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Best known as an insult comic on many of Comedy Central’s celebrity roasts, Greg Giraldo has earned a reputation for his biting tongue and unrestrained honesty. But when he’s not doling out barbs to the likes of Flavor Flav and William Shatner, this former lawyer can be found touring the country with a surprisingly broad range of humor delivered in an exuberant rhythm—also known as a rant. Ahead of his weekend stint at DC Improv, Giraldo spoke to The A.V. Club about phosphorous withdrawal, the profound pain gnawing on his soul, and making fun of other people.
The A.V. Club: Which roast was your favorite?
Greg Giraldo: I don’t really know, they all kind of blur in a way. Some of them were more fun than others. Pamela Anderson’s was cool. There was something very rock and roll about that one because of Courtney Love and her antics. The Larry The Cable Guy one was a little weird because people really did mean the things they were saying and it was a little cruel and you’re not really supposed to do that at a roast. We should probably just stick to roasting people we really respect and admire, which has been really tricky since Walter Cronkite is dead.
AVC: What celebrity would you like to roast?
GG: I would say the Pope would be good.
AVC: What would you say to the Pope?
GG: Boy-fucking might come up.
AVC: Of all the insults you’ve doled out over the years, which one are you the most proud of?
GG: You know, the funny thing about these roasts is that I don’t really put much thought into them when I’m not doing them. I like doing them, but, in my day-to-day life I don’t walk around and think of hostile bullshit to say to C-List celebrities. I pretty much forget the roasts when they are done. Actually, at the end of the roast, I feel dirty and, like, I really should be using my powers for good.
AVC: Is there anyone whose feelings have been genuinely hurt?
GG: I think Carrot Top got kind of upset, which is a little surprising, I wouldn’t have seen that one coming. Chevy Chase was one of the first roasts I did and the whole time he was there he was angry. When they did roasts back in the '70s they were attended by all these A-List celebrities and our roast wasn’t. He was just angry at the whole thing and we were there telling all these jokes to a guy who just wasn’t into it.
AVC: As the recipient of myriad insults at the roasts, have there been any that actually hurt?
GG: None of them individually. There’s two things that bug me. One is just being ignored completely. The second is the general tone of jokes about me being a loser or that nothing I ever do takes off. It’s not so much the jokes, I just worry that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like, great, I’m Greg—the guy that kills fucking pilots. It maybe gets to me on that level. There’s maybe this little part of me that thinks, fuck, maybe they’re right. I haven’t really accomplished anything they can make fun of. So, that part can be depressing after a while. It’s not that the jokes are too mean, it’s usually that the jokes are too soft, which bugs me. If they really hate you, that means you’re doing something right.
AVC: How is your stand-up comedy different from your roast appearances?
GG: In my comedy I’m being the real Greg, the one who loves kittens and children. The Greg who just stops to take in the feats of nature and God’s bounty.
AVC: What’s the hardest part about being a comedian?
GG: Probably all the ass you get. Oh god, when will it stop? The hardest part for real is probably when you just don’t feel like going on stage and being funny. You know, like if a lot of bad shit happened that day and you’re withdrawing from chemicals.
AVC: What chemicals?
GG: Oh, you know, aspirin. Or phosphorous. Wait, is that even a chemical or is that an element? Anyway, sometimes you’re just not up for doing comedy. And you have to travel constantly, which is hard if you want to have any kind of normal, stable life. You constantly have to go away and then come back for a few days, get your shit together, and then you have to fly out again. That can get hard, but America needs its laughter.
AVC: You had a short-lived show on ABC called Common Law as well as Friday Night Stand-Up With Greg Giraldo on Comedy Central. Are you planning any kind of return to television?
GG: What a sweet way to call me a complete failure. Short-lived. Now there’s a great term to describe something. I got a lot of things that are in the works, which is the usual bullshit people say. I have a lot of projects in development and ideas. I have a lot of hopes and dreams that I carry around in a little dream basket. I do have a bunch of pilots coming up, one for Spike and one for Comedy Central. I’m always meeting with producers when I’m in L.A. But, for the most part, I keep writing stand-up and doing stand-up, which is good, but that’s never considered enough anymore—by me or by my mother.
AVC: Having earned a law degree from Harvard, do you ever regret leaving the legal field?
GG: No, I never regretted it. There are times when I wish for something else. There are times where I wish I could do a normal job or something else or have a normal existence. There are times where instead of doing stand-up I wish I could be an orthodontist or something. They do pretty well for themselves.
AVC: Something steady and stable?
GG: Yeah, something that allows me to put metal on children.
AVC: Something without headshots…?
GG: Or being judged or worrying if you’re funny or not. On a day-to-day basis, you get tired of waiting to be accepted. In show business, someone else has to say that you’re good or that you’re worth going to see or worth taping a show. There’s a lot of pain here. There’s a lot of pain inside. I’m a sad, crying-on-the-inside kind of clown.
AVC: Is it true that female comedy groupies are known as "chucklefuckers" among comedians?
GG: I feel a little better about myself because I have never heard of that. I never heard an actual term for them. They’re just like rock ‘n’ roll groupies, except fatter.