April 25, 2007

Comedian discusses Cornell and his specialty in candy

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Funnyman Greg Giraldo called Daze up the other day to make fun of Cornell and AIDS. Here is part of that “weirdy-weirdy” conversation.
Daze: So, you went to Columbia. As a proud Cornellian, I have to ask, did you not get in to Cornell?
Greg Giraldo: [Laughs] No, at that point the suicide rate was staggeringly high at Cornell and I just thought I’d rather stay alive, so I opted to stay down here.
Daze: Alright, it looks like that worked out for you.
G.G.: It all worked out.
Daze: After doing the whole Ivy League thing, and then the Harvard Law thing, then the practicing lawyer thing, what made you snap and decide you were going to do standup?
G.G.: Jesus.
Daze: Jesus?
G.G.: Jesus.
Daze: In what way did Jesus guide you?
G.G.: Well, it’s a very complex issue, but, you know, if you really read the New Testament close, I think you’d understand.
Daze: Okay. So, what’s your favorite aspect of standup comedy? And what’s Jesus’s favorite aspect?
G.G.: I think Jesus probably likes the gay-bashing.
Daze: Ah, okay.
G.G.: That’s not something I do but there’s a lot of that in comedy; Jesus is a fan of that. And he also likes “Men and Women are Different” jokes. All the jokes about how men and women are different. My favorite aspect of comedy is probably the free food.
Daze: Okay.
G.G.: Yeah.
Daze: What’s your favorite hor’ dourve?
G.G.: My favorite hor’ dourve is — it really changes, I gotta be honest with you. When I do these interviews I try to be as honest as possible. Like I don’t joke around or put on some sort of comedic front. I like to answer questions as honestly as I can and I can’t really say for sure because it changes all the time. This time, right now, I just had some stuffed mushrooms that I really thought brightened my day. I’m going with stuffed mushrooms.
Daze: In what ways, if any, is Ivy League college crowd different from other college audiences?
G.G.: Well, their parents will be richer, typically. There’ll be fewer people with babies. And other than that, I think it’s pretty much exactly the same.
Daze: If you could only complain about one thing ever again for the rest of your life, what would you complain about and why?
G.G.: [Laughs] Just one thing, huh?
Daze: Yeah.
G.G.: If I have to limit myself to one thing, it might be probably I would say the atrocities in Darfur. And why? Because I don’t wanna focus on the real serious issues.
Daze: For the Seventeen magazine portion of the interview, what’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
G.G.: [Laughs] Oh, one time I shit myself.
Daze: [Laughs] That a true story?
G.G.: No.
Daze: Okay.
G.G.: No, but it may have been the case. Probably a little bit at least once.
Daze: So your myspace account says that you are 41 years old … how does it feel to be a 41 year old myspace user?
G.G.: [Laughs] That’s a very good question. Luckily I have an excuse because of my job. I don’t even use it that much; there’s guys at my agency that do all the trolling for me. It does sometimes feel a little fake. I forget how old I am until I’m asked directly like this, which is why I love college gigs so much.
Daze: Do you know how many friends you have on myspace?
G.G.: Not exactly, somewhere between unknown feature act and Dane Cook. I know I have that number.
Daze: What do you think of Dane Cook?
G.G.: Oh, I don’t feel like going into it. I’ll tell ya in person.
Daze: Okay. What do you think of Christian Finnegan?
G.G.: I think he’s adorable.
Daze: Is there a lot of pressure on you to be funny all the time?
G.G.: Yes.
Daze: How do you deal with that?
G.G.: By making a lot of AIDS jokes and making everyone uncomfortable.
Daze: Did you like Team America: World Police?
G.G.: [Laughs] This is an interesting interview style you have! I like it: it’s very to the point. No fuckin’ around. ‘I have my questions set up, and we’re gonna band ‘em out!’
Daze: That wasn’t something I had set up, but that’s my favorite AIDS-jokes musical.
G.G.: [Laughs] That is a good AIDS-jokes musical! Yeah, I do like Team America. I like everything those guys do.
Daze: Do your kids think that you’re funny?
