By Chris Azzopardi
Kathy Griffin’s priorities shifted after, well, you know. The head. More precisely: a gory replica of President Trump’s own head made from a ketchup-dosed Halloween mask that Griffin holds in the infamous pic that spread like an online wildfire in May 2017.
It caused a stir – and then it caused Griffin’s career to take a major hit. Promoters pulled the plug on already-scheduled tour stops, CNN cut her from her annual televised New Year’s Eve stint with Anderson Cooper (who publicly sided with CNN), and Griffin says she experienced a thorough investigation by the Secret Service, organized by Trump.
Griffin was sure she wouldn’t tour again – or do much of anything. But after organizing a mailing list for fans who essentially helped route her “Laugh Your Head Off” tour, she traveled around the globe, stopping at cities in the U.K., Australia, Mexico and the United States this year.
Looking back during our recent interview, Griffin recalled the responsibility she felt to tour and acknowledged being a different kind of artist now, one with a harrowing story of her own to tell. (Talking about the “Real Housewives of Dallas” might be less pressing for you, too, if the Secret Service was in your business.)
But during this breathless, 35-minute-long interview, the comedic spitfire didn’t just take on Trump – she delightedly got back to her frivolous pre-head-pic roots, dishing on Hollywood star stories like eating Lady Gaga’s chicken eggs, the awards show competition for best Aretha Franklin tribute and the hilarious text from Cher she received that fateful May day.
(Chris Azzopardi) What’s this about a potential New Year’s Eve special with Stormy Daniels?
(Kathy Griffin) I am so bummed. Every single show, when I say I have been pitching “New Year’s Live with Kathy Griffin and Stormy Daniels,” the audience spontaneously bursts into applause and not one buyer will go for it. I’ve had, like, five meetings and what happens is the creative team loves it and then they kick it upstairs to the check signer and the check signer is inevitably a 65-year-old white guy who’s never been a fan of mine and then they just shut it down before I can even finish the pitch. (Laughs) I still think it’s a damn winning idea. And once again I think I’m … wait for it … a “head” of my time.
No, Anderson Cooper probably won’t call her ever again
I don’t think he’s that kind of guy. In my experience with him, he’s, like, not the kind of guy that would pick up the phone. He’s like (CNN president) Jeff Zucker; those two don’t roll like that (laughs). They are powerful white men, one gay, one straight. But at the end of the day, I’m still a woman and I’m still a click down, a rung down on the ladder compared to a man, gay, straight, white or of color. But you know me, I’m still trying to get up that ladder one broken rung at a time, dammit.
Fan love made performing this year’s post-controversy shows “beyond special”
It’s sort of a miracle – and I’m not a religious person. I love walking the audience through the process because, like I said, it has actually a historic footprint. After starting the tour in Auckland, New Zealand, and going everywhere, I got to come back to my own country of origin. I was able to work again, and prior to that I could not get one day of paid work. And you know, the story keeps growing. Like, I’m just gonna be honest – and I hope this doesn’t scare readers – but the show is three hours because more crazy shit kept happening.
“A different kind of artist”
There are some cities I know I can’t play now, and I may never be able to play again. Like, I don’t know if I can ever play a casino again. Ever. If I can use the word “artist” without sounding like a total asshole, I am a completely different kind of artist than I was before the photo. I was considered completely toxic in Hollywood and unhirable. And putting me into the Harvey Levin TMZ machine and the AMI David Pecker machine, and then putting hit pieces on me, constantly, that I have lupus or that I’m a bald – in other words making me unhirable by putting out shit like that. The idea that they all coordinated with the actual White House is so insane that my own representatives couldn’t wrap their brains around it. I had to figure out a whole new business model.
Feeling “a sense of responsibility” to tour
It’s bizarre but it’s almost like America has to forgive me. I don’t like saying that because I didn’t do anything wrong – the picture was totally covered by the First Amendment. I do feel, honestly, a responsibility to go city to city and say to people, “If you threw this picture up on Twitter tomorrow, or god forbid, your 13-year-old kid did, they should not have to be subject to being decimated by the president and the Department of Justice putting them under a two-month investigation, being put on the no-fly list, then the Interpol list, being detained at every airport and spending hundreds of thousands in legal fees.” So, I felt a sense of responsibility that I’ve never felt before.
Putting pop culture on hold
I really feel like this is the kind of material that commands what I call “the great halls.” I’ve always loved doing stand-up and talking about the Housewives, and I’ll always love talking about pop culture, but for this particular tour, this is a real story, it’s got an arc, and there’s a lot of meat on the bone. And there are parts of it that people really didn’t know about. I talk about being detained in airports.
Live Nation was running the show. I ended up not using them anymore, but they had the show going into March and they were just spreading it out, sending me wherever. I was like, “Guys” – and I mean guys, like all old white guys – I’m not the same Kathy Griffin from “Suddenly Susan” and “My Life on the D-List” to, like, a fifth of America … to a fifth of America, I’m a high-ranking member of ISIS! It’s gonna take a minute! I gotta correct the record here in a very different way! (Laughs) Even though it kills me to do it and it terrifies me, of course, to like not have any work after the (tour). (Griffin is self-financing a special based on the tour.)
Is political commentary a comedian’s responsibility?
I kind of think it’s our duty. I mean, I’m 57. I was little in the ’60s, but it’s a little bit of a ’60s mentality, which is (that) comedians, I think, have always been on the forefront of social commentary, as have all artists. So it still hurts to this day – if you research the comedians who stuck up for me, it’s little to none. To this day, I have not had an advocate.
