At one point in his new special, Eddie Griffin mimics a conversation with his mother, with her asking about where he’s been: “You’re not in movies anymore, no one’s seen you for a while, where you been?” And save a relatively quietly released special for Showtime last year (2018’s Undeniable), and a brief cameo/Undercover Brother reunion in Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born, many viewers may pause to ask the same: where’s Eddie Griffin been?
The answer, as he elaborates upon in the first section of 2019’s ENIGGMA, is Vegas, where he’s in his eleventh year of a Vegas residency. The special, filmed from The Eddie Griffin Experience, is an intimate showcase of the storytelling style that has made him so famous through the years—in a place where he has clearly grown comfortable. Recounting takes of the people he’s gotten to know walking the Strip in the past decade, the scenes inside the casinos, and even the drastic change in demeanor from when people enter the city to when they leave, shows he’s clearly made a home out of not just this theater where he seems so at ease, but in the city itself.
Ever the animated storyteller, Griffin catapults expertly between stories from his past, like his comedy origin story (getting money poop flung on him at a zoo field trip, and joking to combat the teasing), to current events (his take on the Trump presidency) or even future ones (how would white people fare if Black people got to be slaveowners?). Much of the last several years has been dedicated to his family, including his ten kids and one grandchild, and the contents of his set shows it. Admittedly, his material on the young men who date his daughter feels generic, but ENIGGMA is at its best when he gets specific. A particularly special bit features an exchange between Griffin’s five year old son, and his five year old grandson…who go to school together. The care with which he talks about the boys, even as he marvels at how they talk to one another, is clear. On the other side of his generation, another hilariously specific bit explores his uncle’s scandalous deathbed confessions, which later turn out to be inopportunely premature.
While the second half of the set dives deeper into the trials of aging (he’s now 52), Griffin hasn’t lost a step or much of the energy that made him a mainstay of stages and screens in the 90s and early 2000s. And even if the jokes themselves don’t always match Griffin’s trademark energy, this wisdom allows him to credibly weave bits about sex at his age through the voice of an aggrieved and yelling penis, with earnest laments about border family separation…which still managed to end in a joke.
In a year that marked the high-profile comeback of another famous Eddie, it’s hard to finish ENIGGMA not wanting more of Eddie Griffin. At the special’s opening, he defines the title as “mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.” After finishing it, I have to confess I did wonder: could the comeback of another Eddie be too far off?
Eddie Griffin’s ENIGGMA is available now on Showtime, and Griffin will be touring the US again after Christmas, with upcoming stops in Chicago, West Palm Beach, and Denver.