Erik Griffin On Becoming What Melissa Leo Calls The ‘Heart And Soul’ Of ‘I’m Dying Up Here’

Chances are most people who tune it to watch the premiere of Showtime’s new series I’m Dying Up Here on Sunday will recognize the actor playing Ralph King from the recently concluded Workaholics or the canceled Blunt Talk. And Erik Griffin, the real life stand-up comedian who plays the Vietnam vet-turned-comic, doesn’t mind this recognition one bit. As he tells Uproxx below, having played such silly characters helped clear the way for him to play a serious (but funny) black comedian performing at a fictional Los Angeles comedy club in the early ’70s.

Then again, so did an otherwise unassuming set at The Comedy Store, the very club whose history informed the William Knoedelseder book on which I’m Dying Up Here is based. As Griffin explains it, it was a chance encounter with executive producer Jim Carrey, a few other producers, and some of the writers that Tuesday night that resulted in his getting an audition and ultimately landing the part of Ralph, a character fellow cast member Melissa Leo describes as “the heart and soul of the group.”

I really miss Hershel from Blunt Talk.

You know, I just feel like Starz just didn’t know what to do with a show like that. The first season, they had it on at a weird time, and they didn’t really… I don’t know.

True, though seeing Patrick Stewart do comedy was a treat. One we sadly didn’t get enough of.

I know. Patrick was so great to work with. It was weird to have all my scenes with such a great actor, you know what I mean? It was such a great experience, and regardless of happened to the show, I enjoyed it. Those two seasons of work were some of the most fun I’ve ever had. It was just a great time.

How did you get involved with I’m Dying Up Here?

I was just at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles on a Tuesday night doing a regular set. The manager of the club came up to me and said, “Hey, Jim Carrey’s here.” And my first thought was, “Is he bumping me?” I thought he was going to go up and do stand-up, and initially I got upset about it. I was like, “What’s he doing here? He’s got a hundred million dollars! He’s already done it. He’s had his career.” But when the manager said Carrey wasn’t going up, I figured, “Well who cares, then?” So I went up and did my set. I had a good set that night. But what I didn’t know was, it wasn’t just Jim Carrey who was there. It was also the producers, writers, and the director of the show. They were there scouting comics. Michael Aguilar, one of the producers, took a liking to me because of my stand-up performance that night, and I got an audition the next day. Three weeks later, I was on the show. After two auditions and a screen test, I was on the show.