Blake Griffin May No Longer Be a Clipper, But He’s Still a Comic Talent

On YouTube, NBA all-star Blake Griffin is his own comedic genre. A cursory search for his funniest moments generates 271,000 results, an aggregate of humor and oddball spirit that includes videos like “Blake Griffin Does Stand Up Comedy – Actually FUNNY!” “Chris Paul Says D*ck, Blake Griffin Cracks Up,” and “Top 10 Blake Griffin Funny Commercials.” Griffin has yet to record in such prolific strides, but the videos do point to some of his most enduring work throughout his 10 seasons as a Los Angeles Clipper: that of small-screen thespian.

But 10 seasons do not a lifer make. This week, the power forward was traded to the Detroit Pistons in an overnight deal that stunned the league. During his time in LA, Griffin had become a leading figure on a team that excelled on paper, but chronically sputtered out in the early rounds of the playoffs. Griffin’s brilliance, though, was at times even brighter off the basketball hardwood. Infrequent and strangely commanding, he’d made a noticeable mark in commercials and TV shows that tested the limits of his comedic craftsmanship. Over time, spanning one-off roles and web sketches, Griffin managed to become not just a adept line reader, but an innovator of the form.

Not since Shaquille O’Neal’s tenure with the Lakers has a local player exuded such natural potential for Hollywood. A collection of his most abiding bits were for Kia Optima, the untrendy economy car that Griffin made feel moderately chic. (LeBron would follow suit, though unsurprisingly endorsing the manufacturer’s king-size luxury sedan.) Over the years, as the company spokesperson, he embraced the texture of his eccentricities: there was Blake as the poised superhero (Griffin Force!); Blake as the blustering Roman emperor; Blake as the celestial being who lives in an otherworld known as “the zone”; Blake as the military pilot who believes the Optima to be a formidable combat weapon. (“The bad guys are expecting me to be in a fighter jet, not a midsize sedan,” he theorizes in a kind of half-baked logic, fully confident. “I’ll fly in under the radar.”)

In a series of commercials that took on an anthology format, Griffin journeys back in time, at infrequent points of his adolescence, and offers advice to his younger self. In one, he travels to 1997 and finds Young Blake in the middle of a flag football game. Without hesitation, he steals the ball, kicks it out of the frame, and declares with deadpan precision: “Wrong sport.” He then advises: “Stop wearing jean shorts. Just trust me.”

In 2016, Griffin landed his biggest role yet: a guest spot (as himself) in an episode of Broad City, Comedy Central’s hit series about the quirks of modern womanhood. For his part, Griffin participated in a nude sex scene in which he danced, cradled, played games, and drank tea with Ilana in a hotel room. For decades professional athletes have satirized their identities in film and television—poking fun at yourself has become all but a career prerequisite—but Griffin has an uncanny gift for short-form comedy; it’s as if he’s all but redefined the relationship athletes have to the genre.

When I spoke with him in 2010, during his injury-plagued first season on the Clippers (he sat out all 82 games due to a stress fracture in his left knee that later required surgery), Griffin said his hope was to “change the culture” in LA. He never won a championship with the Clippers, but it’s possible he changed the culture in other, less obvious modes. An early flash of genius, and a favorite of mine, came in 2011 in a hoax commercial inspired by the NBA Lockout. Alongside Kevin Love and Ron Artest, Griffin promotes various services for hire—carpentry, welding, crime-solving, DJing. The bit is awkward and takes on the veneer of a cheap infomercial, but you can see Griffin slowly coming into himself. Even back then he knew what we later would: he was his own best punchline.

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