Watching stand up comedy as an audience member is an experience I’ll never get to enjoy. Not once for the rest of my life will I enter a comedy venue as a person simply hoping to be entertained. As a nobody open-mic’er/showcaser I can’t watch a comedy performance, any comedy performance, and not dissect, distill and dismember each moment and interaction, seeking the slightest crumb of wisdom. I’m a glean machine. What can I learn? What can I do better? Simply listening and laughing is a treat only non-comedians get to enjoy.
It’s a treat I watched a room of people enjoy this past Sunday night as New York-based headliner Nick Griffin (@TheNickGriffin) performed at the Up Comedy Club, which is part of Second City here in Chicago.
Bring out the Monkey - Nick's recently released album
It’s a beautiful venue. A wide room with rows of comfortable unblemished chairs paying penitence to a big stage in the middle. Good lighting. Nice curtains. Lots of black paint. Two big bright flatscreens flanking the stage display the venue’s logo. I woulda turned the TVs off during the show, but that’s just me.
A fellow comic and I got comped because the evening’s host is a friend of ours. As late arrivals we entered to the sound of strangers laughing as one, the sweetest non-sexual sound in the world. We sat at a table in the back of the room on a raised bench against the wall, the perfect perch from which to study, learn and envy.
Wannabes watching a be.
Nick is a hard guy to dislike. Not that I was trying to. He’s been on my radar for at least a couple years. I’d seen his numerous late night TV appearances and heard him interviewed on the occasional podcast or two. In it for life, Nick is a well-respected comic amongst his peers and deserves to be better known and better paid and better blow jobbed wherever he goes. I knew going in I would be seeing someone at the top of his game.
He’s a pro. There’s a calm, unhurried demeanor about him that puts the audience at ease. When not distracted by my idiot friends talking across me I fell right into his rhythm and came as close as I can to being one of the crowd, a rare gift. I hesitate to use the word “relaxed” but that’s exactly how I felt while watching him perform. Relaxed, in capable hands, safe. Like a baby in the arms of a loving but very depressed father.
The cellophane from Nick's album. Not pictured: Nick's album, Bring out the Monkey
While doing the least depressing thing in the world, creating happiness, he doesn’t shy from the depression he’s faced and faces. It isn’t just another bit. It’s a lens that shades his worldview. It flavors his material like cumin. You don’t know you’re tasting it but it wouldn’t be good chili if it wasn’t there. I’ve waded in and out of the waters of depression, and have at times been submerged in it, so I related on a deep level, one that more people than should can also connect with. I get it. It sucks. But I embrace it and I’ve chosen to fight it off the only way that’s ever worked: by turning and facing it and smashing skulls. Because fuck depression. You can never outrun it but you can be funnier than it. I fight dire with laughter and I hope to someday do so as well as Nick does.
It’s important to understand this: He’s not depressing. Life is. He’s just stuck in it. And because of his talents as a writer and performer we’re all better off.
There’s a struggling everyman sensibility to the way he crafts and delivers his material, an undertone of “When am I gonna catch a break? When do I get mine?” Willy Loman with better hair. You know, empty briefcase, loosened tie, a chair instead of a couch in a top floor New York walk up, a can of beans warming directly on the stove, using old wallpaper as a blanket, no roof, etc. Except he makes it funny, not bitter. He doesn’t use too much cumin.
His jokes are delivered with the word efficiency he’s known for. It’s not blunt force trauma that gets you. No, Nick Griffin kills with a thousand precise cut-ups. He’s the opposite of clumsy.
This is a trait of his that, probably above all others, I am most jealous of and I almost told him so afterwards when I shook his hand and introduced myself as a fellow comic. I was going to buy one of his cds. They were laid out, six of them, on a table in the corner of the room. 10 bucks. A pittance, considering. I watched him talk with some people and observed a humble and gentlemanly demeanor. These suspicions were confirmed when I offered to buy a cd – they’d been put away by this point – but because I was a comic he waved my money away and gave me one, even after I explained I got in for free. He didn’t have to do that. What a good fucking guy.
The inside of Nick's album: Bring out the Monkey. And me checking to see what's wrong with the camera.
As a joke I offered to give him a #FollowFriday on twitter in lieu of payment but I quickly realized I did a bad job making it clear I was kidding, so I probably looked a real dope because #FollowFriday is a bunch of bullshit. Whenever I meet the big national guys, and I’ve only met a few so far, I always feel like apologizing for bothering them. Since it would be weird to outright apologize I muttered something about how he probably meets new comics everywhere he goes, as if that’s what he wants to talk about: whether or not he meets new guys. Then I blubbered something about liking a joke he did on the Ferguson show. Eventually I said thanks and my friend and I departed as a gaggle of Columbian or Venezuelan babes seemed to magically form around him. It was as if I was suddenly watching a scene from the South American version of The Bachelor. I hope he picked them all.
I left feeling good about the night. Just shaking hands and being looked at as a fellow mud-squatter by someone I highly respect was enough to fill my comedy sails with a gust of wind, at least it was enough until a couple hours later when I ate miserable shit in front of drunk strangers at an open mic.
Still learning. Thanks, Nick.
Keep up-to-date with Nick and see him if he’s ever in a town near you at his webset: NickGriffin.net
Buy his album, Bring out the Monkey on iTunes
Follow Nick on Twitter: @theNickGriffin