If you’ve ever interviewed Kathy Griffin, one thing you realize very quickly is that your questions are kind of irrelevant. At best, they’ll serve as vague prompts for Griffin to talk about whatever is on her mind, her train of thought veering wildly. As in her stand-up, she is fast-talking, wide-ranging and highly digressive.
In this way, she is oddly similar to the current inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Of course, there are differences between the 57-year-old comedian and Donald Trump: she has never bragged, on tape, about sexually assaulting women; she has never (allegedly) used her businesses to laundered money for foreign interests; she has never gotten into a social media pissing contest with the leader of a hostile nuclear power; and she has never put a fellow comedian under federal investigation while also deploying an army of trolls in an attempt to destroy her career.
That last one, in case you haven’t heard, did happen to Griffin. Last year, a photo in which she posed with a ketchup-smeared mask of Trump’s face ignited by far the biggest, most devastating controversy of the controversial comedian’s career. Blacklisted by Hollywood and abandoned by friends like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Griffin found herself at the lowest point in her career. But what a difference a year makes.
After successfully touring internationally, she’s bringing her Laugh Your Head Off tour to the US and Canada. Lucky for us!
As she hits the road once more, Griffin called Queerty to talk about her year in “the Trump Wood chipper.”
Why are US audiences ready for your comeback? What has changed between May 2017 and now?
I love this question. What changed is fucking true grit on my part. Everybody around me ditched me. Even though I’ve already made millions of dollars for networks and Fortune 500 companies. That was all out the window overnight. Everybody got scared as shit and ran away like cockroaches when the light goes on! So, the one thing that even I can do—even under the specter of an investigation—is I can put myself on the road. If the demand is there, I can do it. It’s one of the rare areas—and it’s one of the reasons I still do so much touring. A) I love it. It’s obviously the most uncensored platform you can have. But, B) it’s not really a system you can age out of. Cause you know, Hollywood is like Menudo; they age you out.
Pretty soon after the picture, I called my stand-up agent and I said, “Are there actual cities in countries overseas where they’re going to want someone to come over and talk shit about Trump?” Two weeks later I had 15 countries and 23 cities. That was really important because of course the audiences over there were receptive. They don’t think Fox News is real. Although can I tell you, Fox News was on in every country I went to. How much of a bummer is that?
How did you decide to bring Laugh Your Head Off to the US?
It was a risk. I’m not gonna lie. I had all the 65-year-old white dinosaurs—the same ones who had been saying “You can’t do it” my whole fucking career—saying, “Well, we don’t know if we want to do this tour.” The worst part was, “We don’t think you can sell tickets.” I had to fight with agents who don’t even talk to me anymore. Because I said, I think I can play Carnegie Hall again. What really turned things around was starting a mailing list. I no longer can blanket a city. I can’t just go to Minneapolis and blanket Minneapolis with press and see who shows up. Now, I have to actually target—no pun intended—my actual supporters and fans. They all want to hear the story. I was able to sell out Carnegie Hall in less than 24 hours, and I’m on my way to selling out Radio City Music Hall.
But part of what was happening a year ago was you were losing gigs because people were calling in threats to the venues, right? Are the venues you’re playing now still getting threats?
Yes and no. One of the things that happened when I was in—I call it the “Trump Woodchipper.” When that photo went live I didn’t realize that there was already an apparatus in place—it was no different from what they had used previously on political figures. When TMZ recorded my tour cancelations in real time—I’m thinking somebody placed a call—it’s not like the customers wanted their money back, it’s that the Trumpers were calling the theaters threatening to kill me or with bomb threats. Their threat of choice was—let’s see if I can quote it: “We wanna shoot her in the cunt, cut off her head and then stuff her decapitated head up her cunt.” What I learned later is that they were primarily robocalls.
So, now I know a lot more about the Trump Woodchipper—and so does the rest of the world. Because even though I still kind of stand alone in a fucked up category, he’s obviously done this. Although going to the extent of putting a comedian under a two-month federal investigation is literally historic and unprecedented—and also something that shouldn’t happen to comedians, but more importantly, it shouldn’t happen to civilians, whatever their field. So that’s a big part of why I have to do this tour in America. The death threats are still coming, fast and furious. The online hate is still almost just as bad—although now it kind of makes me chuckle when I see that most of it comes from bots. They’re faceless people that joined Twitter two days ago and all they Tweet about is @KathyGriffin.
A year has passed and I think it’s that people have seen this series of atrocities that Trump and this administration have done to so many communities. People finally just realize, That Kathy Griffin ketchupy mask picture wasn’t what we should be focusing on.
I was reminded of your situation after Michelle Wolf’s performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner. It’s shocking how quickly the “liberal” media is willing to turn on people like you and like her. Why do you think that is?