How comedy has changed in the Trump era
When I did say in my horrible press conference, “If this can happen to me, it can happen to you,” that is the one thing I stand by. During the “W” years, I was very much against the war, but I still went to Iraq and performed because you could do that; you could be saying things that were liberal, but you could also go and support the troops. Now everything is so dumbed down.
I will tell you something a little chilling: I’m not gonna name their names, but three of the most famous comedians in the world called me and said, “We’re all watching you.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” speaking to unnamed person much more famous than I. And all three of them said, “We saw what happened to you and we don’t fucking want that to happen to us.” And I would say, “Well, then you need to speak up about it,” and that’s where I lost them. I still think a lot of comics don’t get it. It’s gonna be somebody else next. It’s probably gonna be a beloved comedian because I’m an easy target. I’m already divisive and shit.
Trump is dying to know what Kathy has said during these shows about him, right?
Oh, absolutely. It’s like all those years I used to make fun of Oprah and then over the years I would just meet people from Harpo [Oprah’s multimedia production company] who would all say, “We all watch your specials and we all go to your shows.” When I was invited to the freakin’ White House Correspondents Dinner, oh my god, it was a dream come true. I was scared shitless to go because I thought, “Oh god, it’s a room full of enemies.” But I had so much fun getting in fights with cabinet members because (laughs) they were there, and they just couldn’t escape me, and I was invited, and it was heaven. And you know Brian Kilmeade, that piece of shit from “Fox & Friends?” So, he wanted a selfie! I go, “I did not seeing that coming, Nazi.” Obviously, normally, I would take one – I had a lot of friends calling him a Nazi and telling him to “fuck off” while in an Oscar de la Renta ballgown.
But how about Lady Gaga in “A Star Is Born”?
This is one of those topics that I call “gay untouchable,” meaning I haven’t seen the film yet and yet I’m afraid to say that. If I do see it and I have one criticism, I’m afraid to say it. Like, as an ally, I believe there is a law that I have to love this movie. And as a gay man sight unseen I already want it to win Best Picture. Based on the commercial, that there’s even a moment when Lady Gaga acts like she’s not sure if she’s a good singer – that’s why she should win the Academy Awards. I’ve met Lady Gaga. She gave me eggs. I went to see Tony Bennett and Gaga and I had never met Lady Gaga before and I was like, “What? How did these two gay guys never meet?” So I got in touch with her team and said, “Can I come back stage and say hi?” and it was really sweet. She had brought a present for me and then she brought a present for Tony as if she wasn’t seeing him every night that year. It was this beautiful wrapped box of eggs, and she gives me a box of eggs and I’m super excited because I can’t help it. And Tony’s like, “What are these?” And I’m trying to explain to Tony, “Oh my god, you got eggs from Lady Gaga – is this epic or what?” And he’s like, “What, toots? I just did 17 duets with her; can I get more than eggs?” I, of course, was very excited and I made a Gaga omelette.
… and Taylor Swift finally addressing her political views
Guess what? I’m now pro-Swiftie. Hear me out, hear me out. By the way, I don’t mean as a singer – she’s not a very good singer. But, like, whatever. Nobody sings anymore. But there are two reasons I am pro-Swiftie. No. 1: I think it’s so cool that when that asshole DJ grabbed her ass in the photo, she went to a Colorado courtroom with almost no press and sat there for four days and won that case for women everywhere. Having done meet-and-greets for decades, and I know I’m granny and she’s Taylor Swift, but guys do that – guys grab my ass and guys grab my tits because they think it’s funny. You know what? Props to her – and really big props because I think that because she has country roots, she will pay a price. I love that she’s got more people to register (to vote). But as someone who has paid prices, yeah, she’s probably getting a lot of country hate right now.
Aretha Franklin wearing different dresses for each new day of her funeral service
Fabulous, necessary. Knew how to do it, always did. But here’s what I love: I love that now that she’s gone, we can actually enjoy her deliciously bitchy moments. I love the people who are putting up all of these clips of her, like, not suffering fools. I’m sure you’ve seen the one where they’re like, “What do you think of Auto-tune?” and she’s like, “What’s that?” It’s like, as if her voice wasn’t good enough. But I also am fascinated by – you know there’s a competition of tributes? There’s been three major award shows with tributes and now they’re trying to out-tribute each other. There was an AMAs tribute, there was a BET tribute. They’re gonna keep doing them until they fucking get it right. Like, it wouldn’t surprise me if four years from now, there was another Aretha tribute… which I’m also all for.
And, uh, what did Kathy think of Madonna’s tribute to Aretha?
OK, hold on. I’m gonna give you a gay smack down right now, you son of a bitch. You young baby-gays stay away from her! Don’t you dare judge. She’s fucking 60 and let me tell you: Hollywood has been trying to age me out of the system since I was 40. They’ve been trying to put me out to pasture and I refuse to moo. Madonna has done so much for the community and, honestly, for women as well, and also she’s legit talented. She really did turn into a beauty icon as well. They gave her shit about being “chubby” so then she got anorexic and muscly and then it was never enough and now she’s like a fucking Olympic athlete at 60. Having been told 1,000 times how ugly and old I am, it probably just fucking got to her and she thought, “All right, I’ll get some fillers.” And, yes, I personally would prefer she’d tone it down with the fillers, but I’m gonna give her a pass. She gets what I call the “Liza Pass.”
Cher helicoptering onto the set of “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” like the queen she is
I mean, what else would you expect? She’s probably helicoptering into her mansion right now. I have not been in the helicopter, but I can tell you the day of the Trump photo when the world caved in, Cher made me laugh so hard because she texted one line: (impersonates Cher) “You wanted to be famous, bitch!”
—As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. Reach him on Twitter (@chrisazzopardi).