Kathy Griffin is a writer, actor, television mainstay and astoundingly prolific standup comedian who has achieved a record-breaking number of career milestones since getting her start in the venerated Groundlings improv troupe during their mid-’80s salad days. Though she first gained notoriety with a regular role on the NBC sitcom Suddenly Susan, over the years she's appeared in everything from Pulp Fiction and The Muppets to Seinfeld. Griffin endeared herself to audiences with her refusal to suffer fools, honing her sharpest barbs with a healthy dose of self-deprecation. She currently holds the Guinness World Record for number of televised specials, and her album Calm Down Gurrl won a Grammy in 2014. Her reality series, My Life on the D-List, ran for six seasons and remains a cult classic. Fresh off her New Year's Eve co-hosting gig with Anderson Cooper, Griffin storms into town this month with a new hour of hot takes. Westword caught up with her to discuss her demanding touring schedule, moving next door to the Kardashians and performing at casinos in Trump's America.
Westword: Hello! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview.
Kathy Griffin: Of course! Why would I not talk to a fellow comedian? What is a "journeyman standup," Byron?
Like, I'm on my way there, but I'm still doing the yeoman's work of building an act.
Would you consider your work to be yeoman's work?
You know what? I would. It's a lot of traveling, sleeping rough and rhetorical heavy lifting.
I agree. It's an art form, damn it, and we're not gonna take it any other way.
I've heard professional wrestlers live like this, too. We have to go to some of the worst places.
Oh, honey, I've done sets where — trust me — I have felt like Mickey Rourke looked in the last scene of The Wrestler. Not that I can understand that movie, but I'm sorry; go ahead. What are your questions?
What can fans expect from your current hour of material?
That's a really, really good one, Byron. How long did it take to come up with that? I'm just giving you shit. All right, here's what I'm proud of: So, get this shit. I am going to do all new material — but wait, there's more — I wrote a bestseller called Kathy Griffin's Celebrity Run-Ins, and even though this is called the Kathy Griffin's Celebrity Run-Ins Tour, I won't be doing any stories from the book. So if you bought the book, or downloaded it or listened to the Audible or whatever — oh, and by the way, about halfway through recording the book for Audible, I just got bored and started riffing, and I don't want to say it's a separate book, but I went off the page a little bit.
So you're saying the audiobook is like a whole new draft?
It kind of is, yeah. It's funny, because the New York Times doesn't even count Audibles, which is a shame. But I've gotten the best response from the Audible, so there you go. I have't listened to it, but I hear it's hilarious. Anyway, yes, I will be doing all new material. That's what I pride myself on. I love the Paramount; I've played the Paramount before. I love Denver — why wouldn't I? It's a very smart city. What I want to the folks coming to the show to know more than anything is that it's gonna be all new. So if you saw me fifteen years ago, it's different. If you saw me last year, it's different than that, too. That's really what I love to do. That's my niche. It's why I've done 23 standup comedy specials that I've written, produced and starred in. I'm in the Guinness Book of World Records for having more standup comedy specials on television than any comedian, male or female, living or dead. So my point is: Damn it, if nothing else, I'm prolific!
The numbers are on your side.
I have these personal stories that I tell, because my goal is to make my set that night, and I usually perform for like ninety minutes to two hours, although I guess I shouldn't say that, because last weekend in Seattle, the audience was so good I ended up doing two-forty. I think the guys in the crew wanted to kill me at that point. And it's just me; I don't have an opener. It's an "evening with" format because I cannot wait to get to my hilarious stories. In this particularly crazy time, I certainly don't have a lack of material. But it's such a joy — especially after hosting New Year's Eve with Anderson Cooper — to be able to stand on stage and tell the story, not only of what happened behind the scenes with Anderson, but when we turned around and literally fifty feet behind us was Mariah Carey. By the way, after doing this for ten years, this year was our highest-rated yet, which is almost unheard of.
So it's those types of moments that I pride myself on. I'm going to tell you stories that you couldn't possibly hear from any other comedian, and that's what I like about this tour. I feel like I'm a little bit of a magnet for crazy, which as you must know is almost essential for a comic. Like, on Christmas Day, my 96-year-old, box-wine-loving mother, Maggie, came over, of course, and she met Sharon Stone, who also came over. Yeah, Sharon Stone came to my house — so, first of all, take that in. She brought her three kids and her nanny, which is great. I think if you're going to bring your kids, you'd better also bring your damn nanny. But anyway, my mom met Sharon Stone, and it was really cute. And later on she said, "I wish I would've told her that she looks just like Sharon Stone." So I said, "Maybe you should drink less," but that's just an old argument I've been having with Maggie. So, yes. I have lots and lots to report. I moved, so I no longer live in the house from My Life on The D-List. I moved about three months ago. And do you know who I moved next door to?
