How to Get Ahead in Show Business: Kathy Griffin Tells All

(Courtesy photo via Kremer|Johnson)

Originally published in the Orlando Weekly.

Kathy Griffin has plenty to talk about. The diminutive redhead comedian has a tendency to dominate a conversation through sheer volume – meaning a measurement of quantity, not loudness – as we learned in a recent phone conversation. The conversation runs the gamut of news and entertainment topics, from Pam Bondi “stepping in as the interchangeable blonde” on Fox News’ The Five to how pleasant it was to have Kim Kardashian as a neighbor.

But it doesn’t take long to get to the topic that everyone thinks of when they think of Griffin lately: the picture. In May 2017, Griffin posed for photographer Tyler Shields while holding a prop meant to look like Donald Trump’s severed head. After the photo hit the internet, Griffin’s life was upended in a whirlwind of denunciations from both sides of the political aisle, canceled shows, being added to criminal watch lists, and losing work and endorsement deals in its wake. “It’s still going on,” she says, “I’m still blacklisted, you don’t see me anywhere on television, Hollywood is still scared of me. And yet, I have to say the great thing about this tour is I have not sold this well since the peak of My Life on the D-List.”

Griffin’s material has often been rooted in celebrity gossip, but in light of what she’s gone through over the past year, she now focuses more on political celebrity. “It’s honestly different than anything I’ve ever done, because it does have some serious moments. When I go in for that under oath federal interrogation, it’s no joke. Being detained at every single airport … being on the no-fly list for over two months, not being able to get work in my own country for over a year.”

But, true to form, Griffin keeps the mood light by entwining her tales of pariahship with backstage intrigue – a feat that’s never been easier than now. “Part of the humor of it – which I see now; I didn’t see then – is just the irony of [it being] Trump, who I’ve known since he had three lines on Suddenly Susan in the ’90s,” says Griffin. “I’m having so much fun telling these Trump stories. When I worked at Bravo [owned by NBCUniversal, which also produced The Apprentice], I would see him constantly at press events. Not only that, but he hired me to roast him twice.” Griffin characterizes Trump’s denunciation of her as “faux outrage.” “He knows exactly my brand. I was actually on The Apprentice twice as part of challenges.”

The beef with Trump and his supporters has ended up diversifying Griffin’s audience. “All these stories, I’ve had in my back pocket for 20 years,” she says, “I know it sounds like I’m just trying to be a bitch, but he just wasn’t relevant enough for my fans to care. They wanted to hear about the [Real] Housewives, the Kardashians. And all of the sudden, I’m getting a lot more – believe it or not, I’m getting straight guys. I’m getting a lot more resisters. I’m getting couples. Because my experience has been in many ways a train wreck, but I get a lot of gratification from people going ‘Wait a minute. When she kind of breaks down and said, “If this happens to me, it could happen to you,”‘ and now it’s happening to [former CIA director] John fucking Brennan, for God’s sake.”

In recent months, the fractured political landscape of the country has been peppered with calls for “civility” – particularly from people pushing policies that are anything but civil. Griffin sees her role as something of an antidote to that soporific attitude. “I take immense gratification in certain bitchy little things. Also, just so you know, I’m pretty openly bitter,” admits Griffin. She says she admires Michelle Obama’s call for decency among liberals – “When they go low, we go high” – but, “I try to go high, but in my personal experience it doesn’t work. I’m very comfortable rolling around in the mud. And it gives me a lot of freedom. I spill a lot of tea and leave a little bit of a scorched-earth effect at the end of the show,” says Griffin.

And that’s where Griffin has always stood out. She can be loud, gossipy, and sometimes pushes the bounds of good taste – but goddammit, she’s got something to say.

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