January 31, 2021
My main writing project from fall 2015 to summer 2019 was
the biography that I co-wrote with funny and genuine American Matt Balaker, which we ultimately titled Greg Giraldo: A Comedian’s Story after both Matt and I tossed around lesser ideas. This project was a real marker in my life, not only due to the length of time I dedicated to it, but also because:
- I got to know Matt (he’s a stand-up comedian, father, and husband in California, in one order or another)
- I learned – from Matt, from editors, and from my own drafting and writing – how to write better for a popular readership
- I improved my interviewing skills
- I learned a huge amount about the stand-up comedy business (sometimes on my own, sometimes from Matt, sometimes from an interviewee)
- I improved my skills in using the internet to find authoritative sources of information
It was an enormously satisfying experience that all started with Matt – who had had the idea for the book and set up a Kickstarter campaign to help get it going – emailing me on November 19, 2015, to ask me if I wanted to be his co-author. I remember it distinctly because I was at a business dinner – held in true Canadian fashion in a converted hockey arena – and so I was checking email on my cellphone only during bathroom breaks. So I can say with some confidence that between the time I received the email, and responded quickly with (among other things) “This makes my day, Matt!”, I had urinated.
Matt and I both underestimated how long it would take to complete the book. The book wasn’t published until March 23, 2019, but that wasn’t because Matt and I were slacking off. No, we didn’t dedicate every minute of the day to writing the book, and of course we also had personal lives to live, but it just takes longer to write a book like this than you (and we) might imagine.
We are both huge fans of Greg and we wanted the book to be comprehensive and accurate and readable by not only dedicated fans, but by readers who might not have even heard of Greg but were intrigued by the tidbits they knew about his life story, or by a comedy clip of his stand-up or of a roast that they’d seen online or on TV. I knew Greg’s work well from watching all his specials and listening to his CD and watching and rewatching what I could scour on the internet. I think Matt was the same, perhaps more so since they were in the same business – but Matt also saw Greg perform live once, and during the signing Greg told Matt that he was handsome. (I can confirm.)
What we absolutely did not want for the book was some tossed-together compilation of bits and pieces from the internet, and maybe with an interview or two to make it all legit. We ended up doing a lot of research for the book and gaining access to some background information that is not findable elsewhere, some of which made it into the book.
Basic Facts and Stats
- We did 62 interviews for the book (mostly by phone, but some in person and some by email). These ranged from about a half hour, to a couple that took place over days and amounted to 10 or 15 hours of talking.
- We searched the internet upside down and sideways to find original material or written pieces by other writers. One of my favourite finds in this way was the warm and humorous tribute that Greg wrote in her yearbook to his then-girlfriend who was graduating from dental school.
- We searched specialized databases for articles that might not be findable on the internet.
- We tracked down people who we knew could give us valuable information (and photos!) that would not be available anywhere else (we interviewed his date for his high school prom, for example).
- We enlisted the help of two excellent editors, one when the book was at the advanced draft stage, and one when it was ready for publication, to help us make it as perfect as we could make it.
- The book was published with photos, but with those photos in black and white because colour would have been cost-prohibitive. We privately printed some copies with full-colour photos (many of these appear on this page), but those copies are all gone now.
Once the book was published, we wanted both to publicize it but also to have a book launch. Matt did most of the publicity, mostly being interviewed and appearing on podcasts, but I also got the opportunity to do some of that as well. It was a hoot. I even got the opportunity to appear on stage at Yuk Yuk’s on Elgin Street in Ottawa, where I talked a bit about the book, and read this excerpt: here. A few other publicity things I got to do were:
- Interviewed on CKCU FM radio (93.1) – December 19, 2018 [click “Listen Now” and fast-forward to 1:07:50]
- Interviewed on writer Oscar Martens’s Media Whore Blog – January 15, 2019
- Interviewed on Rogers TV – February 4, 2019
- Interviewed on comedian Dustin Chafin’s podcast I’ll Leave You with This – June 12, 2019
- Sat at the famous table on The Comedy Cellar: Live from the Table podcast [where Matt is interviewed and I join the group later in the episode: much discussion of my Canadian accent!] – June 14, 2019
The kicker, though, one of the things that I will always remember as one of the great events in my life, is the launch we had for the book in New York City. It was at the Fat Black Pussycat, a sister club to the legendary Comedy Cellar, where Greg first gained attention and fame. The evening came together kind of loosely, and for a while I thought it wouldn’t amount to much, but …
The audience started to show up, perhaps about 50 people, who then all packed the room that the club had set up for us off the restaurant. And then the comedians started to show up – and they performed on stage as well. Some of them lesser known, some of them well-known greats in stand-up (Dave Attell and Colin Quinn, for example – Colin had also written the foreword to our book). Both Matt and I got to say a few words on stage. I was happy to speak, but my one joke bombed (thankfully, I still had a day job).
