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It's Montez y'all!: Erik Griffin of 'Workaholics' on how he dropped everything to pursue a career in comedy | The Scene
More than 10 years ago, Erik Griffin dropped his day job to pursue comedy full time, choosing to treat it like the career he wanted it to be. Putting his nose to the grindstone, he found his voice in high-energy outrage and started booking more and more shows.
He made his television debut on Showtime’s “The Payaso Comedy Slam” and, since then, has appeared regularly on television in stand-up appearances and side roles in scripted shows. He is now perhaps best known for his role on Comedy Central’s Workaholics as Montez Walker, the high-strung sexually adventurous coworker of Blake, Adam and ‘Ders.
Offscreen, he performs on the road most weekends and at clubs in LA during the week.
He spoke to the Scene during a day off between gigs in Boston.
SCENE: Erik, thanks for taking some time out to talk. How’s Boston?
ERIK GRIFFIN: Man, I’m just dealing with this crazy weather right now. I think any weather is bad when you’re from LA, but I think this is even bad for the East Coast.
SCENE: So I’m a big fan of your work on Workaholics and I’ve been catching up on Season Four. That waterbirth scene with Alex Borstein… how do you keep a straight face while you’re filming something like that?
GRIFFIN: At this point I’m just so used to the nonsense on that show. And if you watch the outtakes, everyone’s laughing all the time, and it can be hard to do your scene it’s so funny. You just get to be happy when the camera’s trained on someone else so you can crack up all you want. But that scene with the water birth, that was fun but at a certain point we were going in and out of that hot tub all day. Lots of times, when you’re laughing, it’s when you’re watching someone else do their work.
SCENE: How did you hook up with those guys to do the show?
GRIFFIN: I just went on an audition. I auditioned for the part. I had known (“Workaholics” cocreator/costar Adam Devine) from performing at the clubs but, other than that, it was a regular acting job.
SCENE: On a scale of one to 10 — one being not at all like him, 10 being exactly like him — how close would you say you are to your Montez character?
GRIFFIN: Oh god, I don’t know. I have my moments. 4.5 maybe.
SCENE: How about your stage persona?
GRIFFIN: Oh, wow, I wouldn’t say at all. Maybe like a 2 or 3. In terms of energy, I would say it’s high. Higher energy than me on an everyday basis. It’s almost three different personalities, actually. There’s the Montez personality, then me on stage, then there’s the personality that’s just me.
SCENE: So, that’s interesting. If you’re pretty sedate in real life, where do you get your energy from?
GRIFFIN: I think it’s just part of the experience of performing. For comics, you always want to be heard. I understand it’s a performance you’re doing. You’re not there just talking, you’re actually performing. When I’m energized, I project my voice and really take over the room. I’m low key off stage, so when I get on stage I’m ready for all that pent up energy to explode out.
SCENE: I read in your official bio that back in 2003 you dropped everything to become a comedian. What did your life look like at the time? What did dropping everything entail?
GRIFFIN: Well you know, I’d been doing the open mics here and there, but I wasn’t really doing it. I didn’t really think it could be a career, and that’s one of my big regrets. Because people don’t fail in the entertainment industry, they give up, you know what I mean?
GRIFFIN: I had this really awful boss and he taught me the difference between a job and a career. I didn’t really like what I was doing and I wanted to really give comedy a try.
SCENE: How old were you at the time?
GRIFFIN: I was 30.
SCENE: What was your job, if you don’t mind my asking?
GRIFFIN: I was working at a school. I wasn’t even going to school to finish my teaching degree. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. I just wanted to be happy. I made a tough choice. There just comes a point in your life where you can’t really ask it. You have to know what you want to do. You have to believe you can do it. And when you get that zen quality in your head, boom. You’re going to make it happen somehow. But people get scared … it separates them from what they really want.
SCENE: So what was the difference for you when you really decided to make a go at comedy?
GRIFFIN: Well the difference was the commitment to do it. It’s like an instrument where you have to practice every single day. You have to make it part of your everyday routine. It just became a way of life instead of thinking about the end result. When people get into entertainment, a lot of the time they’re focused on being a star, whatever that means, when they’re not thinking about the day-to-day grind.
SCENE: Whereas the goal you had in mind was the career.
GRIFFIN: Exactly. I just worked backwards. I thought “I want to be a star, whatever, now what do I have to do to get there?” Once I started learning about the business, I saw that, wow, here were some steps you can take to get there. And that was great, but there were no mentors or whatever to tell me what I could expect or what worked for them. That was the tough part.
SCENE: Were you focused entirely on standup or did you do things like the Groundlings or Upright Citizens Brigade? Or sketch in any capacity?
GRIFFIN: Yeah, I was in a bunch of sketch groups and I actually took the Groundlings class. All those little things help enhance your performance. I love stand up, I always wanted to do standup, I’ll always want to do standup. I enjoy acting too, but they’re not the same. They have similarities in the sense of how there are similarities between professional football and professional basketball, but there isn’t all that much that’s the same.
SCENE: What’s the difference between acting and standup?
GRIFFIN: With acting, it’s not your material necessarily. Other people’s vision are involved in it. It’s a much longer process. You don’t get immediate gratification. You have to wait for the final product as other actors scenes are shot and everything goes through the editing guys and everyone else who needs to see it before it’s done. So much goes into seeing what’s on TV. There’s so much that goes into that, so many people are involved in that. That’s more of a team effort. But with standup it’s just you. It’s just your thoughts, you have to back up what you say and you have to weather the crowd.
SCENE: You’re a multiracial man and you’ve touched on the subject from time to time in your sets. What does your background mean to you in terms of your audience and your material.
GRIFFIN: I mean, I just briefly mention it sometimes because it’s an elephant in the room. But I don’t think it even matters. I talk about it but I don’t even say what it is. It’s why I tell the joke in the first place. People will always find their reason to hate you. I don’t think it’s a big deal. In the end you just have to be funny.
SCENE: What kind of material do you draw on when you’re writing your sets?
GRIFFIN: It’s hard to say, so much as like, lately it’s been my perspective on things that are happening in the world or things that are happening in my world. It’s definitely my take on something. I always say comics get in trouble because we look at the world in a different way. It’s like we’re looking at it under a microscope, finding the idiosyncrasies. And because of that the things we say… it might come off as insensitive to other people. And maybe it is, in a way. But that’s how comedians look at the world.
And I’m not really a big politics guy recently … you don’t go to the comedy club to get lectured to. And not to say it doesn’t work for some people. But I’m a believer that you come to the club to be entertained. I try to strike a balance between socially observational material and dirty stuff.
SCENE: OK, so in the age of the Internet we’re living in now, where everything’s right there, instant-instant-instant, what do you think of situations like, say, the backlash against Tracy Morgan a few years back for his joke about how he’d react to having a gay son?
GRIFFIN: That’s exactly what I mean. People want you to think the way they think. They take a statement by a performer and say “this is exactly what he means,” without knowing the person or the context. Here’s a guy, he made a statement, we don’t know where he’s from or what that’s about, but we’ve decided we know what he means.
That’s where we’re living now, where everything you say is going to be analyzed. You don’t know whether something’s going to be taken the wrong way or if it’s going to be taken at all. If you offend people … I’m just not a believer in apologizing for things because people got offended.
SCENE: So you had your half-hour special on Comedy Central in 2013. Any plans for an hour special sometime in the future?
GRIFFIN: Yeah I do in fact. That’s always a thing you want to check off your comedian’s list. I think sometime next year something I’ll want to get something done. I’m doing some writing this year to head in that direction, but right now I’m just enjoying Workaholics, traveling and doing my shows on the road, you know?