Okay, so if this is the only reason you buy a ticket, it's worth it. I'm not making this up. You can look it up online. So I just moved — and when I say "neighbors," I don't mean down the block or in the neighborhood, I mean we can wave to each other through the windows: I live next door to Kim Kardashian West and Kanye Kardashian West.
Oh man, what a gold mine.
It is a gold mine! My act lives next door! It's a dream.
How long is the celeb run-in tour?
Fifty cities. I did eighty cities last year on my "Like a Boss Tour," and I'm doing fifty this year. And let me tell you, I see the real America, my friend. It's not all Denver! It's not all a big cosmopolitan city, all right? So getting to tell stories to Denver-ians — if that's what you're called — what are natives of Denver called?
I believe it's "Denverites."
Denverites? Okay, so I'll also be able to tell Denverites about my travels all over, because I'll be honest: When I do a show at the Paramount in Denver, I might change the material a little bit from when I'm doing the WinStar Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. So Fox News has nothing on me. I've seen the real America. What's weird about being in those places is that I know Donald Trump. I have Donald Trump stories that are fuckin' jaw-droppers. So there's that. I didn't know he was this crazy.
I think a lot of people didn't. He just seemed like a goofball until you actually found out what he believes.
I'm glad you said that. That's what I thought whenever I'd run into him over the past fifteen or twenty years. When I was on the show Suddenly Susan in the ’90s, he had two lines on it. That's how long I've known this fool. I guess I lost all my "Make America Great Again" audience members, which would've numbered in the ones. Oh, but that's another thing I pride myself on: I don't feel like I've done my job until I've had one good, sturdy walkout.
That can be its own badge of honor.
Thank you! I'm also still banned from certain talk shows. I had a really good walkout last weekend. I was doing a big casino in the Palm Springs area, and there were these two guys up front. You could tell they had probably just lost a bunch of money at the tables and stumbled in because they thought I was Reba McEntire. They were in the front row, and they were straight guys — and I'm just gonna say, I could tell — and so I'm about halfway through, and I'm talking about who knows what. Maybe the Real Housewives, maybe I was making fun of Trump, who knows what — but they got offended and stormed out. But I have to say that I don't mind because a) It's America; you can storm out whenever you want; and b) I get a little chuckle when somebody storms out and flips the bird on their way out. I can't hate on them. I think walking out of a comedy show is a very American thing to do.
They're expressing themselves.
That's right. And that's okay, too, because God knows I'm going to be expressing myself in a very unfiltered manner. Okay, I need to ask you: Are you watching that Scientology show with Leah Remini?
I haven't, but I've heard it's bonkers.
Oh, it's riveting! And I know her! Okay, so any comic can go and talk about that show, but I know Leah, so I have a funny story about her, and I've also been targeted by the Scientologists. I like to call them the "Sci-tis." So, I like to bring that personal touch.
Scientologists don't mess around. They go hard after people who criticize them.
No, no, no. But that's what's so cool about that show. I also take it as a badge of honor that they told me that I've been on their list as early as like 1995. So I'm a little proud, I guess, to be on their list of targets.
That's before the documentaries and everything. You were way ahead of the curve.
I don't want to steal Alex Gibney's thunder, but I am on the lookout for this sort of thing all the time.
You're very outspoken about your political beliefs, but your crowds are all over the political spectrum. How do you make someone laugh if they disagree with you?
Well, I find that if you go for something that's true, you can't really argue with it. For example, and I know it sounds like I'm making fun of the whole "fake news" thing, but my Trump story, where I spent the day with Donald Trump and Liza Minelli on a golf course — I mean, it doesn't matter who you voted for, that story is crazy. It's doesn't matter where you are on the aisle, this is a story with every bell and whistle. It's got someone who somehow became president, and it's got Liza Minelli, who should be president. I mean, if we're really going to re-litigate the election, let's get Liza. And then it's got me, and of course I'm a fish out of water in this situation. Of course, Trump had me hosting a charity fundraiser, but now I'm sure David Farenthold from the Washington Post will be trying to track down where that money went, because I don't even know where the money went, and I hosted the damn thing. That's what I'm saying! I'm bringing a personal touch! I'm sitting here years later, going, "Wait a minute. The guy who was the realtor with the crazy hair is president? What happened? I know that guy! So it's all come together. Me knowing Trump. Kimye living next door. Me working in Hollywood but then still going out to fifty cities to tell people what's really going on and trying to make them laugh, regardless of party. Every market I go to is different, trust me. Denver is a great mixed bag, but I would say that my audiences tend to be more liberal. But anything can happen on the road, and everything has.
I'm always surprised by the number of people who'll turn up to see any comedy just because it's there.
