There are lessons that come through failure, through "really bombing," says comedian Nick Griffin, who will bring his act to the Zoo Bar stage on Sunday.
Griffin, who appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman" 11 times, four times on "Conan" and has toured nationally for the last three decades, is quick to draw on the misery of the second time he took the stage at an open-mic night in Kansas City in the late 1980s when he was still a college student.
"I bombed," he said. "I forgot my whole act and I didn’t go back on stage for six months. You're just a kid. You don’t have any life experience so you think you didn’t do well so that means you’re not a good comic.
"What you realize is the only way to get good at pretty much anything is to do it over and over and over and over. I stuck with it and I’m still getting better. That’s a daily goal, getting better. You keep doing that and the rest will pretty much take care of itself."
Well, that's half of the battle. The other half is being ready to answer the door when opportunity knocks.
Griffin was coaxed by his William Jewell College classmates into stepping on stage during an open-mic comedy night in the late 1980s. His comedy debut went a little better than the aforementioned second time, but it required some courage.
"I was terrified," he remembers. "My friends talked me into it and I had written stuff down. Then I went and sat at the bar with my friend and we started doing shots and I said, ‘I’m not going up. I can’t do this. I’m freaking out.’
"I was 19 or 20 at the time so I probably talked about my brother beating me up and my parents looking stupid — just that basic kind of high school stuff. I look back and realize it’s just important to get up there and realize you’re not going to die. You’re going to survive and there will be another day."
He was hooked — even after failing miserably the next time.
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After graduating with a communications degree from Jewell, Griffin spent the next two years traveling the Midwest and playing small comedy clubs, including the Spaghetti Works in Lincoln, in the early 1990s.
The goal was always the same: to someday find his way to the main stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre, from where Letterman's show was broadcast.
"I used to send sets on tape to the Letterman show," he recalled. "They’d tell me my jokes were pretty well written, but you’re not quite there. I got divorced about 17 years ago and I wrote 10 minutes on divorce and it’s what really stuck with the people at Letterman."
That was it. Griffin, an Overland Park, Kansas, native, had a life experience to which many people could relate. More important, he had a way of making it funny.
Six months later, he made his first appearance on Letterman's stage and would go onto become a regular guest.
"I don’t think I’ll ever have anything more exciting than walking out on that stage that first time," he said. "It’s something I had dreamed about for years and years. It’s something I had grown up watching as a kid. He was a huge influence on me."
Griffin's act has evolved. He's moved on from his divorce and has managed to stay socially relevant by doing bits about relationship building. In these politically divisive times, he prefers to poke fun about life.
"I don’t do a lot of political stuff," he said. "I don’t really understand that area too well. I talk a lot about struggling to get along with people and struggling to deal with other human beings on a regular basis, dealing with my own brain.
"It’s that stuff that you have lived through and come through and maybe come to some sort of resolution with that resonate with people."