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Picture imperfect: Kathy Griffin is back in frame, and ahead of her game

Kathy Griffin the "Laugh Your Head Off World Tour" will be on Saturday, July 28, 2018, at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
Photo credit:
Kathy Griffin - Facebook

 Kathy Griffin has made a career out of making fun of celebrities. Whether these celebrities live in Malibu or the White House is completely up to her pen. But last year a lot of people thought she went too far after she held up a severed and bloody Trump head and broke the internet. The web may still be recovering, and so is she.

The feisty redhead was dragged through that special kind of Tinseltown mud flown in from hell, one that every public figure tries hard to avoid. The ingredients include: angry fans, the industry blacklist, a deadly and effective Hollywood shun gun, death threats, loss of cash, contracts, and confidence and In her case there was also a federal investigation and a very strange public apology in which she said “He broke me,” in front of millions of people.  

We had never seen her like this before. Even for fans who went inside her life every week for the reality series “My Life on the D-List.” We had never seen her so drained of her dignity not even after her divorce. We could see that in fact Trump actually had “broken” her. Where was this fearless comedienne who wasn’t afraid of Hollywood? Who sold out venues for an act built around the absurdity and spectacle that is La La Land? Kathy Griffin had officially been drained of all her celebrity bandwidth and the people closest to her weren’t giving her their wi-fi password.

Knowing all of this and expecting her call for an interview ahead of her San Diego show on July 28, I grew nervous. I wondered if I was going to get a hull of a comedian drained of that ballsy personality, or was I getting the really angry one who had a vendetta.  The phone rang:

“Hi Tim, how are you? I was reading your title on your Alec Mapa piece, The Sugar in this Daddy Ain’t Always Sweet and I think that title is so funny. First of all, is Alec Mapa a daddy already?” 

Yes, I said thinking she meant the paternity kind. I was thrown a little by the sound of her trademark nasal rasp. She didn’t sound defeated, not sad, not perfunctory. She sounded like she got a little of her bandwidth back.

“Oh my god I’ve known him so long that I still see him as a nineteen-year-old, how did he become a daddy?” she laughs. “You gays are vicious, jumping categories hither and yon.”

Back in May 2017, Kathy Griffin’s life changed over that now-infamous picture posted across the web by provocateur photographer Tyler Shields. To say the world was rocked that afternoon is an understatement. Now, after a successful overseas tour, she’s back to tour many cities but still unwilling to dip her toe in the backwater.

She was even on the fence about appearing in San Diego

“San Diego proper can be a conservative area,” she says. “I’m not playing the O.C. because I don’t think I’d be safe there. And what’s so crazy is that I’m now routing a tour around cities where I kinda feel like I’ll be safe, you know what I mean? I love when people say when are you coming to Knoxville? And I feel like writing back, Umm…But you know I don’t mean to insult all of the Knoxville. But yeah it’s definitely an unusual way to do business-It all changed with that photo.”

And there it is, she jumps right into discussing that picture. And let’s be honest, that’s really what we want to hear about now that she has had time to kind of figure things out. She says after the pic went viral, she was shocked, but underneath all the confusion she thought about how to fix it post haste.

“So immediately I called all my agents to my house for a meeting and they all walked in, all glassy-eyed like we don’t want to be here, and you know what? They didn’t, they all ditched me at that meeting which was about two weeks after the photo I think. I literally had a six-point presentation and I called it--trying to be witty--'Six Ways We Can Make This Lemonade Situation Better Than Beyoncé Ever Could Have Dreamed Of.' Like I said, I had dreams, I had plans but everybody in Hollywood in my own industry is so afraid of me and they think my brand is toxic and blah blah blah.”

She tells me she got inspiration from that part of her brain where Cher resides giving out ethereal advice, “’pull yourself up by your figural thong,’” she laughs mimicking her idol, “and I thought I’ll go back to what I usually do, which is back to basics and the one thing that is great about what I do is they can’t keep you from touring.”

She says the Trump administration and its subscribers put the kibosh on her tour last year. There were bomb threats and people calling theaters saying they were going to kill her on stage.

“The first idea I had was let’s get out of the U.S.A. because everybody here is either had a big sip of the Trump Kool-Aid or they’re just too nervous, or people saying that I was holding up a severed head to this day makes me laugh because, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know where to get a severed head.”

