Bruce Fretts
September 12, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

In 1996, two New York City stand-ups flew to L.A. to star in their own sitcoms. One was Ray Romano. The other was Greg Giraldo. ”We’d meet after tapings, and he thought his show wasn’t going great, and I thought mine was going okay,” recalls Giraldo. As it turned out, everybody loved ”Raymond,” but Giraldo’s ”Common Law” was revoked by ABC after only four episodes. ”Now I actually do better than Ray financially,” cracks Giraldo. ”But he’s more famous.”

Giraldo is slowly starting to catch up in the fame department thanks to his semiregular appearances on Comedy Central’s late-night current-events roundtable, ”Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn,” where his incisive one-liners have quickly made him a fan favorite. (On Iran: ”The only reason we didn’t invade them first is we’re doing it alphabetically, and Bush can’t spell.”) ”Greg’s the real thing,” says Quinn. ”He always brings an intelligent and different angle, and people f—in’ love him.”

These days, Giraldo can look back on ”Common Law” (loosely based on his brief stint as a Harvard-educated attorney) and laugh — almost. ”My acting was an abomination,” he confesses. ”I had absolutely no business having a sitcom. I want to go back in time and slap myself.”

He harbors similar feelings about his legal career, which ended after just one year at a Manhattan corporate firm. ”It was completely unbearable,” says Giraldo, 37, who says he doesn’t remember why he ever went to law school. ”I feel like it’s my drug past: I was a kid, it seemed like everybody was doing it.” Not surprisingly, he doesn’t dwell on his degree in his act. Explains Quinn, ”I’m not sure it’s a good thing for your likability factor to say, ‘I’m a lawyer.”’

Giraldo has recently broken back into network TV — albeit at 1:35 a.m. — with a gig on NBC’s ”Last Call With Carson Daly.” He provides merciless pop-culture commentary, skewering such worthy targets as ”Gigli” (”I haven’t even seen it yet, and I already want my 10 bucks back”) and Melissa Joan Hart’s wedding-themed reality show (”I’d watch that if my other choice was drinking pig urine”). His NBC gig may increase Giraldo’s name recognition, but he’s still likely to suffer the indignity of being confused with another basic-cable clown: Geraldo Rivera. ”If I were starting over, I’d change my name,” he says. ”I’d probably just go with Charo.”

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