As a Hollywood fixture, actress and comedian Kathy Griffin wears many hats. But over the years she has settled into the role of a cultural critic taking jabs at celebrities and their public antics, all the while sharing stories of her own life on the fringes of Hollywood with a singular wit. Through it all she's won two Emmy's, been nominated for a Grammy, received a GLAAD Vanguard award, and has become a New York Times bestselling author. She is also the perennial Hollywood outsider, and as the host of Bravo's "Kathy," Griffin indulges her whims with a panel of mostly "civilian" types to create a show that takes her aesthetic one step beyond the realm of traditional talk show fare. When she isn't filming episodes of her show, Griffin gets to indulge in her one true love, stand-up comedy, taking her uncensored act on the road.
This Saturday, June 16, Griffin is making two appearances at the Fox Theatre at 7 and 9:30 p.m. $60-$75.
Chad Radford: So you're coming back to Atlanta?
Kathy Griffin: Oh honey, I am, and I'm all about the Buckhead Diner. I'm all about Daddy D's, too - I'm looking forward to the shows, but I might be looking forward to the BBQ a little more.
There is a lot of good food Atlanta.
Yes there is! You guys aren't afraid to fry something and then refry it and then put some ranch dressing on it.
That's pretty much the South in a nutshell, and I don't suppose you get a lot of fried food in LA these days?
No, you're not allowed. Now that I have my own weekly television show I'm barely allowed to eat anything 'til August. I'm pretty much on an oxygen-only diet. But I'll do what it takes to make this damn show work.
What's great about the live show is, look, I love doing "the Kathy Show," and tonight we're doing my first celebrity show, and I swore I wouldn't have celebrities. But Chelsea Handler and Whitney Cummings called and I went, wait a minute, that's a fun show, seeing the three of us chicks together, so now all of a sudden I have Jimmy Kimmel doing the show and Jane Fonda, Sharon Osbourne and Anderson Cooper. My little show has taken on a life of its own even though I'm still focusing on civilians cause I love me some real people. You don't know what the hell they're going to say! But the great thing is that on the weekends I get to go on tour, which will always be my first love. And I love the Fox Theatre! I love Atlanta, and I can give the behind-the-scenes stuff from "the Kathy Show," the stuff Bravo won't let me talk about. No bleeper, it's not for children - my disclaimer is 'leave the children at home, even the gay-bies.' And God knows I love my gays and their babies. By the way, I think there is an age restriction at the show. I don't know if its 18 or 21 but it should be 90, like my mother, and frankly the live show is where I just let it rip.
How do you separate your live performance from what you do behind the camera?.
Truly, there's nothing like performing live because you can just say anything and, this is going to be corny, but you actually do have a relationship with the audience. Every audience is different in every city, and I'm doing two shows at the Fox that night. Even those audiences can be different. It's constantly doing what I call "taking their temperature," so if they're really into you know, the bath salts face-eating jokes, we'll go there. If they're really into the housewives of Atlanta, we'll go there. If they're into political stuff because there's an election near, we'll go there. My show is highly improvisational and I basically do stand-up until I get arrested.
Yeah. I've been protested, I've had walkouts, I may get protested again. I tend to offend the groups - far right religious groups tend to get upset, and I don't think the scientologists love me either.
I've always thought of you as the Hollywood outsider, which is a clever sound byte, but what does that really mean?
It means I get invited to the Grammy's because I've been nominated four years in a row for best comedy album. I have not been invited to one private Grammy party. Like, Madonna has a Grammy party and you know, all these people have these parties for nominees and I'm never invited to them. So yeah, I get to go because I'm a fucking nominee and frankly they can't keep me out. Same with the Emmy's. I get to go to the Emmy's because I've been nominated and I've won and I get to take part in all of those festivities, but believe me, when some big TV star is having their really cool insider-nominee party, I'm not on that list, because they don't want to be in my act, and I make no promises. My celebrity friends know this - I don't have a lot of celebrity friends, but they know that nothing is off the table, and it shouldn't be.
That sort of friendship dynamic comes with being a cultural commentator and a comedian, though. Does being in Hollywood make that particularly sticky?
Absolutely! And if they knew me for two seconds, they'd know it. Really, if you told me something in confidence, believe it or not, I can keep a secret like nobody's business. But if you're a celebrity, and you've done something, and there are other people there, and it's even somewhat public, it's fair game.
You're approach to critiquing celebrity cultures is smarter, and less petty than someone like Perez Hilton, but you're essentially mining the same territory. ...
I'm a professional comedian. That's what I started out doing, and I was doing stand-up before there was the Internet. Honestly. I talk about everything from what happened in my personal life to something behind-the-scenes on my show to something I witnessed at an award's show to my run-ins with Michele Bachmann. I've confronted Saxby Chambliss on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I've performed in Iraq and Afghanistan - whatever is going on my life becomes part of the act, so a lot of it is my own experience, and a lot of it is what I'm hearing from people via social media about what they want to talk about.
I read the paper, I listen to 24-hour news cycles, and some stuff just catches me. I might pick an obscure show like "My Strange Addiction," and the guy who has sex with his car. Something like that may not be part of the national consciousness, but I'll take it and say, "Okay you guys, you gotta watch this show!" I'm always looking, always working. Then certain things will strike my fancy and I'll mention something that's a little off the grid. When the audience applauds in recognition I'll think, "Okay great, we'll talk about this show that I thought I was the only person watching, but it turns out that everyone watches "Toddlers in Tiaras."