I think they’re kind of colonized. I’ve talked to many of them. It’s odd, in this last year I’ve gotten to know many journalists because nobody in Hollywood talks to me anymore. I have talked to many many journalists who are just afraid. And by the way, comedians are worse!
So when I went to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner—by the way, I have such good stories. I got in fights with everyone! Michelle Wolf’s set—I was the only comedian in the room, that I know of, so of course I felt compelled immediately, not to do my usual, like, “Get a fuckin’ sense of humor, you fuckin’ snowflakes!” But to really lay it out and go, “Hey, I was in the room. This is bullshit. This is what really went down. This is hypocrisy.”
I think you then saw a few of those journos change their tune. Today there are not as many people saying it was in bad taste, and there are more people saying, because of heinous things Trump has said, there are some journos saying, “Wait…this from the guy who was so offended by Michelle Wolf? At a dinner he didn’t even have the balls to attend?” And no offense to Michelle Wolf, but I still have this fantasy that he didn’t attend because I was there. I made no secret about it. The Washington Post did a giant article, I was at the table of The Washington Blade, the oldest LGBT paper in DC. I wore the fanciest dress. I wore a dress I would wear if I was hosting the goddamn Oscars!
Was there a moment when you realized, maybe my career isn’t over?
Well, there were two things. The first couple of days, May 30 and 31, I was such a wreck. I was constantly sobbing. And then things kind of started getting on track. Honestly, I got to work. I hunkered down in my house and while all the death threats were coming and while the FBI was calling and saying, “You’re a credible threat,”—it all actually turned into comedy. So, when Paul Manafort got that no-knock raid, I was like, “Ooh, I know what a no-knock raid is!” Because I had a retired FBI person say that they could do a no-knock raid [on my house]. And of course, there’s a lot of comedy in what a no-knock raid at my house would produce. It’s like a lot of pictures of me with Liza Minnelli. There are not government secrets in my house. It was so extreme it became funny.
Getting back to work: That has always been part of your brand, how much of a workhorse you are. The jobs you’ll take, the gigs you’ll do, all that stuff. So in the midst of it, did you think, “I can spin this into a comeback narrative.”
Absolutely! One of the calls I got was from Jim Carrey, who I don’t even know that well. I was sobbing, and I said, “Jim, just be honest. Just tell me: Is it over for me?” I had other people literally telling me, “You’ve gotta leave the country for eight years.” And other people calling saying I had to leave for five years. So that became funny. I was negotiating. By the way, I was never going fucking anywhere. But when Jim Carrey said, “Kathy, you are the most famous comedian in the world today.” And I said, “For all the wrong reasons!” And he said, “Are you kidding? Any comedian would give their right arm to have this happen to them! At the end of this, you’re going to have an act no one else can ever have.” That’s every comic’s holy grail. You want the story no one else can do.
I got down to work. I started writing. I have to admit, as crazy as this sounds, a lot of stuff that happened to me during that period and to this day is funny. This woman came up to me in an airport and wanted to confront me. She goes, “Traitor!” And I go, “Excuse me, my name is Reba. You have me confused.” And I walked away. I know that’s bad and I owe Reba [McEntire] an apology, but I threw Reba under the bus because I thought I could pass.
Ok…do you mind if I ask you about Anderson and Andy?
Ugh! Get in line! I’m like the Hillary Clinton of comedy. Everyone keeps saying, stop talking about it! But it’s all anyone asks about. I think I was very, very clear on my infamous 17 minute long YouTube video, where I was, some might say, too honest.
Have you seen their touring sister act?
Oh my god! The idea that they sit on Barca loungers and don’t even have an act. They talk to each other and then take questions. Of course, part of me is like, I wish I could do that! That sounds easy. But I actually have a skillset. So when I stand onstage at Carnegie Hall for the fifth time, tying the record with my beloved Joan Rivers as the only female comedian to do Carnegie Hall by herself… Like I said, I could have played a lot of places. I want women to go, Joan Rivers: offensive, but she played Carnegie five times. Kathy Griffin: a pariah, but she played Carnegie five times.
So, I get people who like Andy and Anderson. Obviously, I was in love with Anderson. He was my pal for many years. I get it. But it’s like, come see me! Come see a show with someone who has a skillset who wrote material and is improvisational and is gonna take a risk.
But jokes aside, is there any chance of a reconciliation with Anderson?
Why do you want that? Like why do so many gay people ask me that? He treated me like shit. Don’t send me back to my main gay who turned on his hag. And by the way, I’m fighting for the right to still say hag. I don’t want to be called a fuckin’ fruit fly! I’ve been in the real fight longer than that guy was out.
I’ve earned the term hag, dammit!