"It was a dog pile"

But even though the picture was in bad taste, that sort of raucousness has always been a part of her act. Nothing’s off the table when it comes to celebrities. I wondered why so many of her own fans responded so negatively.

“It was just a big dog pile,” she says, getting a bit more serious. “In many ways I’m an easy target you know because I’m a 57-year-old comedian, I’m a woman in a very much male-dominated field, and you know what’s funny? It’s still at the same dudes with that bullshit, it’s still like the same 65-year-old white guys who have been saying no to me for twenty years while putting money in his pockets, so yeah the hypocrisy of it. After a while I thought I gotta lean into this whole thing because number one, we’re all feeling it. I don’t care what the Republicans say they have to wake up every day.”

“You know when I took that photo it really was actually more of a statement than a joke so I’m not really trying to hide behind the like, ‘oh it was a joke joke, like an obvious joke. Some people didn’t actually find it funny. A lot of people obviously found it offensive, just for me it was just sort of a statement and I really didn’t think that people wouldn’t connect the dots between all those images we saw all during the eight years of Obama and him being lynched and decapitated and the n-word and all that. And as you know all those people including white bitches -- who I’m not talking to; I’m not talking to white bitches this year; they voted for Trump overwhelmingly, we’re fucked and how they went to those rallies with a Hillary decapitated head on their t-shirt and an arrow down to their pussies sayin, 'Hey Trump! Grab my pussy!' And I’m supposed to be the crazy one, how do I deal?”

“So yeah I thought, let’s go overseas, and I literally said to my agent ‘can you find out the countries and cities where they hate Trump the most?’ And it was, oh, two weeks later, 15 countries and 23 cities. When I say two weeks later I mean that’s when I started to route that tour. I was under the investigation and on a no-fly list for two months. And then when I went overseas on tour starting out in Auckland New Zealand and ending up in Iceland where I am the darling second only to Bjork just so you know. [Laughs-she’s proud of that]. But I’m on the Interpol list, I was detained at every single airport and it continues.”

The Picture is now a Part of the Stage Act & The Photographer Should be a Gentleman

Obviously, Kathy is not going to just ignore what happened and that’s evident in the tour poster itself. She says her show isn’t just about the Housewives anymore, “I got some real shit now. I got some real material, it’s got some meat on the bones, it’s crazy, it’s funny it’s unpredictable and I love doing it. And now that enough time has passed—and remember my photo was pre-Weinstein and all this other stuff, pre-MeToo, pre-TimesUp; I don’t wanna say I was ahead of my time, but I am saying the only person harmed in that photo was like a ten-dollar Trump mask and a little Heinz ketchup. My apologies to the Heinz family.”

As for the photographer Tyler Shields, Kathy holds no grudges against him she says. But there is one thing she’d like for him to do.

“I’ve often said, I don’t hate the photographer because I knew he was a controversial photographer, I have worked with him before. My only wish seriously, as a gentleman is that he would give me the copyright because that picture will be with me the rest of my life and he can kind of go on, he also does a Netflix series. But on the other hand I do have to defend the picture because you know it’s 100-percent covered by the First Amendment and when the right wing took over and TMZ and Fox News and Infowars and of course the first family and the Department of Justice, then they started to bring the lies that I had done something illegal.”

It's (kind of) Funny Now

"If people are still sort of on the bubble  or people saying like, ‘how could you not know that people wouldn’t think you were an ISIS?’ And I’m like, I kind of assumed that people wouldn’t think that I was in ISIS for really a lot of reasons, um, but I’m really more shocked that you can’t believe that I don’t think people think I’m in ISIS.”

“So that’s how crazy things got. The one thing I love about doing this tour is honestly with a little rear-view vision, things have gotten so crazy they actually are funny, but they’re still over-the-top, some of it is just fuckin’ funny, like I read one of the death threats and let me just say if you’re an English teacher cover your ears, the grammar is not anything to be proud of. And I’m thinking the person who wrote it is in a teeth-optional situation.”

She's Not Forgetting Those Who Abandoned Her

I realize at this point I’m enthralled in the conversation and I haven’t asked a question in a while. Kathy admittedly talks a lot, but it’s not rambling, it’s paragraphs full of points and emboldened redemption. It feels like the free thought of a person who has been bullied talking to their therapist.

I then snap out of it thinking about all the people who will be back and want a take of her comeback profits. She has, after all, recently sold out shows in America, including Carnegie Hall. I ask if she will tell them to get lost.

