Comedian Kathy Griffin Brings Her Celebrity Smackdown to the State Theatre

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Last year, comedian Kathy Griffin released her second book, Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index, offering a hilarious look at how the Hollywood half lives.

The book provides an A-Z compendium of the celebrities she’s met and offers "outrageous, charming and sometimes-bizarre anecdotes." Now on a 50-city standup tour in support of the book, the fast-talking Griffin discussed her fixation with celebs during a recent phone interview that left us in stitches.

She performs at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 25, at the State Theatre.

You’ve said that as a kid you needed to talk all the time. Did you have some sense that becoming a comedian was an option?
I did, but I have to say that I had absolutely no encouragement. My mother and father desperately wanted me to be a dental hygienist or a stew, which is an old-timey word for flight attendant. So I’m still the shame of the family. I’m dirty show folk. Because of that, my mother lives in an extremely nice condo. When I go over there and give her a fresh box of wine, she still keeps me #humble. She tells me that I’ve made a horrible mistake, and I’m going to lose my house and have to live out of my car and eat dog food. My mother keeps it real. And I can guarantee that at some point while flying from Los Angeles to Cleveland for the show, someone at the airport will either say, “Hello Reba” or “Oh my God, it’s Kathie Lee Gifford.” I know my place. Whenever someone says that, I just say, “Hi. Nice to meet you.” I don’t bother correcting people anymore. Although when people think I’m Kathie Lee Gifford, my new favorite thing to do is to say “blessings.” She’s into that sort of thing.

How’d you convince your parents to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in show business?
First of all, I lied. I love that you use the word “convinced.” I used trickery and I might have done a little Santería. Once I got wind that my parents were even thinking of moving to a warmer climate — we were Chicagoans, and we couldn’t take, as they called it, “the goddamn bitter winters” — I told them that the golf courses were very, very good in Hollywood, and I don’t know anything about golf. I told them to choose Los Angeles. Speaking of golf, in my book I have an epic story about the day I spent with the current president who hoodwinked me into hosting a charity event and god only knows where the money went. I did it because Liza Minnelli was the headliner. You can’t get this story anywhere else. That’s what I try to give the audience. If you bought this book, you deserve a story about the day I spent in a golf cart with the Donald, as he liked to be called. Sometimes, I think I have a Forrest Gump element. I do seem to be in situations that are ripe for comedy. I also do see the funny in everything, even the darkest stuff. I do have a history of “getting in trouble.” I proudly say I’ve been fired more than I’ve been hired. I’ve been fired five times from doing New Year’s Eve with Anderson Cooper. I get the call on January 1: “You’ve gone too far. You won’t be back.” One time, they docked my salary 30 percent. Last year, we did it, and we got the highest ratings.

Talk about the current tour, dubbed Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-ins: My A-Z Index. I take it the show derives its material from the book.
I do have a viewer warning. If you are someone who likes a clean comedian who never curses and you are currently carrying a bible with you everywhere you go, this might not be the show for you. I’m not in the business of not selling tickets but I want the people who come to the show to know that I’m like a walking safety pin. My shows are a very safe place for very serious smack talking about people, places and things. I swear it’s all new material. I won’t just stand there and read the book. I’m not holding back. I like to say I’m getting worse, but I don’t think my publicist would like that. I like to say I am more emboldened to publically go for everybody. I have theories I like to float in front of audiences. I might ask if anyone can say that Steve Bannon is not using meth. I’m not making an allegation. I’m just asking the question as a voter. I think there is something going on there. My opinion is that the entire administration is like an episode of Intervention but the rehab is Mar-a-lago, and they don’t even know they’re in rehab. It's not that hard. I think you can fool them easily.

Which celebrity reacted most negatively to your portrayal?
Ellen DeGeneres. She called me three times in a row. I finally picked up the third time because I realized she was serious. I have one line in the book about Ellen. I intentially left her out. She should have thanked me, frankly. She is not a fan of mine. The reason that bothers me is because there are few women I love over 50 who are doing well in comedy and making a mark. She said I was mean and cutting. I don’t judge her style of comedy. She should calm down. She has the Medal of Freedom and a billion dollars. I think she has Sony behind her. She was so upset. She kept saying, “I don’t have to have you on my show.” I wasn’t asking to be on her show. I tried to make her laugh at the end and said, “Can you at least admit this has kind of turned into a Dynasty-like Krystle and Alexis moment.” She wasn’t having it, but it is funny that out of the whole book, she was the most upset. By far. My favorite types of celebrities are celebrities who seem upset even though they’re doing quite well. I’ll make fun of Taylor Swift because she kind of falls into that category. I do find it amusing when certain folks have a life in their head that’s miserable but no one else agrees with that. There’s a lot of comedy in that.