Yes. That's what happens at casinos. One of the reasons I'm so looking forward to the Paramount is that a theater show is just different. Look, I'm happy to play casinos; they're great and all that stuff, but it's true — and most people probably don't know this, but — well, in light of our president's extracurricular activities, I'll tell you that the technical name is the "Golden Circle," and when you play a big casino, the first fifteen rows are called the "Golden Circle," and I promise not to pee on any Russian prostitutes while I'm in Denver, not for the entire time. I promise. But anyway, those "Golden Circle" folks are often people that honestly just lost a bunch of money, and then a host gives them tickets and says, "Hey, go see a comedian." And that is definitely weird, because you're performing for a room that's half-filled with your die-hard fans, and then the other half thought they were going to go see some nice, squeaky-clean, middle-of-the-road lady comedy. And I, of course, am not for the faint of heart. And comedy shouldn't be, damn it! Comedy shouldn't be for the faint of heart. It should be envelope-pushing. It should be raw. It should be inappropriate. It should make you laugh until you feel a little bit guilty.
It's one of the only spheres where you can get away with that level of honesty.
Well, look, you and I could end up in prison this year. I think he'll probably imprison the journalists first and then comics. Hopefully somebody will bake me a cake with a shiv inside, and we'll just try to make the best of it.
How soon after experiencing something like an awkward celebrity run-in do you start mining it for laughs?
Usually, the next time I'm on the mic. And this is really corny, and my friends have been busting me on it my whole career, but when I see or experience something like that, I do tend to start spitballing it in conversation with my loved ones until they stop me. People have to stop me and ask, "Are you working on material right now or just talking?" You've done it, too! I know that laugh. You've been busted acting like you cared about a conversation, when in your head, you were really just working on your set.
You know how it is. Then you try it out the first time, and in my case, I try it out and then hone it a little bit. I also bail on stuff. I enjoy changing material. I never want to have an act that's so tight that if I want to add something new, it becomes this production of moving around puzzle pieces. So like I said, I'm very open with my audiences, and they know my act is very tangential, very of the moment. One time when I was taping one of the specials, I thought I knew what I was going to say, and I ended up doing my first ten minutes about something that happened three hours before the taping. And when I was watching it in the editing bay, I said, "I think we should keep it in," even though I'd never tried it before. Honestly, I'm not kidding when I say my Denver show is at 8 and I won't know what I'm going to say until probably about a quarter ’til. I'm obviously checking my phone and my tablet until right before I go on stage, mostly to make sure that no one I'm making fun of has died during my act. Which has happened.
Honey, I had to do a full two-hour show like an hour after Anna Nicole Smith died, after I had been doing sets where I called her every name in the book. And I knew her! So it was very bizarre to go out and do my show. The whole audience was a little uncomfortable because she had literally just died. And it was a very controversial way to die, and here I am. I felt like 90 percent of the people in their seats knew exactly what I had always said about Anna Nicole, and they were kind of like, "All right, what's she gonna do?" Luckily, I've been through that a lot of times. I did a show right outside of Sanford, Florida, the night George Zimmerman got acquitted. And I did a rant on stage about how I thought he should've been found guilty, and there were so many boos I had to change the topic. The trial was like two seconds away, and it was just too raw for them. So I'm not afraid to "go there," but you never quite know what's going to happen. But I'll keep trying.
How do you rein them back in after getting booed?
Yeah, it's a whole art form. I call it "taking the audience's temperature." I can usually tell what the audience is into from my opening reel. That's how I start the show. It's five minutes long, and I think it's really funny. But it's just a reel of my jokes, and it almost acts as my opener, and it gets the audience where they need to be. And it's a way for me to kind of see what they're into. I know that reel so well, and I'm amazed by how people will laugh in different places.
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Do you have any projects coming up on the horizon that you want to mention before we wrap up the interview?
Yeah, I think the important thing to know is, look, when you're a 56-year-old woman who's been doing it as long as I've been doing it, you have to love every minute of it. I have two Emmys and a Grammy for best comedy album — one of only three women to win in the history of the Grammys — and I just want everyone to know that it's a constant, delicious grind. But when you're a woman, it really is different. So after having done three series with my name in the title, I wrote a book last year and worked my butt off to get it on the the bestsellers list, which it did. I produce New Year's Eve with Anderson Cooper, and I write 90 percent of that show myself. We got the highest ratings we've ever had this year. The book tour has been fantastic and hilarious, and kicking off the fifty-city Celebrity Run-Ins tour is awesome. So when you ask what's next, I'm not bullshitting you when I say I can't even predict anymore. Last year, the day after New Year's, I got a call asking if I wanted a book deal. So I never know what's really coming, but guess what's the one thing that's always happening no matter what? The live touring. So that's always going to be the main hub of the empire, if you will. Because I love it, and I love changing my material. I'm so grateful that my peeps keep coming to see me over and over, because they know they're going to be getting an all-new show.
Kathy Griffin performs at the Paramount Theatre at 8 p.m. Saturday, January 28. Tickets are $39.50 to $79.50; for more information, call 303-623-0106 or visit the Paramount Theatre box office page.