Comedy Entertainment Network
BABCCF 2008 Champion
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*Warning Explicit Language*
TONY SPIRES: CONVERSATION WITH THE COMEDY DOCTOR
INTERVIEW WITH 2008 CHAMPTION MISTA MCGRIFF
Recently, I had a long-overdue chat with Bay Area Black Comedy Competition 2008 winner Mista McGriff. Over the years, I’ve forged relationships with many of the comics who have blessed and blazed our stages. I must say, I truly like “McGriff,” the abbreviated version of his stage name, reserved for those who know him. He comes from the ranks of what I call “the folks.” I think he has lots to offer this business. There’s positive energy coming from his spirit. But it wasn’t always that way.
About 10 year ago, following a disappointing score in the BABCCF preliminaries (this particular year we were at the now defunct Kimball’s East in Emeryville, CA), a very young and livid Mista McGriff “hit the roof,” expressed his displeasure with the results and then effectively stayed away from the event for the next several years.
Upon his return to our ranks in the new millennium, he appeared with a new, warm and sincere off-stage facial expression to add to his impressive on-stage arsenal of unique faces. With the new visage also came a new and improved attitude. I would by no means be the first person to stress the importance of having the right mental attitude in this business. Attitude may not be everything but it’s definitely in the top three. Fast-forward to 2009. St Louis Comic Mista McGriff is now the reigning BABCCF Champion.
Since his rousing victory in February 2008, we stayed in decent touch with one another. We worked together on a show I produced in Los Angeles last November (where he of course, “ripped it!”). I’m glad that we finally got a chance to have that up-close and personal conversation about the life and times of one of St. Louis’ funniest and best-kept comedy secrets, Mista McGriff.
TS: McGriff, You are now among the ranks of some of urban comedy’s biggest and brightest stars. You are one of the winning alumni of the BABCCF. What has winning one of the nation’s premiere comedy competitions mean to you?
MM: Winning the BABCCF feels like a huge accomplishment. After I won, it felt like I just graduated from Stand-up Comedy University and the trophy was my Masters Degree.
TS: I like how you put that! Man, everybody knows you won but you actually “took it!” There were no disputes. You brought the heat. I always look for fire in the comics. You had it in your eyes when we did the on camera interviews before the shows. How would you describe the mindset you won with in 2008?
MM: I had that Barrack Obama mindset; I was prepared and focused long before my plane arrived in Oakland. I meditated on winning the grand prize and kept a spiritual connection throughout the entire competition.
TS: Yes, a genuine spiritual connection can make all the difference in the world for contestants, especially with the added pressure of limited time and considerable money being on the line. You also mentioned being prepared and focused. How did you choose what material to bring to Oakland last year?
MM: It was hard, because I have tons of material from over the years and I couldn’t decide which jokes to use. But being a veteran in the game gave me the ability to switch up my jokes during my routine and cater specific material to the audience.
TS: How would you describe a "Mista McGriff" set?
MM: A Mista McGriff set is full of laughter with jokes ranging from clean cut to adult oriented material that you can relate to, it also comes with a unique style and some urban flavor blended, with facial expressions and a one of a kind sound.
TS: What did you think of the other finalists last year?
MM: I thought the other finalist had some pretty good material, but I knew I had to bring something extra to the stage to set myself apart from the rest. I think my swagger and the way I deliver my material makes me different from other comics.
TS: What does hosting this year mean to you?
MM: When I first entered the BABCCF in 2001, I had no idea that eight years later I’d be hosting. So, it means so much to know that if you stay committed to something long enough that eventually you will reap the benefits.
TS: Let’s go back to mindset for a moment. What will be your on-stage mindset at the shows now that you're hosting them?
MM: I’m in a more relaxed state of mind because I'm not being judged this time around. But I'm still prepared to bring the heat as if I were still competing in the competition because you never know who’s in the audience watching you.
TS: Word up! That reminds me of comedian Mack Bootsy last year. He was eliminated in the preliminaries. We put him on an opening/warm-up spot for the semis. The people from the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival were there. They saw him, liked him and signed him up to do the their festival last summer. You really never know who’s out there or what they’re looking for.
Speaking of what the industry is looking for, you use a plethora of funny facial expressions and body contortions in your act. How did you start doing those faces?
MM: I’ve always believed that comedy was more than just funny material; I think that facial expressions and body language gives the audience a better connection with your joke and allows them to actually feel what you’re saying. Comedy is about bringing the humor out of life experiences and the audience wants to feel that experience.
TS: Spoken like a true veteran in this game. How long have you been doing stand up on a serious level?
MM: I’ve been doing stand up comedy for over 13 years. I was only 20 years old when I started.
TS: When did you know that you were good?
MM: The very first time I performed, it was at a club called Sanford’s hosted by Lavelle Crawford, and it was known to be one of the toughest crowds in America to do stand-up comedy. I went on stage and impressed everyone in the club and quickly became one of the crowd’s favorite comedians.
