Just for Laughs: Greg Giraldo, host of the Nasty Show

Photograph: Martina Sheehan

Greg Giraldo, former host of Stand-up Nation with Greg Giraldo, The Greg Giraldo Show and Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, brought some filth to the Vic last night with Just for Laughs’s raunchy, anything goes Nasty Show, featuring special guests Jim Norton, Mike Wilmot and Patrice O’Neal. We talked to the highly underrated comedians’ comedian a few months back in San Francisco about fans’ obsession with his short-lived law career, the secret to Dane Cook’s success and why comedians are too fucked-up for the real world.

TOC: So, you’re hosting the Nasty Show at Just for Laughs?
Greg Giraldo: Yeah, I’m always torn between too dirty for regular stuff and not dirty enough for the Nasty Show. I don’t know, I guess I’ll ramp it up a little bit… Generally, I’m not a huge fan of labeling shows because then it’s like everybody doing their regular act but saying 'fuck' a lot.

TOC: Weren’t you at The Lakeshore the last time you were in Chicago? It closed recently.
GG: It did? I don’t fucking understand the comedy scene in Chicago. There’s that tiny little Zanies… You can’t make money there because it’s only a 120-seater. You do one show there on a Thursday night and then you go out to the outer boroughs, to Schaumburg or something. I don’t understand. It’s such a great comedy town. The crowds are awesome; the people are fucking great. There’s such a market for it. I don’t know what’s going on.

TOC: Is there anything special about the Chicago scene or Chicago comedians that’s different from anywhere else?
GG: As far as stand up, people move. They leave Chicago quickly because there is not that much of a stand up scene. I don’t know. It seems like the really funny people gravitate towards improv. I have friends that are really great improv people that I have met over the years that still live there.

TOC: People seem obsessed with the fact that you went from lawyer to comedian.
GG: People act like I had this flourishing law career and then threw it all away. Because I went to a good law school and because I was working in this big name firm for a year, it seems like it was crazy to throw it all away. A lot of people go to law school because they don’t know what the hell they’re going to do. I know a lot of television writers, novelists, screenwriters—all people who went to law school and now do something else.

TOC: To be really funny, to be a good comedian, you have to be fundamentally smart. Discuss.
GG: [Laughs] Discuss. Yeah, I think you have to be smart. Because I went to Harvard Law School it seemed like I had my shit together, but I did only because it’s not hard. Everyone is so self motivated that they leave you alone. You get study outlines and just cram, but then when you get out into the real world, it gets tricky. Most comedians are people who couldn’t really work in the real world, they’re too disorganized, too lazy, too fucked up, too erratic, too unstable. If you could work in the real world you would have stayed there because it is so many years of misery in comedy before you really start popping.

TOC: You’ve obviously done well, and have all of these shows, all the Comedy Central stuff, and you’re awesome on the roasts—very funny. But then I see these guys like Dane Cook, who is not that funny in my opinion , doing a show in a packed arena. What is standing between you and reaching Dane Cook-level success?
GG: There are a lot of things there, some of which are completely out of my control, some of which I control and I have just fucked things up for a number of reasons. Some people would say you aren’t doing the kind of stuff that has the same kind of mass appeal. If you’re doing anything that is intelligent or subtle it doesn’t have the same kind of mass appeal that Dane Cook would have. The pack of squawking college girls that love Dane Cook aren’t necessarily lining up to see my shows. I don’t know. There are a lot of things at work there. You have to be very driven, you have to really want to be huge, you have to want to be very famous. There are a lot of things that have stood in my way over the years, but right now I’m happy with the way things are moving.

TOC: In your shows, you talk a lot about the divorce, and the drugs—sort of a self-deprecating style of comedy. How much of that is enhanced for comedic reasons, and how much of that, would you say, is…
GG: Downplayed for comedic reasons.

TOC: For comedic reasons it’s downplayed?
GG: Well if people knew about the extremes they would not think of me as a good person. I would say the only thing that is exaggerated possibly for comedic purposes is the one-sidedness. Obviously my ex-wife was a victim to a large extent. It’s not like she was this miserable shrew the whole time. That’s the part that is a little bit exaggerated. Obviously to be fun I don’t want to spend a lot of time being reasonable. I’m not going to be mad at her because the reality is I feel very guilty and sad about a lot of what happened. Obviously it’s hard being apart from my kids; [it’s] sad to me that I’m not with them all the time.

TOC: When you do the [Comedy Central] roasts, there seems to be this camaraderie and friendship on the stage, but you still take serious shots at each other. How hard is it to be friends with other comedians?
GG: As you get older, you’re always on your own. You’re traveling, on the road…Comedians can be very difficult people at times. There is enormous self-absorption and insecurity, all that kind of stuff. When you’re new, you spend most of your time talking about all of the shitty comics that are successful. Everybody is shitty and everybody sucks. As you get further into the game, you care less because you’ve seen it all already. Eighteen years into the game it isn’t going to shock me that some shitty, unfunny, crowd-pleasing comic is huge. If I allow that to rip my soul out, I might as well shoot myself in the face now.

TOC: Because there are a lot of those out there.
GG: When Two and a Half Men is the most popular show on television, I shouldn’t be shocked that shitty comedy is popular.

TOC: Exactly, I agree, although my dad watches that show.
GG: That’s the first person I’ve heard that actually watches it. It’s a smash hit apparently.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)