Blake Griffin adjusted the bow tie and collars of his tuxedo as he settled into his place on a velvet couch between comedians Jeff Ross and Nikki Glaser on stage at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills last Saturday night.
The NBA star, along with an eclectic group that included Academy Award winner Robert De Niro, Caitlyn Jenner and Ken Jeong from “The Hangover,” was on the dais for “The Comedy Central Roast of Alec Baldwin,” which airs this Sunday. Griffin had never met Baldwin before, but that’s not a prerequisite for being a roaster.
Comedians like Ross and Glaser are regulars for their ability to slice up celebrities they have never met with one deep cut after another about their appearance and career struggles. This is all new for Griffin, who has comedic aspirations after his NBA career is over. He went up against Ross in a “Roast Battle” last year and held his own against the self-proclaimed “Roastmaster General.”
“I looked at it from a standpoint of what do I have to lose?” Griffin said. “He’s the best roaster in the world so I might as well try to put together three to four good jokes and go for it. I’ve tried to do a couple more since then, but this is my first traditional roast.”
Griffin’s preparation for the roast wasn’t unlike practicing for a basketball game. He watched every roast he could get his hands on, from “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast” to more recent roasts at the New York Friars Club, as he worked and reworked his 10-minute set with a group of comedian friends.
“I watched almost every one,” he said. “I was looking at my iPad today and I have a bunch of them on there. It’s fun to be able to sit down and write jokes at people. Nobody really takes it to heart. There’s going to be some crazy jokes about me, but the way I look at it, the more jokes I hear about myself, the better. Nothing is going to faze me.”
While Griffin had never met Baldwin, he had a connection to someone else on stage, and the wealth of material there was too deep to pass up. Griffin previously dated Kendall Jenner, Caitlyn’s daughter, and didn’t hold back when talking about her and her family:
“On behalf of the entire NBA and half of the rappers on the Billboard charts, I want to thank you for giving your daughters their daddy issues.”
The line received arguably the loudest reaction from the crowd.
“I was comfortable,” Griffin said. “I ran my stuff about four or five times so I was comfortable with the material. I like moments like this.”
Griffin’s delivery and timing impressed the comedians on stage as they watched him effortlessly work the room. Even as he was roasting them, they couldn’t help but laugh and congratulated him after the show.
“He’s fantastic and it’s actually infuriating,” Glaser said. “Someone like Blake isn’t supposed to be funny. Tall millionaire athletes aren’t supposed to be funny, but Blake is really funny. He must have some deep insecurity that we don’t know about that has led him to be this funny, because it doesn’t make sense. Unless you were bullied as a kid like most of us were, you’re not supposed to be funny, but he is and it’s actually very annoying.”
Griffin, 30, is the younger of two boys and was home-schooled by his mother in Oklahoma City until he was in the eighth grade. He still remembers watching old “Saturday Night Live” reruns and stand-up specials from Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor, trying to memorize and recite favorite sketches and jokes. The star athlete isn’t normally the class clown, but Griffin tried to be both as a child.
“I don’t know where it comes from,” Griffin said of his passion for comedy. “Maybe being the younger child and always trying to make my family laugh. I was the same way around my friends. I was always trying to make my friends laugh. I can’t explain it. It’s just what I enjoy doing. I only want to do commercials and shows that are funny. I want to make people laugh.”
Griffin is the furthest thing from your traditional comedian. He is a 6-foot-10, 250-pound, six-time NBA All-Star who has made $160 million during his career. There’s no reason he should be looking for a comedy club to practice new material, but the urge to get on stage and tell jokes makes sense to the comedians he talks to on a regular basis.
“The thing about comedy is that it’s addictive,” Glaser said. “When you’re good at it, it’s like a drug. The high you get from getting a room full of people laughing is unlike anything else. It speaks to something inside of him that a guy worth over $100 million is doing stand-up at [expletive] clubs and doing a roast like this, which is a lot of work. When you sign up to do a roast like this, you have to put in the work, and he’s put in the work.”
As much as Griffin loves comedy, he’s not looking to change jobs yet. He is in the third year of a five-year, $173-million contract with the Detroit Pistons and averaged a career-best 24.5 points last season. But when he does retire, Griffin wants to transition into his second career in comedy as seamlessly as he delivered his jokes on stage Saturday.
“I’m not trying to be a stand-up, but I like doing stuff like this because it’s outside of my comfort zone and a little scary,” Griffin said. “Whenever I do this, I leave with a newfound sense of confidence. I feel like I’ve added another tool to my repertoire, so I’m always going to seek out things like this. ”