G.G.: Yeah, they really do. I’m sure that’ll change once they become real humans, but right now, they’re just malleable little mounds of plasma. They’re easy to amuse.
Daze: They easier to amuse than club audiences and college shows?
G.G.: No … well, in some ways, yeah. I can’t just do pull-my-finger-fart jokes to really tear up a theater crowd. But, with little kids its pretty basic stuff.
Daze: They still go for that?
G.G.: They really still do, which is weird ‘cause one of ‘em is 19.
Daze: [Laughs] Who, yourself excluded for argument’s sake, is the funniest person you’ve ever met?
G.G.: Uh, thank-you for throwing in that ‘for argument’s sake’ which is so clearly saying, ‘Clearly, you are not that funny, but I will give you an out here so we don’t have to debate it.’
Daze: [Laughs]
G.G.: See that’s an interesting question because there’s a difference between professionally funny, those comics I think are funny, and the funniest people you ever meet, who are very oftentimes just raving psychotics on the subway. They’re not being intentionally funny, but they’ve probably provided more mirth and laughter than any professional comedians out there. So I don’t know. The person that makes me laugh most in real life is Danny Bonaduce.
Daze: Do you find people like the people on the subway funny, whereas most, not most people, but a lot of people would find them more disturbing? You sorta just laugh?
G.G.: [Laughs] No, I mean, I’m not entirely soulless. Thank you for the implication, but yes I do find pain and suffering sometimes funny. You know, there’s an old saying that most people see a guy dressed as an old lady falling down some stairs and they would laugh. You know, there’s an actor dressed as an old lady falling down stairs, and they’d laugh. But for a comedian to laugh, it would have to really be the old lady.
Daze: [Laughs] What kind of relationship do you have with Christian Finnegan? Have you guys met a lot of times before?
G.G.: We’ve been lovers for a long time, probably. On and off though; it gets awkward sometimes. We confront our own issues of sexual identity and that makes it difficult, but for the most part, yeah. I mean, we’ve had a long-lasting, I wouldn’t say monogamous, but a very passionate sexual relationship.
Daze: Is it on or off right now?
G.G.: Oh, it’s on baby! [Laughs] Nothing brings out the latent gay in me like the Land of Gorges or whatever it is. What do they call it up there?
Daze: Yeah, we have a lot of gorges, yeah. You don’t want to fall into any of them while you’re here.
G.G.: I hope not.
Daze: Or else your original plan will have been thwarted.
G.G.: Yes.
Daze: Do you and Christian ever have words about whose New York City school is better since he went to NYU?
G.G.: Did he go to NYU? I didn’t even remember that.
Daze: He did.
G.G.: We don’t really get that heated about that kind of thing anymore, but now that I know he went to NYU, I’ll be sure to spark up a rivalry with him. [Laughs] Now that I know he went to NYU, I see him in a completely different light and I’m nowhere near as interested in him.
Daze: Here comes the point in the interview where I ask you to be the expert on comedy, and you have to tell me what the funniest show on TV is right now and why.
G.G.: The funniest show on TV right now is probably reruns of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. That’s a really funny show — you ever see that?
Daze: I have. I used to be very into that show when I was younger —
G.G.: Ohhhh, man is it funny! I don’t know. I don’t really watch any sitcoms anymore. I’ve seen episodes of The Office that I’ve thought were funny and I did see a particularly funny My Name Is Earl the other day. I guess if I have to pick one that’s still the funniest show, I think still a really good South Park is about as good as anything that’s on. And also Iron Chef makes me laugh a lot when I’m really stoned.
Daze: Which version?
G.G.: The Mario Batali one. Anytime he’s on. Just watching that little, sausage-fingered meatball cook is hilarious to me.
Daze: Since you mentioned sausage, what’s better: bacon or sausage?
G.G.: You know, I sometimes say sausage, but you’re catching me on a bacon day, so I’m going to go with bacon. I had a BLT about an hour ago, I was just thinking, coincidentally enough, ‘I should have those more. They’re really great.’ So maybe bacon is the magic food after all.
