Kathy Griffin has never shied away from controversy, but a satirical photo spread of the comedian holding up the (fake) decapitated head of President Trump prompted enough hand wringing to end her CNN New Year's Eve telecast and make her the target of a federal investigation. Fortunately, the modern news cycle delivers a fresh outrage every day, so Griffin's been able to weather her enforced hiatus and return to the stage fiercer and funnier than ever. A two-time Grammy and Emmy Award winner who holds the Guinness World Record for highest number of televised standup specials, Griffin is back with a vengeance on the Laugh Your Head Off World Tour, an opportunity for fans to hear the comic's own hilarious take on the Trump photo debacle.
Westword caught up with Griffin over the phone to discuss her year of fallout, spill some tea about Roseanne and dispel the baffling rumor that she's joined the Islamic State.
Westword: Hello Kathy. Thanks for doing the interview.
Kathy Griffin: Byron, you're a freak. I'm looking at your Twitter feed.
Yeah, that's right. I've been doing some research on you, my friend.
The tables have really turned here.
I don't know if you know, but I often speak of my alcoholic 98-year-old mother in my act. But I was wondering if she could be a nominee for your Designated Drunkard night.
Okay, because she's going to kick your fucking ass. You could never keep up with her drinking. She's got 98 years of experience over your ass. Now, I've never had a drink in my life — how about that?
I've heard that.
I'll tell you why; I don't think I should loosen up at all. Just being sober has got me in enough trouble. Now let's talk about my crisis and how I prevailed over the goddamn president, the Oval Office, the First Family, the right-wing media and the Department of Justice.
I was going to ask: How long do you think it’ll be before every interview you do doesn’t have to begin with addressing your infamous TMZ photo?
First of all, I like talking about it. Because now, in hindsight, many of the things I said when people were labeling me a card-carrying member of ISIS — seriously, at the last Trump rally, because, you know, he can't stop himself — and I do try not to watch the rallies, but occasionally I'll see a clip of it on MSNBC or something, and I have yet to see any footage where there's not at least one fool carrying my picture on a sign that says "Kathy Griffin = ISIS."
That's just bad math.
I don't think I meet any of the requirements for ISIS, all right? First of all, I'm 57. I could break a goddamn hip! I don't think I could do that training camp; they've got a jungle gym and all kinds of exercises I couldn't do. And I haven't looked into this, but I don't think ISIS lets their members be standup comedians, especially not the women. So can you just dispel that myth?
Now, I know you appreciate a drunkard, and I come from a family of drunkards (led by my mother, the patriarch of drunkery — or matriarch, I should say). So on May 30, 2017 — the day that changed my life forever — I had to talk to my mom for two hours to convince her I was not in ISIS because she'd been watching Fox News without her hearing aids on. So I gotta deal with that shit! After that, I called Rosie O'Donnell crying because my mom thinks I joined ISIS, and Rosie says [puts on a pretty solid O'Donnell impression], "Are you kidding? You should tape it. That's fucking hilarious." So I did. I have my mother on tape going, "If you joined ISIS, you're on your own! I told you to be a goddamned dental hygienist, and now look what's happened." So that's the world that we live in.
You take a picture, very covered by the First Amendment, but these Trumpers will yell "Lock her up" about me. I'm in a new GOP ad, I just want you to know. In my mind, I think they just really enjoy having me as a target.
Trump's a pussy. He's not going to really go after Snoop, or Johnny Depp, or Morrissey, or all the other people who've supposedly threatened him. Even as time passes, they will not let me go. Like with Samantha Bee, I think her crisis is over because she's got a TV show and I don't; same thing with Michelle Wolf, who has a Netflix series and I don't. But I'm on a mission to make sure that this never happens to anyone again, much less a female comedian. So when the Samantha Bee thing happened, I immediately contacted her and started an online campaign. I got my five million followers across three platforms to flood TBS with calls saying "Don't let the president cancel Full Frontal. This is America."
