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Make it Funky

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Known for his quick-witted tongue and loud-mouthed characters -- such as the Brother in Undercover Brother and Freddy Tiffany in Double Take -- 34-year-old Eddie Griffin has a joke bag full of ammunition. And the self-proclaimed nut magnet is quick to give advice—whether or not you need it. “I think we take {life} too serious,” Griffin says. “It’s meant to be enjoyed. It’s a short trip, {so} you can sit back and have hang-ups about this and that {but} who cares}! You’re going to be maggot food in a minute, so you might as well have some fun {before} you check out.”

With that in mind, the Kansas City, Mo., native hopes to bring some joy into the lives of up-tight folks and “release the demons” in his own life this month with his latest comedic effort, DysFUNKtional Family. This tell-all docu-comedy gives Griffin’s fans a peek at the entire Griffin clan -- from sexually adventurous Uncle Curtis to Uncle Buckey’s battle with drugs to his no-nonsense mother. “My family is an open book,” says Griffin, laughing. “They don’t hide.”

We caught up with the husband and father of three and chatted about his new concert film, DysFUNKtional Family, why he wants to bring Sammy Davis Jr.’s story to the big screen and what he wants his legacy to be.

This film details a very intimate, but over-the-top family portrait. What made you do it?

It had to be done because when I was on tour and I would do material about the family, people would come backstage and be like ‘Do you really have an Uncle Buckey like that?’ Or, ‘You lying, you know you don’t have no Uncle Curtis {like that}.’ So, when I put together the concept for the film, I was like I have to actually show {my family}, otherwise people will not believe it. So when I called the family and asked them if they wanted to be filmed, they were like, ‘Yeah, turn the camera on, dog.’

There were times when your mom looked uneasy about the things you were saying. How did you feel about that?

When we were editing, the editor was like, Do you want me to cut that {footage} out and I said are ‘You crazy? that’s the real {stuff}.’ You cut to the audience and moms is like, ‘That boy of mine’ and my Uncle Buckey is sitting right next to her cracking up. So yeah I {definitely} wanted to keep that part.

In this movie you talked about the first time you meet your dad. Tell us more about that story?

This movie was the hardest thing I’ve ever done because it was me walking through history. I had to go to Kansas City and walk down memory lane with the family. The first time {I met} Pops, I was 16. I remember asking my mom when I was 10 if I was adopted because I didn’t look like my brothers and sisters. She said, ‘Are you crazy? You think I am gonna go buy another mouth to feed?’ So that settled that. One day I came in from playing ball and this dude was sitting on the couch. I said ‘Mom, you got a new boyfriend?’ She said ‘Please!’ I said, ‘Who is that on the couch?’ She said, ‘That’s your daddy, baby.’ So I am just staring at him. My grandmother told me the first time I saw him, I should hit him in the jaw. Then he came by the next weekend, drove me to his house and we {sat} together on the front porch. That’s where I got his side of the story. You know, there are two sides to every story. That’s when I found out he was a fighter pilot in Vietnam. And I was already {taking} flying lessons. So {flying} was in my blood already, and it was tripping me out. I was like, damn, I am this dude.

Since it was filmed in your hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, what has been the reaction?

The whole city is hyped up. The mayor gave me a key to the city and they named a little street after me, which is cool, because Missouri is called the “show me” state. We pretty much live up to that. This is me and this is how it is. Ain’t no sense in putting on any airs for anybody.

Do you think your family’s dysfunctionality mirrors the world?

My family is a microcosm of this so-called melting pot that we call America— in that we are all different types of people in one family as you’ve seen in the movie. But we still love each other and I think that’s what we get from the film, no matter how {messed} up we are. The glue of the family is that we love each other no matter the hang-ups, because nobody is the same.
 
I heard you are doing the Sammy Davis Jr. story. Why this story, why now?

I’ve wanted to do a Sammy Davis Jr. story for a long time. It’s one of those pet projects that has to be done. It’s just a real deep story that this new generation and a lot of the older generation don’t know about. This man went through hell, especially when his own people were calling him a sellout, when he was fighting hand and foot to knock down the last door so that {people like}] Michael Jackson and myself could exist. The first time he performed in Las Vegas, he was walking through the front door. {The hotel staff said}] ‘No you take your Black a** and walk through the back.’ Frank Sinatra walked up and said, ‘If he does not walk through the front door, there is no show here.’ And that was the first time a Black guy was able to walk through the front door in Las Vegas.  I think the real story is that dark side of Sammy that no one knows. The real story of what goes on behind the show. All this needs to be told so that {people can see} the grime that was being done to him. At the end of the day {what} kept him sane was the stage. Remember that tribute they did for him in 1996 or 1997 {when} Gregory Hines was on stage tap dancing and Gregory invited Sammy on stage. {It was} lucky they had him miked.

This is how I’d end the movie to capture what this dude was really about: He looked down, put his tap shoes on, looked at his feet and said, ‘We are gonna dance one more time.’ He walked on stage and lit that room up. Gregory dropped to his knees and kissed {Sammy’s} shoes! They rolled him back to the hospital and {Sammy} passed away five days later. We are looking at at least a year and a half before we actually put anything on film. {I want to} bring the essence of the dude to life, not just facial expressions and {stuff} like that. It’s not a comedy. Sammy did everything but fly {laughs}. I have to learn how to play drums, bass, brush up on my tap. I haven’t tapped in nine years. I gotta get my hoofin’ skills back. {laughs} It’ll take a year of just prepping because I can’t go in and just do an impersonation of the dude. I gotta bring him to life.

When all is said and done, what do you want your legacy to be?

When Edward Griffin is maggot food and people are looking at the {entire}] body of work, I want people to say, ‘He told it the way he thought it was.’ We all have a perception and I just want people to say he told what he thought was the truth. And if everyone would tell their particular truth then we’d all see everything; we’d get everyone’s perception.

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