The annals of celebrity history are dog-eared with buddy pairings that match slick black street-smarts with geeky white everyman ambitions: Wilder and Pryor, Ackroyd and Murphy, Nolte and Murphy, DeNiro and Murphy. Fitting then, that I should be placed with "Deuce Bigalow"'s pimp, Eddie Griffin, for a Portofino Bay tête-à-tête on what it means to be cool.
Griffin's Kango fedora and half-open eyes are a welcome contrast to the standard manipulation of the celebrity-interview setting. Unfazed, he is clearly above all of this, if not tiredly beneath his exhausting promo schedule. He's falling asleep, you see. And I'm not a cool ho yet.
"You can nod out at anytime," I cower. "Or we could just forgo this interviewing formality and take a big nap."
No response. Anyway, Griffin's trudging through town to promote his latest picture, a blaxploitation nod called "Undercover Brother" (coming May 31) that may or may not be very funny. (I haven't seen it. Does it matter?) Following the WB heyday of his not-very-funny sitcom "Malcolm & Eddie," Griffin is leaping into leading-man form in a Hollywood that previously kept him goofing all blacklike on the side. This must be a step in the right direction.
"I guess the best way to describe it is "Austin Powers" gone soul," he describes. "It's like a tribute to a more soulful time in black America. He's an undercover agent and his arch enemy is 'The Man,'" he slow jams, utilizing the ever-important finger quotations for effect.
"The Man," I finger back, somewhat ominously.
"The Man is always trying to keep a brother down, and he's always in silhouette," he shadows. "He's just a voice. But his two main hench people are Chris Kattan, who plays Mr. Feather, and Denise Richards, who plays the white she-devil. In the movie she's called 'black man's Kryptonite.'"
Like a black man's Yoko?
"'Aaaiiight, everybody be lucky to have a Yoko," he corrects. "She had John's top, bottom and side ... and she still takes care of his estate."
But not her hair. Yoko aside -- which is always best -- Griffin's own career is a storybook tale. Dared in his native St. Louis to hop up on stage at a comedy club for a scant 50 dollars, Griffin took the standing ovation he received as a sign and emigrated to L.A. to conquer the world.
"I said, 'Hello, look, I'm gonna tell y'all some shit about real life,'" he remembers. "And then just went into telling some stories about my neighborhood and some friends I grew up with. I was hooked from there on."
Was it tough, then, to go into the WB studio situation and exchange canned barbs with the eternally boring Malcolm Jamal Warner?
"It was real tough, man. I mean to go into those censored walls, those creatively stifling walls," he gripes, followed by a creepy exec imitation, again with quotation fingers. "We do not want to exercise all of your gray matter ..."
"It taught me discipline, most definitely," he concedes. "When you're doing stand-up, you're working like an hour a day. You got like 23 other hours to jack off."
Or do crack.
No response. Some nodding off.
Have you developed what you would consider a craft, then?
"Most definitely. I mean, I know what I want and I know how to get there," he autopilots. "Nine years ago, I would have just shown up on the set, guns blazing ..."
The fingers are doing something entirely different now. Gunning, if you will. He obviously can do just about anything and still be cool.
"People always try to put you in a box. It's like 'Eddie Griffin: comedian.' You're supposed to be stuck in that box," he boxes. "I was a musician, I was a dancer, I was a painter ..."
And a soccer choreographer? That's what the bio says anyway, calling up images of dancing shins and the cute boys that pad them.
"I choreographed pregame shows. That's a misprint," he sterns. "We gonna need to call the publicist on that one, cause e'rybody keeps asking."
Speaking of questions everybody asks, let's talk method acting. How did you study to be a loquacious pimp-type in "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo?" Didja pimp?
"I got two uncles that are pimps, Uncle Curtis and Uncle Buggy," he glazes. "They were pimps for years!"
Weren't we all. Throughout our interview, I'm rather tragically inclined to wax a little ghetto with my own speech, dropping the "g" from "ing" and slowing my delivery. It's an age-old inadequacy cover-up, dating back to my high-school gym class "man!" and eventually spinning off into the obligatory black-lady "girl!" of 20-something gay camaraderie. We're all beggars and thieves.
Welcome, then, to my black-and-white buddy flick.
"We learn each other's culture on the way," he leans. "On the journey, I'm learning your culture, and in the end we come out friends."
Can you make me cool?
"Just always look like you're almost asleep," he sways. "People will be like, he is really cool!"
"Yeah, he's either high, or he's really cool."
Both, or perhaps neither.