Q&A: Greg Giraldo Talks about Carrot Top, Carlos Mencia, Ray Romano, Lewis Black, Patton Oswalt, Dick Cheney and, of course, Paris Hilton

Greg Giraldo drops into the Improv this week, but last week Assistant Night & Day Editor Dusti Rhodes talked to him on the phone about roasting celebrities, stealing jokes, being a dad, and his upcoming show on Comedy Central.

Houstoned: You’re kind of known for being really good at roasting people. What are your thoughts on it? I mean, do they give you the list of people who are going to be there and you sit and contemplate the best way to make fun of them?

Greg Giraldo: I just had that thought this morning. You know, I like doing them in the sense they that they get a lot of exposure, people seem to really love them and they are funny, but on the other hand there are times when I step back and go, “Shouldn’t I maybe be using my gifts for good?” [Laughs.] There are times when I think, if I put this much work into writing my act, wouldn’t I have a joke that was more meaningful than how giant Bridgette Nielsen’s vagina is?

Maybe instead of doing your standup you could play your clips from the roast on a loop …

Yeah, maybe not even do any stand up. That’s also another thing, somebody like Lisa Lampanelli, for example, has created a whole persona based on the roast person. So, her whole act is kind of a roast and that’s not really my act so, in a way, that’s a bit of drag. But, you know, they’re great also because people see them and they become fans and they come out and they like my standup and it kind of brings new people into my stand up.

So it does help? I remember, at the Flava Flav Roast, Jimmy Kimmel said something about how you killed, but once again it would lead to nothing. But on the other hand, you’ve really become sort of a Comedy Central darling.

Well, right. In the context of a roast you could see how I’d be a zero as compared to Jimmy Kimmel, for example, so I certainly don’t take any offense to that.

When you made fun of Carrot Top, I thought of how many comedians would probably love to have that opportunity. But is it harder to make fun of somebody like Dane Cook or Carlos Mencia – somebody who is known for being hated amongst comedians? Would it be harder because it’s hard to think it isn’t personal?

Yeah, kind of, it’s a little harder. I mean, contrary to what it might look like, I’m not up there trying to make anyone cry. In fact, I was a little surprised that Carrot Top was so upset. He probably would have cried except for his fucking tear ducts have probably been surgically removed. But there are times when you look out and you somebody looking really upset and it bugs you because you’re, like, “Well, didn’t you realize?” It’s like when we roasted Chevy Chase a few years ago he looked so upset at everything and it’s like, well, you know, we didn’t just walk into your living room and start making fun of you – this is part of the game.

How do you come up with what you decide is funny and what your style is going to be? I recently interviewed Steven Wright and he talked about how he never intentionally developed a style, he just did what he thought would be funny.

Yeah, that’s kind of how it was and that’s what takes everyone so long. There are people who you see that seem to have a style before they have any jokes, you know, and their first open mike they have a character that they are doing or they got some crazy delivery, you know, and then they kind of back-fit jokes into it. But I think for most people you just get up there and start talking with the jokes you’ve written. It’s funny, you know, because it takes so long and then at some point – sometimes it’s even ten years or more, for me I really felt like it was only in the last couple years that I got a consistent style – and then you just look at your jokes and you go “Oh shit, I have a point of view now. I have a way of writing comedy.” It just kind of all comes together over time, I mean, there are jokes that certain people can do that other people never could and visa versa.

Does being comedian cause you overanalyze things, like why they’re funny?

Comedians can be annoying – newer comedians especially – can be annoying to be around because everything is that sort of deconstructing perspective where it’s, like, “Why do you call it this? What’s up with that? Why is called jumbo shrimp?” You know, this constant analyzing and deconstructing language with everything they see and do. And then there is always kind of the bitter, angry comic that just go on an angry rant about everything and that can get a little tiring, but for the most part it’s a good thing that you’ve become that analytical, I think. For the most part, it makes life more interesting. For the most part, everything that you experience and see becomes potential fodder for jokes, you know, you hope one day to have a joke that really, clearly hits the nail on the head on whatever topic you’re thinking about.

Do you think as you get, um, because your, I guess … older …

Huh?!

[Laughs] I mean, do you think you’ve relaxed about comedy and what’s popular?

You start to just enjoy what you enjoy for the sake of it and in a way it makes it harder to do comedy and in a way it makes it easier. But you don’t feel as much outrage at things; you’re able to remove yourself from it a little more. If something pisses you off you realize, “Oh yeah, there’s shit that doesn’t piss me off. Maybe I won’t go to Disney World if it’s such a shithole, instead of going and complaining about it for 20 minutes in my act.”

