Eddie Griffin knows there’s danger lurking every time he takes the stage — and that’s how he likes it.
“Stand-up is the most dangerous job in entertainment,” says the veteran comedian-actor, who appears 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. “You better be in control, otherwise — boom! — get your behind off the stage.”
Griffin, whose screen credits include the UPN TV series “Malcolm & Eddie” and movies such as “Undercover Brother” and “Scary Movie 3,” thrives on having the stand-up stage all to himself.
“It’s only you up there — it ain’t like a band,” he says. “If the lead singer is having a bad night, he can tell the guitar player to take a long solo. If you’re a comedian, you’re just by yourself. You can’t turn around and say, ‘Tell a joke.’ Ain’t nobody there.”
Having starred in more than 50 movies and tested the reality show waters with VH1’s “Going for Broke,” Griffin is now focusing on his stand-up. He gets to constantly hone his material through a regular three-night gig at the Rio in Las Vegas. Perhaps best known for his Michael Jackson-on-crack routine, Griffin draws from pop culture and politics for his material, but isn’t one to script out his act.
“I always fly by the seat of my pants,” he says. “Then you do a self-edit in your head. That worked, that didn’t. The next day you add some more to it.”
The Kansas City, Mo., native, since being “discovered” at Los Angeles’ famed Comedy Store 20 years ago, has found steady work on stage and screen. Ranked No. 62 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest stand-ups, Griffin has appeared in several HBO specials and released two hit albums. His big-screen projects include roles in “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” and its sequel “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” and “Norbert” with Eddie Murphy, as well as a dramatic turn in “John Q” with Denzel Washington.
Meanwhile, he enjoyed a four-run year on “Malcolm & Eddie,” co-starring Malcolm Jamal-Warner of “Cosby Show” fame.
Early in his career, Griffin met his idol, the late groundbreaking comedian Richard Pryor, who offered some sound advice.
“He said, ‘Don’t change a damned thing,’” recalls Griffin, who later voiced Pryor on the Adult Swim animated series, “Black Dynamite.” “He said, ‘Get on stage and say what you feel. Be true to yourself.’ He said, ‘Most people are listening to the laughter –– you know when you got them is when you can hear a rat p---ing on cotton in Georgia — it’s so quiet they are paying attention.’ That makes you use your ability to tell stories and become characters.”
Unlike his title character in his breakout film “Undercover Brother,” who is trying to stop “the man” from destroying black and minority culture, Griffin says he’s had mostly positive experiences working in Hollywood.
“For the most part, the experience was good,” he says. “The main thing is when it comes to the writing. When you write something and they want to take the script and tear it apart and take the heart and soul out of it, and try to make it into buffoonery, and just going for the joke and not the substance behind the joke. It’s like your baby — you’ve got to take care of your child. You can’t trust them to your nanny or the school teacher.”
But Griffin’s one season as a reality TV star on the 2009 series “Going for Broke,” which also featured his mother, didn’t suit him at all.
“I didn’t like the process — these people having cameras in your face 12 hours a day,” he says. “It sounded like a good idea at first when they approached me, but once you’re getting followed by cameras out there, it’s not cool. Enjoy the comedy, but you don’t need to be in my bathroom.”