In AmERIKan Warrior, Erik Griffin Unites a Crowd, and Parts of Himself

When took to the stage for his latest special, AmERIKan Warrior, he looks calm and composed, ready to ease into his newest hour of material. But despite the chill exterior, the special was the culmination of four months of fast and furious preparation.

“I’ve never worked that hard on my standup before,” Griffin admitted. He first inquired to Showtime about the possibility of a special in January, to be told it had to be in by April. What followed was a fast three months of writing, performing, and organizing – all while filming the second season of Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here – what eventually became a controversial yet funny hour of comedy. In it, the Workaholics alum tackles the controversy surrounding the National Anthem protests, the challenges of banned or “cancelled words,” and even how being a “lingering hugger” has made him acutely aware of the #metoo movement.

That last item was one that Griffin deeply wanted to address, and his take on it was borne from some real frustrations about his experiences performing in clubs over the past year. “I’m […] being a little more thoughtful. Even with this last special, before…let’s say six months before this special, I was really frustrated with how sensitive the crowds were. And then with the #metoo and #TimesUp, you just have to be even more thoughtful about how you talk about certain things. And so that’s society and age and time, is making me…the buzzword here is more thoughtful about what I do.”

Of his take on the movement, he notes, “It came about because it was like, ‘how can I talk about this without alienating women or firing them up to the point where they’re not gonna laugh, or are going to be angry?’” The key: acknowledging his role in the issue, namely as what he hilariously calls being “a lingering hugger.” His approach, unequivocally supporting the movement but finding humor in it as well, addresses the era in a delicate way. “It was finding a way to still poke some fun and also get across “hey, this is how I feel about what’s going on.”

Through the process, Griffin is starting to realize the changes in himself that align him more with I’m Dying Up Here’s mature fanbase, versus the younger crowd of Workaholics watchers. “I’m starting to change because I’m realizing that I’m older than I really think I am,” he admitted. “The things that I’m relating to are more my age than they are the people that were watching Workaholics. That’s something that I’m going to start- being more mature in the things I’m talking about, since I’ve started with that material.” While a story about jury duty in the special (which heavily borrows from the theme song to Law and Order) does reference the fans of his most famous character, he recognizes that he’s moving away from that persona. And while his material isn’t designed to unite, he is having to bridge gaps in his audiences. What material goes over well with people over 35 as well as the twentysomethings he sometimes feels like?

So far, technology has been a reliable topic of conversation. “How it’s changed and how limited technology was from my youth, compared to how it is now,” is working pretty reliably on the road. “Talking about that, the older people relate and the young people relate because […] they love hearing about ‘What? You had like a pager?’ and talking about those things, I’m finding it’s bridging the gap and people are enjoying it.” He added with an air of mystery, “That’ll probably be my next special!”

But for now, Griffin is reveling in the success, and occasional uproar, of AmERIKan Warrior. In being willing to speak out on topics that stir strong emotions, like the anthem protests or the religious Right, he’s learning that not only will not everyone find him funny, but that those who disagree will do so loudly. “I don’t necessarily want to respond, but sometimes I do. The National Anthem people, I respond with, ‘You know, I respectfully disagree and luckily we live in a country where the troops fight for our right to have our own opinion.’” But there are some criticisms that he still insists on not responding to. “Not everyone’s going to find me funny,” he acknowledges as he considers his approach for responding to challengers online. “But that’s kind of the point.”

Erik Griffin is currently starring in Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here, and is also currently touring the country with an even newer hour of material. Watch AmERIKan Warrior on Showtime, Showtime Anytime, and Showtime On Demand

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Amma Marfo

Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.