Daze: What’s the last side-splitting comedic movie you’ve seen?
G.G.: Philadelphia.
Daze: [Laughs] The Tom Hanks movie?
G.G.: Yeah.
Daze: What about that movie is so funny
G.G.: I just took it all as being tongue-in-cheek and I didn’t buy any of it. If you believe the things that they were asking you to believe, then it wasn’t funny, but if you think it was all just an elaborate joke …
Daze: It all comes back to AIDS, doesn’t it?
G.G.: [Laughs] Alright, that was tasteless there. I should come up with something that really was funny to me — Schindler’s List.
Daze: [Laughs] Ah, okay. Did you know that in other languages, like French and Spanish, AIDS is S-I-D-A?
G.G.: Yeah, SIDA. [Laughs] That’s an interesting factoid you chose to share with us. Thank-you Rebecca Beth. Rebecca Beth! Oh, you can’t have two names, Rebecca. It’s hard to keep track.
Daze: How did you know that I have two names?
G.G.: Because that’s what it says on the e-mail. Rebecca Beth Weiss.
Daze: That’s just Cornell’s e-mail. I’m not actually from the South or anything like that.
G.G.: Where are you from?
Daze: San Francisco …
G.G.: Oh, yeah, yeah, I know where that is. That’s over in California, right?
Daze: Mhmm, yeah.
G.G.: Near that place?
Daze: Yup. You’re from New York?
G.G.: Yeah, I grew up in Queens, and now I live on the Upper West Side.
Daze: Do you have a lot of borough pride for Queens?
G.G.: I guess I kinda do, actually in a weird way. I didn’t used to really; I was happy to get outta there. But now that I’ve come to grips with my past, I do have a little bit of borough pride.
Daze: Even though you switched teams?
G.G.: County-wise, you mean?
Daze: Borough-wise.
G.G.: Well, yeah, at a certain point, I’m upwardly mobile, so there’s no reason to stay in Queens. Let’s be honest and call a spade a spade. And I don’t mean to get racial.
Daze: As a comedian, do you consider yourself an expert on what is funny or what makes people laugh, or is there another response that I haven’t put forth. Is it more how to make people laugh or what’s actually funny? … Or something else?
G.G.: These are very good questions, Rebecca. I’ll tell ya, that is maybe the biggest differences so far between typical college gigs and this one: the probing stark wit of the interview. [Laughs] You’re combining very good questions with just enough offbeat weirdy-weirdy.
Daze: [Laughs]
G.G.: People laugh at all kinds of things that aren’t funny, I think. There’ve been a lot of famous, famous, famous comedians who sell out giant arenas right now I don’t think are funny in the slightest and yet plenty of people seem to be going to watch them, so what do I know what’s funny? I don’t think anyone really knows. I think you can make people laugh with gibberish and obvious easy bullshit, but for the most part, all you can do is what you think is funny. You write what you think would make you laugh, and then hopefully people laugh at that. And then if they don’t, eventually you tweak a bit ‘til they do, or you realize that, you know, you’re wrong this time. Being professionally funny is a very hit-or-miss kinda thing. You gotta spit out a lot of bullshit to come up with the real gems.
Daze: One of your talents is roasting people, most notably the subjects of the Comedy Central roast series. If you had your pick on anyone in the world to roast — let’s say they have to be alive — who would it be, why, and what might you say to him or her?
G.G.: I think I’d probably roast George Bush. Why? Because he’s managed to squander the greatest opportunity for international change ever presented to a world leader. And what I would focus on would probably be — you know, I’d make some dumb jokes. Ya know? ‘Cause I hear he’s dumb. Whaddaya think?
Daze: I think that’s a good idea. He wouldn’t get it anyway, would he?
G.G.: Who knows? Everyone says he’s not as dumb as you think, which is really ringing, ringing endorsement for the president of the most powerful country in the free world.
Daze: What was your specialty when you studied law?
G.G.: I used to specialize almost primarily on candy issues and candy-related issues …
Daze: Has that helped your comedy?