Then when the show was over, the club was great enough to give us a full table where we could sell copies of our book. We hadn’t fully planned for this, technologically nor personnel-wise, but my two friends Oscar and Lyette, who’d come from Vancouver for the event, jumped in and suddenly we had a little store operating. Oscar unpacking, Matt and I signing, and Lyette coordinating sales. And it just happened like that.
When it was over, Matt went his own way and I walked back to my hotel with Oscar and Lyette accompanying me part of the way. We stopped at a pizza place that specialized not only in slices with a variety of toppings, but slices that were fairly huge. I had two and slept well that night.
So, what of the book now? It sold well for a fairly niche book about a fairly niche industry. I’m proud of the book. Matt and I did our absolute best on it and I think it stands as an authoritative but also highly readable biography of one of the great stand-up comedians of all time. As I write this, it has 102 ratings on amazon.com and an average of 4.6 out of 5 [update: 143 as of July 29, 2022, and an average of 4.6]. Matt and I both think that’s pretty damn good – though we both remain intrigued by the only person to give the book one star, and with a review of “Poorly written.” That person is in the top 1%, but not for a good reason.
The book was published as an audiobook on July 27, 2020, with the narration done by the inimitable J.R. DiBart. I’m astounded every time I listen to his reading of the book. He manages to just slightly imitate the voice of some of the people in the book (notably for me, Greg and Jim Norton), without it being so “turned up” that it seems like an impersonation. Many listeners might not even notice it and just hear the variation in tone as a simple means of distinguishing speakers. And of course audio doesn’t just happen these days with a tape recorder and a microphone. J.R. worked closely with Brad Hutchings, an excellent audio engineer, who not only co-ordinated the various segments that J.R. read, but also listened and re-listened to the results to make sure that the timing and pacing were exact, and that the whole audiobook ended up sounding like one single smooth piece. Together they both got it just perfect.
And that’s it. Thanks for reading this far about the behind-the-scenes story. And if you want to read a good biography of Greg Giraldo, there’s a book I can recommend …
Details We Discovered After the Book Was Published
Since the book was published, we’ve come across some facts and details that we did not know when we were writing it. The reasons are simple. First is that you can’t find out everything no matter how much research you do. And second is that there may be one person out there who has some information that nobody (or few people) has, and if you don’t manage to interview that person for whatever reason before writing the book, then that information doesn’t get through.
- Greg appears in a really excellent documentary made by Jordan Brady called I Am Comic (2010). You can see it here (the snippets of an interview with Greg are at 10:40 and at 1:16:25). I regret we didn’t see this doc before or while we were writing the book. It features excerpts from interviews with a lot of comedians, and mostly those who are not the big headlining stars who fill theatres (though there are a couple of those). There are also some comedians interviewed whom I’d never heard of before, and/or who do not perform any more. Some of them have died. It’s a rich and gritty and real documentary which shows aspects of standup comedy that perhaps most people don’t know about. It even explains some of the terminology.
- Greg was scheduled to appear on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on August 9, 2009, but he contacted the show to tell them he couldn’t make it. This is speculation on my part, but this was a time when Greg was, so to speak, losing his fight with addiction, and so that may have been the reason. He missed a great opportunity to promote himself there — and just over a year later he was dead from a drug overdose. (BTW his replacement for the slot on the show was Hannibal Buress.)
- We do mention in the book that Greg was a regular on Lewis Black’s show Root of all Evil, which aired for 18 episodes in 2008. However, I didn’t know that comedian Wayne Federman (most recently the author himself of The History of Standup) hung out with Greg on set.