“Vegas was like a fresh young lady who’d been treated wrong, and she was just waiting on somebody with a sense of humor to come and caress her,” Eddie Griffin says of the days before his arrival a decade ago. “She was missing that real down-and-gritty comedy.”
Griffin is once again taking that brand of adult humor to a national audience in his latest stand-up special (debuting at 11 p.m. Friday on Showtime), but it’s the first time he’s replicated the intimacy of his long-running Las Vegas residency.
Filmed at what was then the SLS and his home theater of The Sayers Club — both venues have since changed names, to the Sahara and Club 101 — the special captures “80-85 percent” of the vibe of his local showcase, Griffin says. The difference being the cameras and the audience’s reactions when they know they’re being filmed.
“I’ve done the big venue. I’ve done the medium-sized theater — you know, 2,500 seats. But I’ve never done one up close,” he says of his specials. “Comedy, in my opinion, is supposed to be served up close and personal.”
‘Like a dojo’
Griffin can afford to put his material on national display twice in two years without sacrificing ticket sales since, he says, his shows are never the same. Part of that stems from reading the room each night, but it doesn’t hurt that he’s never had a set routine.
“I treat it like a dojo. I just get to go in there and work out new material,” he says of the room at the Sahara. “I have never written a joke in the 32 years I’ve done this. It’s always just trusting the instincts and going with it.”
Long before the Strip had a Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club or a Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club, there was Eddie Griffin’s Killer Comedy Club at the Stardust. Griffin’s first local venture, which opened in 2005, was somehow both behind and ahead of the times. The Las Vegas comedy Griffin knew was that of Redd Foxx and Don Rickles. “You came here to be insulted,” he recalls. That wasn’t necessarily the case 14 years ago.
“Remember, they were trying to ‘family’ everything. They were packaging entire casinos for, like, ‘You can bring the kids!’ I don’t know who’s in charge of Vegas,” he thought at the time, “but this (expletive) is not gonna work.”
Unlike many entertainers who uproot their lives and relocate to Las Vegas, Griffin had no plans to stop touring. “The Eddie Griffin Experience” rolls into the Sahara, Mondays through Wednesdays, 11 months out of the year. He then spends 90 percent of his weekends on the road.
“What keeps my comedy fresh is going out there and really vibin’ during the daytime before you even get on the stage that night in any given city,” Griffin explains. “Knowin’ what’s on people’s minds, in that way, I can stay relevant this long in the game. You’ve gotta be aware of what people are feeling. The only way to do that is go meet ’em.”
Despite that schedule, Griffin found the time to film two movies this year. They couldn’t be less alike.
In “The Comeback Trail,” a remake of the 1982 comedy about a couple of heavily-in-debt producers who hire an aging cowboy for a movie in hopes of killing him and collecting the insurance money, Griffin plays the muscle for the gangster portrayed by Morgan Freeman. All of his scenes are with Freeman — whom he calls “the coolest dude I’ve ever met on Earth” — Robert De Niro or Tommy Lee Jones.
“Man, I think I made ’em nervous,” Griffin jokes about the Hollywood royalty surrounding him. “I know De Niro’s a big fan. I kept tellin’ him, ‘We’ll take pictures at the end of the movie, Bobby.’ ”
The other comedy, “Bad President,” finds Griffin portraying Satan, who doesn’t want to bother with collecting Donald Trump’s soul to help him win the election because it would just be too much work.
“And then he just keeps winning in the polls, winning each state,” Griffin says, “and then — finally, reluctantly — the devil jumps in and helps him.”
Thinking about the spoof, which co-stars Stormy Daniels and is expected to drop just before the 2020 election, Griffin can only laugh.
“Man,” he sighs, proudly, “wait till you see this one.”