Chris Griffin knows what it means to sacrifice for his art. The 37-year-old Albertan was living large in his 20s. With jobs at a newspaper and an academic publishing company, he was able to save up and buy a condo, which led to a house. He eventually started his own company. But he just wasn’t fulfilled.
“There was a feedback element missing,” he says now, sipping beer at the Vancouver Art Gallery Café. “And it was a bit lonely. It was just hours and hours alone in front of the computer.”
Griffin would take his computer to the bar to edit just to feel people around him.
While taking time away from his job to drive a van following the tour bus of Tucker Max, the infamous author of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, Griffin was inspired by L.A.–based comedian Bill Dawes, who was hosting the tour’s Q&A.
On his return to Calgary, he gave standup a try. He was 29.
That was it. “I was like, ‘Holy shit!’ ” he says. “You get the feedback immediately and you still have an opportunity to put a bit of a message across and also be funny. And it’s the best thing in the world when you get laughs.”
He was getting them, too. A self-starter, he wasn’t afraid of putting in the work, saying he’d practise his five minutes for eight hours on the day of a show. After three years of hitting open mikes and touring around the province, he sold the house, left his company, and moved to Vancouver.
He didn’t realize just how expensive a proposition that was. He lost all his money chasing his dream here and went into crippling debt. “I couldn’t even take the bus,” he says. “Couldn’t even afford two dollars.”
But his talents on-stage, and his resolve off it, helped ease the pain. In 2016, he made it to the finals of the prestigious San Francisco Comedy Festival, finishing fifth overall, and taking home US$1,400. The grind of that festival helped him tighten up his already compelling storytelling and helped propel his win in Yuk Yuk’s Yuk Off competition back in Vancouver.
“When I did the Yuk’s finals, it was the only time where I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve won,’ ” he says. “I felt like Mike Tyson. ‘Nobody is going to beat me. I’m going to go out guns blazing.’ I’d been doing pressure sets. It sounds arrogant, but I really just felt it.”
Griffin’s talents will be on full display as he shoots a comedy special over two shows at the Biltmore Cabaret on October 18. He could have recorded an album, but is going all-in with a 4K camera shoot.
“There are so many times I’d listen to great comedy albums but then I’d see the video and I just love it so much more,” he says.
Griffin doesn’t own his own home here yet. He’s got no regrets, though.
“It would have been paid off when I was 33,” he says. “I think about it every single day. And I think about it in a positive way. If I have a good show, I think, ‘Thank God you did that to get to this.’ ”