TS: Where does the name "Mista McGriff" come from?
MM: My birth name is Michael Courtney Griffin and I shortened it with my initials and created McGriff, and Mista is another way of saying Mister and that’s how I came up with Mista McGriff.
TS: Where do you get the inspiration for your material?
MM: I was inspired through several people from my childhood. My neighborhood was full of different characters and swaggers. I use to observe the behavior patterns of my peers and my older brothers and would copy them and add my own flavor to it and developed a unique style of my own.
TS: You definitely have a unique style. In your show, you illustrate a totally different view of the world, through the eyes of a cat that's not quite like everybody else. Where does that off-the-hook-perspective come from?
MM: When I develop my material, I like to think outside the box and come at you with a different approach than the normal. I don’t want you to guess where I'm going with my punch line, I want it to catch you off guard and knock you out with laughter.
TS: That’s exactly what you did. You were a returning veteran in ’08. How many times did you do the Bay Area before you won it?
MM: Three times before the big win.
TS: What can you share with some of the comics out there who did The Competition once, didn't do as well as they thought they should've and got frustrated and got down on themselves?
MM: I would like to say that you can never give up on yourself, I never made it past the first round the previous three years before I won. But it was something inside of me that wanted to conquer this competition. Sometimes the negative energy and voices from others might influence you not to return and to give up. But you can’t listen to other peoples
Opinions. If I did that I would definitely not be hosting this year.
TS: That’s valuable knowledge for the young comics competing this year. They need all the game they can get. Especially now that comedy is evolving. You see it changing, right?
TS: What do you think about the present state of Black Comedy?
MM: I think black comedy is bigger now than ever, and I believe comedians need to think of comedy as a business and be more creative in showcasing various talents in the industry.
TS: What are your other talents?
MM: I have skills in the bedroom, but you’re probably not talking about that, so… (LOL!)
TS: You got that right, Playa!
MM: So I would say the ability to write is a tremendous talent that I have. I’ve written a movie and a few television show pilots and I’m looking forward to jump starting some of my projects real soon.
TS: What about rapping? I know you got skills
MM: Oh yeah, rapping is another talent that I have and music is my first love.
TS: What did you do before you became a stand up?
MM: I worked several odd jobs before doing comedy full time, mostly warehouse and labor work. But I never worked anywhere long enough to get a paid vacation. Stand-up comedy is the only job I’ve never quit, so I think I'm onto something.
TS: Why comedy?
MM: Comedy is a good way to relieve stress, and the only thing you need is a microphone and some good jokes. You don’t have to worry about back up singers or a hype man; it’s just you and the audience.
TS: That’s real talk. What would you do if you didn't do comedy?
MM: Anything that deals with entertaining, I can’t help it. it’s in my blood.
TS: That’s how I feel. I was cut out to be in this business. In many ways, it’s saved my life. Did comedy ever save your life?
MM: It definitely kept me off the streets and away from what the rest of my peers were doing at the time I started. So, I would like to say that comedy has been a positive influence on my life and could’ve saved me from doing some stupid things.
TS: Where are you from originally?
MM: St. Louis, Missouri.
TS: What was your first big break?
MM: When I broke up with my baby mama, that was the moment I knew I could accomplish anything, Nah but seriously, I would have to say taping BET Comicview for the first time in 1999, because that opened up a lot of doors for me to continue my journey in stand-up comedy.
TS: Where do you want comedy to take you?
MM: I would like comedy to lead me into acting roles, and other areas where I’ll be involved in writing, producing and directing my own projects.
TS: Married or single?
TS: Who have been your major influences?
MM: My wife and kids, who’ve shown me unlimited amounts of support from the time I told my first joke; and God for giving me the faith to keep going.
TS: How do you spell r-e-l-a-x-a-t-i-o-n?
MM: Having a spiritual connection with my higher self and living life to the fullest with joy and prosperity gives me relaxation, and a couple of beers wouldn’t hurt either.
TS: What's your credo, motto or your life's guiding principal?
MM: Live everyday like it’s your last one, because no one is promised tomorrow.
TS: What words of wisdom can you impart unto young comics and/or aspiring comics?
MM: Always be creative, study your craft, network with others, and don’t steal anyone else’s material or try to recreate something that has already been done. Be original, and be yourself because the audience knows who’s authentic and who’s not.
TS: Last question. What else is coming up for "Mista McGriff?"
MM: I'm currently touring across the country headlining major comedy clubs and I'm looking forward to dropping a new DVD this year and launching a reality show on the web. And just in case you didn’t know, I'm also hosting the 2009 BABCCF!
Mista McGriff’s skills will be on full display as he hosts the Opening Weekend of Bay Area Black Comedy Competition & Festival 2009, February 13th-15th at Tommy T’s in Pleasanton, CA.