Image Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty ImagesThere would be no greater compliment than to be insulted by Greg Giraldo. Ask Joan Rivers, David Hasselhoff, Bob Saget, or any one of the many celebrities the master insult comic ribbed during Comedy Central’s countless roasts. (Or, for that matter, any heckler who dared to challenge Giraldo during one of his acts.) Giraldo could call you “a sunken-eyed monster who’s obsessed with jewelry…it’s like The Lord of the Rings” — Rivers was the proud recipient of that quote, one of the very few printable options out there — and all you could do is laugh, shrug your shoulders, and ultimately agree. Because even amongst talented contemporaries like Lisa Lampanelli and Nick DiPaolo, Giraldo was quite simply the best.
And that’s why the comedian was so respected and admired within the comedy community, regardless of how many insults he hurled their way. Just yesterday, when news broke of Giraldo’s tragic passing at 44 years old (he reportedly died of a prescription drug overdose), his comedy brethren took to their Twitter pages to mourn and express their love for the late comedian. Their 140-character tributes ranged from the touching (Sarah Silverman: “RIP Greg Giraldo. Belly-laugh hilarious, prolific, good & kind. A thousand oys can’t express”) to the melancholy (Patton Oswalt: “Really, Universe? Greg Giraldo? F— off. Just went out of my way not to drive past Laugh Factory. If I see Giraldo’s name on that marquee, gonna lose it.”), to the extremely inappropriate (Gilbert Gottfried: “If Greg Giraldo is cremated, will that be the ‘Greg Giraldo Roast’?”). Actually, Giraldo probably would have probably liked that one best. After all, the comedian was king of the crass. (Heck, during his 2009 Comedy Central special, Greg Giraldo: Midlife Vices — which EW awarded an A- and called “genius” — he managed to make koala bears raunchy.)
There’s a reason his star brightened during the Comedy Central roasts: However unprofessional and un-PC the comedian’s rants might have been (let’s just say he’s managed to work Anne Frank into an insult or two), the comedian was the figure of professionalism. He was committed to his craft, methodically delivering punchlines while continually staying relevant in the ever-changing culture of comedy, never once sacrificing his trademark acerbic style. (Of course, that’s exactly the kind of dedication you’d expect from a former lawyer and Harvard Law graduate.) Sometimes, while watching him on-stage, it seemed as though he didn’t even have to try to be hilarious.
That’s why it’s so hard to believe Giraldo succumbed to an arc experienced by so many comedians: Funny guy with serious troubles passes on long before his time. (RIP Mitch Hedberg, John Belushi, etc.) Regardless of his history — Giraldo was a recovering alcoholic, something he often spoke about during his shows — he appeared put-together, comfortable, and happy in front of the microphone. If there was one formerly down-on-his-luck comedian to pull for, and one who you were convinced you’d see headlining shows for years to come, it was Giraldo.
I had the luck of seeing the comedian at New York City’s Comedy Cellar about a year ago. (Very exciting, considering how I spent an entire year checking the line-up at the local comedy club in hopes that he would stop by.) And if there was anything that brought me more joy than his act — I should have brought Kleenex, what with the way Giraldo had me sobbing with laughter — it was the fact that he delivered new and inspired bits to a crowd that hardly shelled out more than one Andrew Jackson to see him. (This is a guy who starred in televised, sold-out shows.) He appreciated his fanbase, whether they came in small or large packs. And his fans loved him — while watching him on-stage, you got the sense that you could ask him out for a burger after the show and he’d be happy to oblige.
We can only hope Comedy Central decides to re-air some of Giraldo’s greatest comedy specials, and that Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn (one series Giraldo starred, nay shined, in) will one day pop up on DVD. Let’s also hope that the media attention surrounding the comedian’s untimely death will result in a new group of Giraldo devotees. Sadly, Comedy Central’s roasts will never be the same and never quite as funny. To suggest that anyone could fill Giraldo’s shoes? Well, that would be an insult.