to the set, “Can we really be funny in this?” And he said, “I didn’t hire you because you aren’t funny. If it’s funny, we’re keeping it.” And he was a man of his word. When I saw the final product, he kept it.
EG: The producer and financier’s name was Daniel Sadek, whose Ferrari I ended up wrecking at this charity race, which was a fundraiser for the movie. That was Daniel. He had good gobs of money for me to come and be the comic relief in his movie.
Urban Justice (2007)—“Armand Tucker”
EG: That was cool. Steven Segal’s a cool dude. He’s basically a blues man. He loves playing his guitar. It was cool, ’cause you grow up watching Steven Segal, and—I don’t know, it was kinda surreal sitting there in a fight scene with Steven Segal.
AVC: Really? You were in a fight scene with Steven Segal?
AVC: How did you fare?
EG: I’m quick. Very good. But I caught him when he was old, though. It’s not really fair beating up on Grandpa.
Who Made the Potatoe Salad (2006)—“Malik”
EG: It was the directorial debut of my writing partner, Damon “Coke” Daniels. It was a favor for my little guy. He had a small budget. I came down and did two days for him. I play a guy who’s locked up in jail and they have this new program where you can send video messages to your girlfriend. So the scene is when I’m filming my video message, and I’m sitting there jacking off saying, “I’m doing this for you girl! I’m thinking about you!”
Double Take (2001)—“Freddy Tiffany”
EG: I remember George Gallo wrote and directed it. George is also a musician. I remember being at George’s house, in the wee, wee hours of the night, playing the guitar and writing songs. Pretty fun set. I remember the little dogs, there were three of them. One would bark, one knew how to sit, and the other could stay put.
AVC: So there were three dogs that collectively…
EG: Yeah it was triplets. They collaborated to make sure you got one seamless acting role out of a dog.
AVC: One super dog.
EG: They had a better trainer than me and Orlando [Jones].
Armageddon (1998)—“Bike Messenger”
EG: I remember riding across the Brooklyn Bridge about 12 times because they wanted me to keep up with the helicopter, and I said, “Can you have the helicopter keep up with me, my calves are burning!”
AVC: You would think it was something they could fix in editing.
EG: Naw, Michael Bay shoots what he wants to shoot when he shoots.