I think Greg Giraldo is one of the sharpest, funniest comics working today, so it's with some disappointment that I say his first hour-long Comedy Central special Midlife Vices isn't his best work. It still has a good deal of laughs -- some of them very big -- and may serve as an excellent introduction for someone unfamiliar with the comic. Those of us who are already fans, however, have seen him take charge of just about every Comedy Central roast and level the room (I believe it's called "killing"), practically daring any other comic to follow him. The Giraldo of Midlife Vices just doesn't have that kind of fire.
Honestly, it may be an issue of network interference; I didn't realize just how many notes Comedy Central sometimes gives to comedians until a recent interview I read with Patton Oswalt. Maybe it's just a matter of Giraldo trying to appeal to as large an audience as possible, which I can't fault him for. Maybe it's entirely my fault that I didn't respond to the material as much as his other stuff. Whatever the reason, Midlife Vices seemed like watered-down Giraldo; some of his anger, frustration and finger pointing was dialed down.
If you really want to experience Giraldo at his best, check out his 2006 album Good Day to Cross a River. Every routine is sharply observed and expertly executed; it's one of my favorite comedy albums of the last 10 years. Every one of society's foibles Giraldo points out on the album is particularly funny and inspired because it's right on the mark -- it's one of the best instances of something being "funny because it's true." And while there's still a good deal of that on Midlife Vices, Giraldo too often pushes a joke in the wrong direction or reduces it for a common denominator. I've always liked that as a comic, Giraldo never underestimates the audience's intelligence, but sometimes on this special I feel like he does. Maybe it's just me.
As social critics go, Giraldo is one of the best, and there are moments on Vices where he really lets it rip; like George Carlin, he's a master at pointing out how screwed up America is (he covers New York's reaction in the aftermath of 9/11, overweight kids and does a great bit about the dynamic between Barack and Michelle Obama). Unlike Carlin, Giraldo is also willing to get personal -- he mines some of the darker stuff in his own life (like giving up drinking and drugs and his divorce with his wife) for comedy. Making it all the more impressive is that he does it without ever lapsing into the usual, boring man/woman relationship stuff. You get the feeling that he's bored by a lot of what passes for stand-up these days.
Even writing this, I realize that I'm probably being too hard on Giraldo; looking back on Midlife Vices, it's funnier and darker and smarter than 90 percent of stand-up out there. Maybe it's because I've seen him be funnier (he's still the funniest live comic I've seen) that I just keep hoping he'll top himself. I guess the important thing is that he's getting his own Comedy Central special at all. More people need to be aware of Greg Giraldo.
- Comedy Central Premiere Date: 8/16/09