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October 6, 2015

Remembering Greg Giraldo: A Smart Comedian Who Never Pandered, But Never Quite Broke Through

by Nick Zaino, posted Sep 30th 2010 1:00PM
Greg Giraldo, dead from an overdose at 44"There's nothing inherently smarter about a political joke than a joke about someone's balls," Greg Giraldo told me a couple of years ago when I interviewed him for the Boston Globe.

The general consensus about Giraldo, who died of an overdose Wednesday at 44 years old, was that he was a smart comic. He was quick with a sarcastic slam, which made him a regular guest on the Comedy Central roast series and 'Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.' He could speak convincingly about social and political issues, from foreign policy in Asia to why Americans love their big gas-guzzling cars.

And it didn't hurt that he attended Harvard Law School, passed the bar exam, and practiced law. For some reason, that life never seemed to fit him."I knew I couldn't have a regular job," he said in that same 2005 interview. "I knew I couldn't show up in an office every day. I don't know who I was trying to kid. Then I realized, 'Shit, this is my life, what am I going to do?'"

When he started going to open mics, he thought, "This is exactly all the things I want."

There was no cult of personality with Giraldo, no hero worship. You wouldn't catch him cultivating a hipster image or playing to any sort of cult comic base. While fans might have been looking to name someone the new Bill Hicks, Giraldo just wanted to make an audience laugh without insulting their intelligence. And sometimes he did that by joking about balls.

"I don't take that highbrow a view of comedy," he said. "The things that make me laugh are considered smart or whatever, I guess. But stuff that's self-consciously intelligent or self-consciously hip or cool, that doesn't do it for me either. You just try to be funny."

Giraldo was smart, but he was also rough. There were times on his 2009 special and CD, 'Midlife Vices,' when his voice took on a gravely tone and he seemed to be channeling Eric Bogosian. Especially when talking about his native New York City -- like when he randomly overheard a kid yell "Monica, you got A.I.D.S., yo!" across some train tracks. His riff on a post-9/11 bachelorette party was a legitimate tribute to the resiliency of New Yorkers without turning a blind eye to political ignorance. He used to do more political ranting until he realized there were no jokes in his screeds. And the jokes, after all, are the point.

Roast of Joan Rivers
Greg Giraldo - Trolls and Fairies
Roast Master Kathy Griffin Zombie Paparazzi Game South Park

Boston-based comedian Jessie Baade remembers Giraldo from her time in the New York comedy scene in the early '90s. There was a crowd of young, fresh comedians looking for a break, including Giraldo's longtime friends Jim Gaffigan and Jim Norton.

"I remember this person who was going to be great," says Baade. "We were so young and the world was going to give us great things. We were in love with comedy and were all religious zealots in the church of stand-up. He was smart and never seemed to answer a question without it being cloaked in some kind of flip joke. He had a great laugh and liked using it. He seemed more suburban grown-up than the rest of us at the time and then he let that go."

Giraldo had a lot of friends in comedy, especially around New York. His death has caused an outpouring of remembrances on Twitter and Facebook. Norton posted a picture of himself and Giraldo at a wedding in June. Jon Stewart said his goodbye on 'The Daily Show.' Gaffigan, a comedian who uses profanity sparingly, wrote this simple message, "Dear Addiction, Fuck you. Goodbye Greg. I love you."

Giraldo was honest and open about his addictions both in his act and on talk shows like 'Late Night With Conan O'Brien.' In Paul Provenza's new book 'Sataristas,' Giraldo spoke of an incident where he broke his hand punching something at Gotham Comedy Club in New York and then talked about it on 'Conan,' and how Conan producers considered that pretty dark. He also did an entire interview with Psychology Today on the topic of failure.

His honesty about his shortcomings both onstage and off no doubt will continue to color the conversation about his death. So will the fact that he never quite found the right TV project, though Comedy Central always seemed to be looking for ways to spotlight him.

Giraldo had a real life family -- he was a father of four -- and a large comedy family. His last special, 'Midlife Vices,' was arguably his best work. He was a judge on the most recent season of 'Last Comic Standing,' which put him in front of what was probably his widest audience to date.

If you watch Giraldo's stand-up, "failure" would be the last word you'd use to describe the comedian. Take a look at some of the clips sprinkled throughout this piece and try to tell me different.

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Thank you for a lovely tribute. Greg was such a unique, fearless and intelligent comedian - I was always waiting for him to reach the big time. If he had been the host of Tough Crowd, I know it would have been bigger than Bill Maher's show. Even now I can see him making jokes about the irony (New York Recovery Rally) and senselessness of his own death. Such a sad and incalculable loss.

October 05 2010 at 4:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I always thought Greg Giraldo was clever and hilarious. He had an incisive wit and he was always awesome on the Comedy Central roasts. I for one will miss him and I'm completely bummed out that he's dead.

October 01 2010 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rev. 766

Greg giraldo was a genius comic who made lots of people, mainly me, laugh their asses off. plenty of very smart people are unaware that most prescription painkillers are packed with acetaminophen. taking a safe recreational dose of hydrocodone or oxycodone often puts a dangerous amount of tylenol in the body to be dealt with by the liver. having a couple beers in this situation can be deadly. these pills are unnecessarily dangerous with the goal of discouraging abuse. so because the government doesn't trust our decisions about opiate abuse many good people overdose on tylenol for a slight opiate buzz, unaware that acetaminophen is the dangerous component of these pills. while every drug law, besides ones keeping us from hurting others, is unconstitutional, the fact that street heroin is safer than weak narcotic painkillers should be enough for the government to stop trying to think for "free" adults.
now a great comedian is dead, and lots more people will follow because opiates feel great and prescription drugs are deceptively worse than smack but you are less likely to be called a junkie for the risk.
RIP you magnificent bastard, it was an honest mistake anyone could make under the right circumstances.

October 01 2010 at 6:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

He was a comedian who never made anyone laugh. I think we can ALL agree on that.

September 30 2010 at 11:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Robert's comment


I hear laughter on the CDs. Hear it on the clips I posted. Heard it everywhere I heard him play. Not sure what you are talking about.

Also, Dave -- how so? What makes you think he wasn't smart?


October 01 2010 at 12:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Greg Giraldo was not for ALL, just for all who can think a little from time to time.

Stick with people telling fart jokes, now those make you laugh.

October 02 2010 at 8:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

unfortunately, when I read this I have to think he wasn't really that smart..

September 30 2010 at 11:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great job Nick. I can't even express how truly bummed I am by Greg's passing and I never even met the guy.

September 30 2010 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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