That Eddie Griffin, who commenced a Rio residency in April, is Vegas’ most un-PC comic isn’t news. Bracingly raw, he’d turn mea culpas to special-interest groups into a cottage industry if his verbal grenades were tossed outside the confines of the King’s Room. Yet it’s the substance underlying the shtick that catapults Griffin from risk-taking comedian to profane philosopher.
Humor-wise, he’s of a lineage that pairs him with Chris Rock and winds back to Richard Pryor. Yes, he wants our love and laughs, but not at the cost of his honesty and independence. Otherwise, he wouldn’t prowl the small stage puffing on cigarettes, the secondhand smoke curling out toward patrons’ nostrils. Nor would he make “nigga” his favorite noun (“motherfucker” is a close second) or casually utter “faggot” and “retarded.” Hilariously incendiary riffs: blaming black women for rejecting black men who then pursue white women; riotously battering religion from the Book of Genesis to Jehovah’s Witnesses; and the sexual desirability (employing another word ending in—“ability”) of Michelle Obama.
Comic exaggeration is obvious in Griffin’s material. Yet it’s an act that isn’t, you know, an act. Ruthlessly puncturing the politeness we hide behind, Griffin doesn’t fake fearlessness for the sake of comedy, then dismiss it with a just-kiddin-around-with-y’all wrap-up. He is fearless because—on heavyweight topics such as religion, relationships and cancer—he means it and will sacrifice some laughs to that cause: Questioning the official line on how the Twin Towers really fell, he accepts an awkward audience silence, saying: “I want to see how all of you feel about it.” Observing how he lost someone to breast cancer, he lets guffaws dissolve and rails against radiation treatments, prevailing medical doctrine be damned. Drawing from three marriages (he also has nine kids), he sounds off on relationships—particularly his comic characterization of some women as potentially dishonest, disloyal and greedy. Misogynistic? No. Leavened by laughs, it wears the protective coating of comedy. But brutal? Yes. Then, when he slows the rhythm, drops the gags and turns reflective, the crowd quiets as if suddenly a preacher is onstage.
A motherfucking profane preacher.
NOSHING ON NOTES: Relatively light week at The Smith Center where, unfortunately, legendary 84-year-old Broadway star/chanteuse (and Kennedy Center honoree) Barbara Cook postponed her scheduled May 24-27 Smith debut at the Cabaret Jazz room. New dates are 8 p.m. Aug. 16-18 and 3 p.m. Aug. 19. Meanwhile, Mary Poppins is in mid-run, playing at Reynolds Hall through May 27, and, in the spirit of dance anniversaries—following Nevada Ballet Theatre celebrating its 40th recently—Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater marks five years with a performance at Reynolds on May 29. … Film fans get a short treat—as in short films—when Tropfest, billed as “the world’s largest short film festival,” settles in at the Cosmopolitan on June 1-3.
STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Best self-justification of the week? Griffin eviscerating religion, then observing: “God made this. He knows I’m telling these jokes. I’m still here.” Can we get an amen?