HOLLYWOOD, California—The first thing that comes up when you google “Blake Griffin comedy” is a YouTube video titled “Blake Griffin Does Stand Up Comedy - Actually FUNNY!” That pretty much sums up the public reaction to the NBA star’s unexpectedly successful foray into the comedy world.
“I’m not a comedian,” Griffin insists as we chat backstage before he’s scheduled to go out in front of an audience and tell jokes. But, he adds, “I know what I think is funny.”
Thursday night at the NeueHouse event space in Hollywood, Griffin hosted the second annual Comedy by Blake benefit, a night of stand-up with all proceeds going to his Team Griffin Foundation, which helps at-risk youth achieve success. Among the headliners were Bill Burr, Michelle Wolf, Ali Wong and Jeff Ross, who recently faced off with the Detroit Pistons forward on an episode of his Comedy Central series Roast Battle, an experience that Griffin says was “terrifying.”
The roasting continued Thursday night as one comedian after the next opened their sets with brutal jokes at Griffin’s expense.
“Blake, you are the best comedian that’s over 6’6”,” Ross said at the top of the show. “I don’t think there’s ever been a comedian that’s over 6’6”.” He added, “Blake Griffin: So few players are a power forward and a power bottom.”
“I’m what Blake looked like when he was seven,” Michelle Wolf said when she took the stage, riffing on their shared red hair.
Sam Jay, who writes for Saturday Night Live, said she was “pissed” when she heard “rich” athlete Griffin was doing comedy—until she found out he was going to pay her $5,000 for five minutes of her time. Only then did she decide Blake Griffin is “good for comedy.”
And then there was Ali Wong, who came out guns blazing, telling the audience of charitable donors, “It is such an honor to be performing at this benefit for Blake Griffin’s tax shelter, right? So he can look good while hiding his money. It’s great, right? It’s so fun!”
The first time Griffin tried stand-up was a few years ago at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles. He prepared a bit that involved him reading some intentionally bad slam poetry and it went pretty well. In the summer of 2016, he performed five nights in a row at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. “It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, for sure,” he says.
Griffin knows that his celebrity gives him a leg up over anyone else who might be interested in getting into stand-up comedy. “I’ve sort of used my platform through basketball to do something that I really enjoy,” he says, comparing it to the way his friend Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder started his own celebrity fishing tournament. “The comedy world has been so supportive,” he adds.
“One of the biggest areas of my humor is self-deprecation,” Griffin says, a fact that was evident in the series of video sketches—featuring Keegan-Michael Key, Neal Brennan, Craig Robinson and others—that played throughout the show in which he mocked his own comedy aspirations by joking that he was giving up that “second career” to pursue music instead.
Growing up in Oklahoma City, Griffin would watch comics like Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy with his father. Later, he got really into Dave Chappelle. When he was drafted by the Clippers in 2009 and moved to L.A., he would drop by the Comedy Store just for the chance to see his heroes in person.
Some of Griffin’s favorite comedians, including Chappelle and Norm Macdonald, who performed at last year’s benefit, have a habit of saying things that get them in “trouble” during this age of near-constant social media outrage.
“I think a comedian’s job is to touch on subjects that people are afraid to talk about,” Griffin says, adding that the best piece of advice he has received is to “speak on what you know.” For him, that means most of his comedy material revolves around basketball and what it’s like to be a professional athlete.
During his opening set at the benefit, Jeff Ross joked, “When Blake first heard that athletes were taking knees, he said, ‘I’ll take two, mine are horrible.’”
Griffin himself didn’t tell any jokes about the debate over kneeling for the national anthem that has been roiling the NFL, but he did tell me that he thinks Nike’s decision to feature Colin Kaepernick in its new ad campaign is “awesome” and “very, very powerful.”
“It also kind of baffles me that there’s so much hate for somebody who is trying to do something peacefully,” he says, noting that he is an ambassador for Nike’s Jordan brand. “But I think it’s very cool of a company like Nike, it makes me proud to be part of a company like that.”
And to anyone posting videos online of themselves burning the Nikes they already purchased, Griffin says with a laugh, “Good, fine, do it, whatever.”