“Oh absolutely, when I talk about losing friendships, the reason I talk about that is not to have a pity party because everyone can relate too that feeling of ‘oh my gosh, one thing that a couple people thought was offensive you let it take off like a virus and then you joined in on the dog pile?’  But you’re right not only was it hard to be piled on by fellow liberals or LGBT advocates or progressives, but it was harder to be piled on by people who actually know me personally. It’s like, wow everyone join in because it’s fun or easy or whatever. It was just tough because I like to—look I make fun of everybody, I’m an equal opportunity offender, but if you follow my social you know I wrote a thread about Michelle Wolf defending her out in the room, I was the only stand-up comedian in the White House correspondence dinner I haven’t heard a peep from her. Nothing. Not a thank you, I mean that thread got picked up by The Hill, Huffington Post. It was kind of like yeah, I do kind of have to remember who was naughty and who was nice, which by the way is not too far from my act.

"In my real life, I have definitely gotten more cautious, I admit it," Kathy continues. "I have definitely lost a lot of trust; trust in humankind, trust in people that I thought wouldn’t have a mob mentality. I was so flattered when Hillary Clinton said on a podcast, ‘I don’t know what all the fuss was about the Kathy Griffin photo, I thought it was a very obvious send-up of Medusa and Perseus.’ And I was like ah, why wasn’t she there that day?’”

The LGBT Community Exits Too

Speaking of her LGBT following, they abandoned Griffin too and she says that was the most hurtful blow. She has always said she loves her gays so when they lit a match at her figurative witch burning, it really felt personal especially since she’s been in the trenches fighting alongside them all this time.

“It hurt. It hurt. Really. Bad,” she says pausing for a second. “And here’s where it hurt. The power gays, the ‘gay mafia’ whatever term you want to use. You know, these are guys that have known me twenty-five years, these are guys that I was canvassing door-to-door and marching in front of Stonewall before they were born or out of the closet. These are guys, and you know the list: the power gays that can actually sign checks in this town as opposed to women who still can’t really sign checks.

“My joke is that I’m going to be the head of the new “Times Not Up” campaign [laughs], but yeah that hurt, to this day. All those power gays that have, money and the ability to frankly just cast me in just one episode of a really great show, or give me ten pages in a really great movie, and almost kinda make this thing go away quickly.

“I’ve shown up for every one of their benefits, performed like a dancing monkey, done all kinds of meet and greets and ticket giveaways, and to have them completely ditch me and some of them ditched me to the point where I found out they were talking to each other saying, ‘like oh yeah, she’s always been a crazy bitch’ and I’m sitting here at home thinking wow, I went to your house seven times for this benefit or, you know whatever, so…

“And yet,” she adds, “I don’t mean this to sound any way but positive, the civilian LGBT community has been by far the most supportive. So, the disconnect is frustrating because it frustrates me to think that gay folks, especially gay men frankly -- because they’re much more powerful than gay women in Hollywood -- that they would be able to ascend to that level of power and not help their own community including allies. As a woman and feminist, I’m always so thrilled and grateful when a straight guy actually is a feminist and actually takes action for women.”

A beacon of hope through all of her travails were drag queens she says.

“One thing that gave me a chuckle was very soon after the photo, somebody sent me a video from Fire Island and God love the drag queens, there was music, and there were like seven of the ladies dressed up as me and some of them had Trump heads and some of them were just carrying other stuff. Plus, I’m waiting for my gift bag from Gucci, I don’t know if you saw their fashion show this year but they were all actually holding like heads of themselves. I mean, throw me like a belt buckle or something it wouldn’t kill them.”

The LGBT, Like Hollywood, Can Also Be Fickle Within Itself

Her statements about being divisive remind me of my own community. I try to tell her that just like in Hollywood the LGBT community can often times get caught up in infighting and exclusiveness whether it be race-related, body shaming, trans, gay people can definitely be polarizing. She agrees.

“Look at Andy Cohen, he was happy to fill his pockets with all the money I was making for Bravo, I helped build the channel for at least ten years. And this guy like made it his mission to go talk shit about me on Howard Stern for like a half-an-hour. Dude, I’m just trying to make a living, go on tour, go be bitchy with somebody else.