The über-personal, well-curated approach to your material seems to be key to rising above the noise that's being broadcast via television, social media, the Internet and so on.
Yes!. You can't scoop anybody anymore, so a large part of my act is stuff that only happened to me. I may have a story about my encounter with Michelle Bachmann on an escalator at a correspondents' dinner that nobody else has. That's a big reason why I have civilians on "the Kathy Show" - now I have some celebrities, but a big reason why I have civilians, meaning never been on TV or in show business, is that they're going to bring experiences that only they've had. Not something you're going to see on TMZ, which I do all that stuff to. But if I'm going to talk about dating a younger guy, it's not something I read about Demi Moore. I'm going to talk about what it's like for me to date a younger guy, and I'm going to see who relates to that or if it's relatable to people.
Snark is part of what you do, but do you consciously try to move beyond the irony and one-dimensionality that snark breeds in cultural criticism?
I like to rip the veil off. And it's everything from being a child of alcoholics and growing up in a house where we acted crazy and pretended that stuff wasn't happening, which really was happening: My brother went to prison, and nobody wanted to talk about it. I kind of carried that attitude into my professional life. So when I started doing stand up, and was performing for tens of people, I didn't know any other way to do it. I wasn't telling jokes about airline peanuts or the differences between New York and LA because that just wasn't interesting to me. What was interesting to me was the stuff that was really going on out there, and people either want to act like something isn't happening that is - that's endlessly funny to me - or something a little bit dark, but you just have to laugh about it to blow off steam. Like the freaky face-eating cannibal! It's heinous and it's horrible, but there is an element of it that makes me want to talk about it on-stage because everybody is thinking it. There's "the Real Housewives of Orange County," where there is a character that is so stupid, she keeps saying things like, "Costa Rica is a city in Mexico" - by the way there actually is a small town in Mexico called Costa Rica, but that's not what she meant. Or the expression, "There's a white elephant in the room." She can't even keep a simple expression together. That's funny to me.
It's a very punk rock approach, too ...
I love that you say that. I had an old musician friend who used to say that, and I always loved that. He said the same thing about Joan Rivers, too. He went to see Joan Rivers live - straight guy musician - and he's like, "She is very punk rock! She fucking says anything she wants," and that's why I love people like Joan Rivers and Don Rickles. I love those people, and in Atlanta there's Margaret Cho! I love watching people that are fearless get on stage, and as you're watching them you just really don't know what they're going to say next. Trust me, when I'm at the Fox it will be very improvisational. I kind of know what I'm going to talk about but there's a lot of room for something that came up that very day.
A lot of what you talk about covers topics that legitimately make people kind of angry, like reality TV. Is it cathartic for you to just get out there and start talking about these things?
I definitely have what they call a burning desire to hit the mic. I am someone who has to do stand-up - its part of my DNA. Like I said, doing the talk show is fantastic and I think the Bravo people thought I would kick myself off the road but I said no, no, no, doing the road is going to feed the talk show, doing the talk show is going to feed the road. But with or without "My Life on the D List," or the talk show, I will always do the road. I started doing a little stand-up, and then more stand-up and more standup, and it's truly my passion. I have to do it, and no matter what, if it was going through my father passing away, or going through a divorce, when that moment happens, when its 7, 8, or 10 o'clock, whatever the show times are at the Fox, for those two hours, I am in stand-up mode and I love it, and I'm probably the happiest when I'm on stage.
Do you deal with much celebrity wrath over your jokes?
You'd be surprised by how many celebrities are really offended by the littlest things. Sometimes a celebrity will be mad at me because I said something scandalous, and sometimes they get mad because I got their age wrong by one year. It's endlessly amusing to me that people would get offended, especially in this online world. God knows I've been on TMZ where they've taken a picture of me without makeup and called me "Swamp Thing." You gotta laugh. You'd think by this time most celebrities would get it. One thing that's nice about getting older is more of them are starting to get the jokes, and that's a great thing. But when they don't get the jokes, it kind of helps the act.
But truly, I don't think I've hurt Oprah one bit. All my Oprah jokes have left her standing. She and Ryan Seacrest are going to be just fine. So are the Kardashians.
Their reactions to your jokes are very un-Sun Tzu ...
And now my new special is going to be called Kathy Griffin Un-Sun Tzu. I love that you think my demographic even knows what the fuck you're talking about! See, now you're in the act.
That would be awesome!
That's how it happens, and I'm just going to keep quoting The Art of War and be like this is your fault, this is your journalist.
First of all, everybody is fair game, but certainly the Kardashians, certainly the ones who laugh all the way to the bank. They put themselves out there. There're dealing with lawsuits over whether or not Shape-Ups give you a Kim Kardashian butt, whether or not their credit card takes this much money. It's all part of the deal. No one has suffered a career loss from my harmless little jokes. It's all in good fun.
I love hearing the soccer mom saying, "Oh my god, this is the first night I've had without the kids in two months and I need to laugh." I love to hear from the gay guy saying, "You know what, it isn't the easiest thing in the world to be an openly gay person in suburban Georgia." I love the heterosexual guy who was dragged by his girlfriend say, "You know, normally I wouldn't go see a female comedian but you made me laugh really hard." That's my favorite thing. That's why I love performing live. And everybody is allowed to have whatever reaction they want. And seriously, I've had people walk out, I've had people write letters, I've had people say there're coming to see me for the seventh time. And as an audience member, as long as you don't heckle me, you're allowed to have whatever reaction you want. But number one is laughter.
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