A lot of calling out is going on the comedy world right now. Like Joe Rogan calls out Carlos Mencia for stealing jokes. What do you think about that?

I know what you mean, but I don’t want to babble on and on about it.

Fair enough, but do you think that it’s worth the time to point it out because kids are going to listen to Carlos Mencia whether or not you call him out, you know?

Well, in a perfect world, no one would listen to Carlos Mencia whether he is stealing or not. To me, the stealing part is the least of it. So, when they are calling him out for stealing I’m like “Those are the ones you chose to single out? Let’s go back to the stuff he’s made up himself that sucks; let’s talk about that.” I don’t know, I’m glad to see people get called out for stealing and I always am because there is some stealing that goes on for the most part, you know, comics are trying to find their voice and working hard on their acts. You don’t generally see comics blatantly ripping things off like that so I do like to see them get called on and I don’t spend a ton of time worrying about it because there are so many other bigger issues, you know, just creating descent comedy in the first place.

So when you go out on the road, I’ve read interviews that say you’re trying to be more a family man these days. Does that make touring hard? Because you’re a good-looking, funny guy …

Whoa … [laughs]

You know what I mean, people obviously want you to go out and have a good time, but do you just choose to go home now?

Well, I don’t agree with the good-looking part of it implicitly …

Let’s just say for argument’s sake … [Laughs]

Yeah, for argument’s sake being accessible on some level – whatever you want to call it – yes that is an enormous challenge of life on the road. You’re on stage performing in front of a lot of people, especially if you’re doing a long show, you’re closing the show, everyone’s ripped as hell, you’re all pumped at the end of the show and then you have packs of people want to go do things. It is a little tricky sometimes to go back and watch your Jack LaLanne workout video back at the Best Western. So, that takes some adjustment, so slowly but surely it becomes more of a regular part of your game plan.

You have three kids right?

Yeah.

So, is it hard to stay away from “daddy jokes”? Because I’m sure things happen where you’re, like “That’s really funny, I should use it in my act.” But do you choose not to or do you?

You know, off the record [oops], Dusti you’re quite the comedian interviewer. I’ll tell you, you’re really, very good at this.

Well, I recently wrote a feature story about local comedy in Houston – but it made all the comedians hate me.

Where is it? I want to look it up?

Well, if you know how to work the Google …

What am I, fucking 90?! [Laughs]

[Laughs] Just Google my name and Houston comedy and it should come up. I interviewed your Insomniac Tour buddy Sean Rouse for it, because he got his start here.

Yeah. It’s funny because Houston Laff Stop was one of the legendary clubs in the country and by the time I got there it had already passed its heyday, which sucked, because it was still okay, but it wasn’t what it was. And now, I understand, it’s all a disaster.

I’m sorry, what was the question – daddy jokes? You know that is a dilemma at sometimes because you want to be who you are and you want to be talking about what’s really going on in your life, but on the other hand you don’t want to be the “daddy comic” and “Isn’t this a cute thing my kid said?” So, sometimes there are things that sneak in there …

Like you get into Ray Romano territory?

Exactly, you got to realize you live with that persona, so if you want to be Ray Romano then that’s the way you go with it, and that’s not to say that might not happen to me at some point down the line when I find Jesus and everything, but right this second – but I mean you also don’t want to be fraud, either. I see a lot of that, where guys have kids and they’re out there pretending to be single, and doing picking-up-women jokes and it’s like well, which one is it? But to me, I just never found that daddy shit all that funny. So it’s not really that I’m so much trying to be cool or not cool, I just try to write what I think that is funny.

I ready in an interview you recently shot a pilot with Lewis Black and Patton Oswalt for Comedy Central…

Yeah, they actually picked that up. They’re re-tooling it apparently, but they picked up for ‘08. It’s called Root of All Evil. From what I understand they’re re-tooling the format but what it was, was Lewis Black is a judge and then there were teams of lawyers who would try to debate who the root of all evil was.

So that’s going back to your days at Harvard Law. [Giraldo graduated from Harvard Law School.]

Yeah, it was strange, because I got to throw in little legalisms and things and we would debate – in my case I had to argue that Paris Hilton was it and I was debating Patton, who said it was Dick Cheney. He had a slightly easier case, so he won.

Giraldo appears at The Improv, 7620 Katy Frwy. 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 7:30 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and information, call 713-333-8800 or visit www.improv2.com. $17.


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