G.G.: … Nougat. In fact, nougat was my sub-specialty. There’s a lot of nougat-related tort laws that specifically relate to nougat and nougat-type candy. As far as how its affects my comedy, no, it doesn’t really. It doesn’t affect it much. I mean, I guess were I to find myself in a legally tense situation involving candy products of any kind, then I could probably fall back on my training. But for the most part, it’s just a lost art for me.
Daze: What got you into candy?
G.G.: I mean, I think that’s obvious. If you really want me to tell you, I could. Candy and legal issues pertaining to candy are pretty much—I don’t know if you’re in pre-law or anything like that, but its pretty much the cutting edge of the jurisprudence in our country. So I’ve always been the kind of guy that likes to be on the cusp of things, and I just thought, ‘What do I know about? I know about candy. And what do I think is delicious? Candy.’ So, let’s just tackle these issues head-on, and get to the bottom of it, and understand how candy has shaped our culture.
Daze: Cornell has a really good food science program and a law school. Do we have a good candy law program?
G.G.: Oh, Cornell does have that food science thing, right? Where you can major in, like, waitering or something? Is that what it is?
Daze: That’s the hotel school. We also have that. You can major in food or you can major in service. That’s two different schools!
G.G.: I think that’s quite an Ivy degree you want to get from Cornell.
Daze: ‘Any person, any study.’
G.G.: That’s what they say, huh?
Daze: That’s the Cornell motto.
G.G.: [Laughs] ‘Any person, any study’?
Daze: Yea, literally.
G.G.: Well, that’s pretty wide-open. So yeah, there’s probably someone studying candy law right now.
Daze: I sure hope so. What’s up next for you after this gig at Cornell?
G.G.: When is Cornell? It’s next Monday. This weekend I’m going to Indianapolis and Notre Dame, and then I’m going to Cornell, and then I’m going to Tempe, Arizona, and doing a club, the Improv in Tempe. You guys can all come if you want.
Daze: What’s up for you more generally?
G.G.: Ohh, when you say after Cornell, that’s why I give you specific dates. I’m holding off the whole rest of my career until Cornell. I did a pilot with Lewis Black and Patton Oswalt called Root of All Evil for Comedy Central. They just edited it and we’re waiting to see whether it gets on the air or not. In which case, if it did, I would do that. Otherwise, I’d work on a new hour of material and put a CD out, another DVD, by the end of this year. And that’s it, just touring, doing a lot of standup. I did another pilot recently called Adult Content, which is a look at sexual issues in America — a comedic look. That went really well, but I don’t think that’s going to get on the air. I’m always doing things like that. And bible study.
Daze: Yes. Of course. He’ll help you with the comedy. When you do these pilots, if they do get on the air, is it like a sitcom? What kind of series is it?
G.G.: That Root of All Evil is not a sitcom. Lewis Black plays a judge and we basically put pop culture on trial. We pretend to be lawyers, sort of half-scripted, half-true debate. Half-sitcommy in the sense that it’s a scripted, courtroom drama-type thing. There are two cases in each show and Patton Oswalt and I debate who the root of all evil was. You could use all kinds of multi-media presentations, and I had to argue that it was Paris Hilton, and he had to argue that it was Dick Cheney. Of course, you have to pick the counter-argument: Dick Cheney’s not that bad, Paris Hilton’s not that bad. And then Lewis passes judgment in the end on who actually is the root of all evil. And they pick different people each week. That’s what that one would be. But basically, we just make fun of each other and sorta roast like that.
Daze: Does Lewis Black have a normal speaking voice? Or is it all at that yelling decibel?
G.G.: [Laughs] Believe it or not, he does. I don’t know that I would call it normal, but he does have a speaking voice when he’s not screaming. But he is always shaking and on the verge of something bad happening. When you talk to Lewis, you always get the sense that something horrible could happen at any moment.
Greg Giraldo will appear with Christian Finnegan at the Statler next Monday. Visit www.rso.cornell.edu/cupb/ for more information about the show and www.greggiraldo.com. For more of Daze’s conversation with the funnyman, check out www.cornellsun.com. Also, befriend him on myspace. Why not?