Is this a good time for comedy?
We are in a comedy boom, but it’s probably not the best time for America. If you are looking to get away from it for a couple of hours and want to hear someone unfiltered and let it fly, this is the show for you. Cleveland is great because it’s a smart city and a real city. Being a Midwesterner, I get that vibe. You can’t BS Clevelanders. I think that’s why we’ve had a good relationship. I’m happy to be back at the State Theatre.

Did Jon Hamm really say you look “old”?
Oh, fuckin’ Hammy. Yeah, but the worst part is the context. I know him from back in the day when he was doing Lifetime movies and his girlfriend was the famous one. He was also in a Fantasy League with my boyfriend. I had seen Hammy and he was in my ear trying to be funny. When hot guys try to be funny, it doesn’t go well. All he had was, “You’re so old.” I was like, “That’s a riot. How did you com up with that layered and nuanced joke?” Then, he stumbled into the bathroom. I take pride in myself because Hammy is beloved and people might not like [what's in the book], but I don’t think he gives a shit. He’ll survive. They all do. They’re all fine. They just need to learn to take a joke. The other night at the Clive Davis party after the Grammys, I orchestrated an impromptu photo shoot in a bathroom stall with Kris Jenner and Melanie Griffith. I have skills. Unfortunately, I let Kris Jenner take them on her phone, and now she’s holding them hostage. I think the world in this time of unrest needs to see a very odd photo of an Academy Award nominee, a maven of sex tapes and hilarious comedian posing in a toilet. I just do.

Does Demi Lovato have no sense of humor?
No. And neither does Lorde. I tried to talk to Lorde at the Clive Davis party. I went up and said hi, and she just walked away. Every time they do it, I feel like now you’re in the act. Far be in from me to ever keep material out of my head. It is funny. She could have just said hi. I have fun with it now and say she’s kind of an asshole. I’ve gotten into trouble for saying things like that but in our real lives we do that all the time. I do that about people who are famous and powerful and my mother who loves to keep me in my place has a line about me. She tells me I’m always pissing off the check signers. I can’t help going for the big ones. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Over the course of your career, you’ve won numerous awards and met all sorts of famous people. But what really motivates you to keep at it?
Oh my God. I love this question. It’s going to sound corny, but I really do have a burning desire. When I was doing My Life on the D List, [the producers] would torture me every year about whether they would pick up the show. I told them it was my life with or without them. I told them that I didn’t need their permission to keep leading this insane life. I love live touring more than anything. You’re not supposed to say that. You’re supposed to talk about the best sellers, but I love the live shows. When I’m standing there, it’s just a mouth and a microphone. No network executive is going to fire me. If people walk out, I’m totally fine with that. I feel like I haven’t done my job until I get at least one walk out. I think I make myself sound like a psycho, which means I could be a Cabinet member, but I think comedy 24-7. It’s always there. Everything I see is through the lens of what can be funny. When something falls into my lap like Christina Aguilera saying, “Don’t talk about me in your act — we’re friends.” She’s wildly talented. But no, she doesn’t get a pass because we met. It's like, "Not if but when you do your next crazy thing, yes, I’m going to comment on it." No one gets a pass. Not even Cher or Anderson [Cooper] or my mother. I’m not gunning for any of these folks, but when they do this shit in front of me, what can I do? In my book, I have a bit about how Woody Allen was sitting next to me at a small dinner party and told me he’s never missed an episode of Hannah Montana and then saying, “And now I have to watch my good friend Bill Cosby get railroaded.” That story is just crazy. Sometimes, the material writes itself. I’ll go on stage and read a text from Cher. It’s real and funny and authentic. What gets me to the microphone is that I know I have something and it’s funny. It’s really personal. After every show I do, I turn to my tour manager and go, “Am I in trouble?” I walk off stage and get a standing ovation and the crew guys say, “Jesus, we thought you would never shut up.” I can’t help it. That is my only issue. I have to find a way to make my show less than two-and-a-half hours.


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