Today, there seem to be few, if any, offensive lines left for comedy to cross. But Eddie Griffin has been in the stand-up comedy game long enough to have experienced some of those early boundaries firsthand.
The 45-year-old Kansas City, Mo., native first got his feet wet in the late 1980s at open-mike nights at the city's long-standing comedy club, Stanford and Sons.
When he first began unleashing his material on stage, the audience laughed. The club owner? Not so much.
"I didn't even know what 'blue' was," Griffin said, referring to the industry term for a more profane brand of comedy. "I was like, 'What are you talking about 'blue'? I'm black."
Griffin wasn't allowed back at Stanford and Sons, so he started hosting an open-mike comedy night in the city's jazz district. He then moved to Los Angeles and quickly became a buzz-worthy comic at the Comedy Store and was later asked to open for Andrew Dice Clay during his sell-out performances at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1990 and for his nationwide tour. From that point, Griffin was on a fast track to bigger things.
In the '90s, he was practically a mainstay on HBO, first on Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam and later with his own HBO special, Voodoo Child. He later branched out into acting, guest-starring in The Last Boy Scout and Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo before becoming a lead on the hit UPN sitcom Malcolm and Eddie from 1996 to 2000.
His biggest film role came shortly after, when he was cast in the lead in the blaxploitation send-up Undercover Brother in 2002.
Griffin has kept busy with a smattering of acting and voiceover work in comedy and drama, but his stand-up comedy has never lost momentum or its ability to shock.
On the Comedy Central specials Dysfunctional Family in 2003 and You Can Tell 'Em I Said It in 2011, Griffin takes on family, sex, racism and politics with the same ferocity that earned him his "blue" reputation early on.
"There's the edge, and then there's Eddie," Griffin said. "I jump off it."
For the past three years, when Griffin isn't doing film work (he just wrapped a project with actor Stephen Dorff set for release later this year), he does comedy five nights a week at the Rio casino and hotel in Las Vegas. As far as Griffin has come in stand-up comedy, he said he envisioned things going this way.
"I seen that from Day 1," Griffin said of his Las Vegas show. "If you can't see that, then get out the business."
When Griffin isn't cracking up crowds in Vegas, he hits the road on the weekends. He will be in Lexington at Comedy Off Broadway on Friday and Saturday.
He said he has about 70 percent of a new hour of stand-up worked out, and he figures he'll get the rest from a reliable source of inspiration.
"CNN, MSNBC and Fox are still a plethora for fodder," he said. "You can bet on Congress to do something stupid."
Just as Griffin has been in stand-up comedy long enough to see how much it has changed, he also has been in it long enough to motivate a whole generation of comics to get on stage. It's something he's proud of — to a point.
"The young comedians that open up for me sure know how to make me feel old," Griffin said. "They look at me like I'm their hero and I'm the reason they got into it. Well, all I can say is I hope to continue to inspire them. This old man ain't going nowhere."
Blake Hannon is a Mount Sterling-based writer.