“What I will say, I feel the same way you do about women, I say this all the time to my lady friends,‘The other team doesn’t do it that way. I’m sorry but things are so nuts with Trump, A: that’s why I did such a shocking photo, he really is different and obviously being a gay man, hearing Trump say [mimicking a man’s voice] I’m going to cherish the L..G…BTQ, ‘cause he didn’t know what the letters stand for, although I think Rex Tillerson later went on Meet the Press and they asked ‘what does the Q stand for?’ ‘cause I was dying for someone to go, ‘make him actually say what the letters are for,’ and Rex Tillerson goes, ‘questionable,’” she suddenly laughs, “And I said oh the gays are going to love that, they’ll love you for calling them all questionable –way to go Rex, alright, he’s out.

"But the important thing is I want to play by the rules like everybody else, but something is happening now in our entire country, it is a virus, it is a cancer, it truly comes from the Trump ideology starting with him even thinking about the campaign and I’m just saying this as a comic because two years ago I did an eighty-city tour, so do not talk to me about the ‘real’ America.

“I did a show in Ohio where I passed the same fucking barn that had a confederate flag painted on the roof that I have been passing for 10 years, and every time I’d do a show near there I’d ask the audience, ‘can somebody please go to that guy's house and paint that fucking barn?' And they all laughed. They were like oh, I know—I could almost tell from the audience there was this ‘oh, I know; that asshole.’”

“I love all these people coming at me like, ‘oh you’re one of the Hollywood elite,’ uh...no, I’m a wealthy white privileged woman and I admit it. But I am proud of the fact that I paid cash for this house and I earned every single penny, and I certainly never had a man help me.”

“For me it’s a back to basics. You know I wrote a show I’m very proud of I got to do overseas, and I got a standing ovation in all 23 cities I just have to drop that on you,"she chuckes. 

“I also wrote a TV pilot that nobody wanted, but it was a fun exercise, it was a pilot that I wouldn’t even be in, but I was like let me try this. But when you’re a woman or an LGBT person or person of color, it’s just different, so it’s time for all of us. And I’m going to throw the ageism card at you too because being a 57-year-old woman frankly in any field is not easy, but it’s time for all of us to get it. We need to fucking get together because look at the other team, I mean my God, they’re like. ‘Roy Moore, he should be King of America!’ like they’ve gone so far to other side that – people don’t like to hear this but I kinda feel like our team has to play kinda dirty for a couple years.”

And then we can go back to my beloved Michelle Obama “we go high” I don’t know if you saw my tweet that I had at Out Magazine “Michelle, I love you, I worship you Michelle, but when they go low, I go lower” it’s like instead of  “you need me on that wall” it like, “you need me in that gutter, you need me down in that gutter fighting with these other freaking gutter rats.”

Kathy's Thoughts on Roseanne

It’s at this point I again realize I am hanging on to her every word, she is certainly saying things that I like to hear and she seems to anticipate my every question without my having to ask it. She is perceptive.

But I again snap out of it when she takes a breath and I look at my notes, one fast scrawl simply saying “Roseanne.” This interview took place about a week before Roseanne Barr got fired from her show, but that was after months and months of Barr making alt-right thinking tweets and antisemitic statements on social media, including a controversial picture of her own. Certainly, Kathy has a scintilla of sympathy for the fellow comedienne. But she doesn’t.

I ask, “How did you feel once you realized Roseanne’s social media posts didn’t seem like a bit?

“Devastated.  I’m devastated. Look Roseanne is someone I worshipped right? I was a young woman watching The Tonight Show and here comes this woman who looks and sounds like no one or nothing I’d ever seen. And when you’re a woman there’s so few right? There’s Phyllis Diller, there’s Moms Mabley, There’s Totie Fields there’s Joan Rivers, and you know I obviously thought the world of Roseanne; she gave me a giant break. She put me in my first series it was only six episodes and it was on Fox –not Fox News [laughs] although these days she would probably prefer that, her and Tucker Carlson. And she just wasn’t like that at all, and I remember the last time I had lunch with her and her boyfriend they honestly self-identified as old-fashioned hippies, and then she moved to Hawaii she was living n the Macadamia nut farm, and she’d say come up here and I was like I love you, but it’s a little too real for me, a little too rural and so that’s the Roseanne I’ve always known. When I heard she was starting to do those kinds of posts, honestly, ‘cause I don’t follow her, I just sort of saw a couple peripherally and thought she was kidding.

