by Eight Thirty Seven
Five years ago today, comedian Greg Giraldo was taken off life support and passed away at the age of forty-four. Giraldo had been in a coma for several days after overdosing on prescription medication, and his body had finally given in to the years of hard partying and the negative aspects that sometimes accompany the life of a touring comic. Comedy Central ran a documentary on Greg in March of the following year that was very moving and at the same time extremely hard to watch. That special featured testimonials from other comedians and was very comprehensive, so it’s going to be tough to get through this piece without rolling over some of the subjects covered in that program.
For those who haven’t seen “Give it up for Greg Giraldo”, the documentary told the story of a guy who graduated from Harvard Law School only to abandon a promising career in the courtroom for the dark world of stand-up comedy. It told of his failed sitcom he shot with Nick Swardson that never made it to television, his unlikely friendship with fellow comedian Jeff Ross, and of course his struggles with sobriety. It’s a heartbreaking piece of television that features really insightful commentary from comics like Dave Attell, Tom Papa, Lewis Black, and Jesse Joyce.
At the time of Greg’s death, most of the news cycle was plugged up by stories about the rebuilding of New Orleans just a month after the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Aside from his performances, Greg was known to the casual comedy fan as “the guy with the messy hair” from any one of the Comedy Central roasts that had been done up until that point in history. But to the comedy fan that knew all of the guys really making it work in the clubs, Giraldo was known as somebody who put every last bit of energy he had left for the day into his seven thirty shows and then would somehow miraculously get it all back for the late show and deliver all over again. All the while he was constantly thinking of how to make each show unique, and trying to make his permanent mark on the industry forever.
There are a lot of hack comics that either make up crazy stories about their own life or tell stories they have heard from others and pass them off as their own. Greg never needed to do that, because there was plenty of material on almost all subjects that he had encountered during his life’s journey. Anybody can have takes on all of the industry standard topics such as gay marriage, gun control, and terrorism, but not everybody can take a topic that has been run into the ground and come up with a punch line that was the last thing you saw coming.
What was fascinating to me about Giraldo and his comedy was that he spoke of such large-scale political and social issues without really taking himself too seriously while doing so. A lot of guys hit the stage and project this “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude about their material, and to be quite frank it can get a little bit irritating. Greg’s delivery seemed to imply that at any moment he could follow up such heavy topics with a flippant comment such as “I mean, I think…I could be wrong…Shit, what the hell do I know anyway?” before smoothly transitioning into a bit about some of his personal struggles. Even though he had a fantastic stage presence, it wasn’t so much about command as it was suggestion. Suggestions for how to make the world a better place by pointing out the ridiculousness that lies in every crevice of society’s many ills, suggestions for how to rationalize combative individuals whose stubbornness prevents them from seeing points of view that differ from their own, and suggestions for how to ultimately make himself a better person. Greg’s work was about so much more than just being a comic, but at the end of the day his work still took place in the comedy clubs throughout this country which he loved but found himself endlessly questioning.
And that’s really what comedy is all about: Getting to the point where you can inject different yet personal takes into the material, and still be hilarious to a room full of strangers. It sounds so much easier than it is, but words can’t even describe the level of difficultly required to pull off such an amazing feat. Ironically, one of the few people who could have done it and still made it funny night in and night out was Greg Fucking Giraldo. Now because of the violent and controlling nature of addiction and the lives it affects, Greg can’t tell you how it’s done and as somebody who turned to him for comedy I can’t tell you how unbelievably sad that makes me. The show must go on – and it always will – but enough can’t be said of the talent that we lost on September 29th of 2010. Just because Giraldo never had a wildly successful television show or didn’t become a huge movie star, doesn’t mean that his contributions to the entertainment community should be anywhere near as understated as they have posthumously seemed to become.
The stand-up comedians and comedy fans that were touched by Greg’s work know better, and that’s particularly why the fifth anniversary of his passing is so unbelievably heartbreaking. So here’s a clip that is and will always be one of my favorites, to make this incredibly unfortunate and tragic milestone.
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