"I have no fear saying this to her or to you, ‘this is some fucking bullshit, right? She should not be doing that. This is different. It breaks my heart that there are female writers and showrunners and I totally get the argument that you want to show every side of America, but this is different, you might as well give Richard Spencer a show where he’s favorable or Jason Kessler who organized the Charlottesville march. You might as well give them a funny whacky sitcom and surround them with fucking Academy Award winners and then go, 'well,we’re showing both sides.'

So no, I have to say as a woman it’s heartbreaking to know that Roseanne’s a true believer and that she tweeted that David Hogg one of the Parkland survivors is a Nazi. The third week in a row of unbelievably high ratings made me go, oh shit this isn’t a schtick, she’s a fucking true believer, she drank the Kool Aid.

"We're All Scared After What Happened To You"

Kathy circles back to her own stand-up circle of friends and says something that disturbs her, almost makes her irate. She gets just short of serious name dropping.

“I’ve had several very famous comedians – I won’t give you names – because I’m a little scared, but a not-famous one: Jon Lovitz from SNL. He approached me recently and said something that echoed to me since the Trump photos, it’s been almost a year and it kinda gave me a chill. I know he’s not the most famous person in the world, but he said, ‘you know we’re all scared after what happened to you.’ And I said, yeah, it sucks, but it didn’t happen to you so it’s your job to get out there and do whatever you need to do to make the audience laugh.

"And then, I would say about three other comedians that are very, very famous and known for being fearless and edgy said the same,  one of them told me, ‘I do ten minutes on Trump and then I move on.’ And I wrote back and I was like why? And then he was just like, ‘because you know some Trump fans probably come to my show or whatever.' And I’m thinking, first of all, I kinda doubt that and second of all…really?’”

I do a show that’s two to three hours because I have a stand-up comedy disorder, and no, it’s not all about Trump, but I’m certainly not doing just ten minutes on any fucking topic because I’m afraid. I don’t care if the topic is like pap smears if there’s some reason we need to talk about it, we’re going to talk about it.

“So that’s one thing I think the LGBT is truly under fire right now. And one thing that I’m sure you’re aware of is very frightening to me to hear people say that once Trump is out, he’s the blowhard but at least Pence is more predictable. Pence is going to be worse for our team than even Trump.”

Mom

In the end, her show is just more of the same thing she does best, making you laugh. Only now it’s infused with a bit more politics and maybe more frustration. She says she was almost overthrown, but in the end what doesn’t attempt to kill you makes you stronger.

“One of the fun things about doing the Laugh Your Head Off Tour is I admit the picture that almost took me down, the picture that has me under a two month federal investigation which nobody else had to go under, not Johnny Depp, not Snoop Dogg, not Morrissey, just me, and yet taking a year and really having fun framing a kind of fucked up story and making it funny has been truly like the most gratifying thing.

“Like when people stand for applause at the end of my shows, and granted I’m kind of hinting that I want people to that," she laughs. "iIf I’m lucky enough to get it, it’s great because it let me know like, oh they get it, like 'she told the Trump story, but she mostly peppered it with comedy,' and so I don’t want your readers to think that it’s like some First Amendment lecture, I’m still talking about living next door to Kim Kardashian West, and Kanye Kardashian West, I’m still talking about my mom who still watches Fox News without her hearing aids on. And then asks me what they’re talking about and I switch it to Rachel Maddow and she thinks Rachel Maddow might be Brian Kilmeade from Fox and Friends without her glasses. And that’s fine with me, that’s fine with me.

In fact, I got Rachel Maddow – I’m very proud of this – I got Rachel Maddow to send me an autographed picture of her and it said, ‘Dear Maggie, keep watching, I love it here at Fox, Love Rachel Maddow.’

Text Her, She'll Email You Back

In the end, Kathy is going to be fine. I think we all know that. Her determination and talent are still intact and really that’s all that matters. Eventually, the “picture” will be something for a Wikipedia entry and maybe a Snopes column, but she, as they say, will rise from the ashes of a raw deal and keep moving forward.

She says in order to do that, she’s started and mailing list at Kathygiffin.com for people who want to hear from her, or they can text the word “Kathy” to 345345 (Some Message & Data rates may apply)

By using this method she explains, she made the decision to come to San Diego because so many people signed up from the area.

“So I guess I’m allowed to play in San Diego,” she says. “My agents were like, ‘no way, don’t even think about it.’ So yes, a good old-timey mailing list did the trick.”

Kathy Griffin the "Laugh Your Head Off World Tour" will be on Saturday, July 28, 2018, at the San Diego Civic Theatre.