And when the Michelle Wolf thing happened at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, get this shit, Byron, I was in the room! I was at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and I got a kickass story out of it. I got into fights with like three people. I wrote a whole thread sticking up for Michelle even though I don't know her, I've never met her, and frankly, haven't heard anything back from her. But I wrote the thread because I realized, "Holy shit, I'm the only other standup comic in the whole room. Not only that, but I'm actually a rather accomplished female standup comic, so I felt like I needed to write that thread, which got picked up by The Hill and Huffington Post. So I am on a comedy mission. But don't worry — I still tell plenty of dick jokes.
Do you think there's too much actual outrage for these phony scandals to stick around the way they used to?
Well, for me, they stuck around longer. I get death threats almost daily. I still get calls from the FBI. The weird thing about the Trump people, as we all know, is that they'll sort of just pick a few people to hate, and somehow I've made it into the inner sanctum. I think it's because I know this fool.
But, honestly, even after the photo, this tour is selling better than I've sold in ten years. I played Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall two days apart. No comedian has ever done that before, male or female, living or dead. So as I go on my comedy mission, I'm also looking to set records. I've recorded 23 fucking specials; I'm in the Guinness World Records. I've had so many comedians, wealthy, famous comedians who are much more successful than I, say "We're all watching you. We're all waiting to see if you can come back from this."
How have you made it work?
I've had to change my whole business model. I was deserted by all my agents and publicists, of course. At first there was just a dogpile of viciousness. But I know that the audience wants to hear about it. I tell them the good, the bad and the ugly. They all want to hear about Anderson Cooper. I know what my peeps want. And I think the picture that nearly took me down was in fact what allowed me to go global. You're talking to the seventh-most-Googled person of 2017. For all the wrong reasons, but still.
But when I couldn't get work in my country of origin, I did an overseas tour. I started out in Auckland, New Zealand, went to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Singapore, London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Vienna, Cologne, Helsinki — not near the summit, just so you know — Oslo and Reykjavik! How many comedians have you talked to who were excommunicated by the goddamn fake President and had to go to Reykjavik, where I'm second to only their queen, Björk. You're talking to one of the new darlings of Iceland.
So after that, I thought, "Is North America ready to forgive me for not even doing one thing wrong?" I wasn't sure. I'm still very popular with Fox News and all the right-wing folks. I was on the cover of the Daily Caller a few days ago. The trolls haven't gone away, whether they're robots or some twelve-year-old in Macedonia. So if you were gonna tweet something nice like, "Just got off the phone with Kathy Griffin, and, boy, is she a delight," you'd be flooded with trolls speaking broken English — "Bad lady be in ISIS," or whatever. So if you get any blowback for this article, don't worry, because they're just Russian trolls. And while we're on the topic of Russia, you just know that Trump definitely pissed on those poor, poor whores. Tick-tock, motherfucker. Those tapes are coming out. If Omarosa'd had them, we'd have seen it already.
Yeah, I never thought I'd be grateful for Omarosa.
Now that we're in the Omarosa swirl, you know what? The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The more people who have tapes, the better. Dox these motherfuckers already. God knows they tried to take me down. Don Jr., who I like to call Eddie Munster, he went on Good Morning America and George Stephanopoulos asked him, "In hindsight, do you think you and your family overreacted to the Kathy Griffin photo?" And he said "Oh, no. We're out to decimate her." Decimate her! Decimate!
That's like ten times worse than a beheading.
So I had hundreds and thousands of dollars' worth of legal fees, but I was eventually exonerated. But as far as my act goes, it's made me worse. Meaning I'm more fearless than ever. I couldn't care less if people protest outside my shows. Sometimes there's a protest; sometimes there isn't. I had a pretty pathetic little protest in Charlotte from some local Nazi group — I did not see that coming — who got a two-hour permit from the city. And I'm not gonna lie: I don't mean to say hats off to these guys because they're "God-hates-fags"-slash-neo-Nazis-slash-alt-right guys, but just for their willingness to stand outside in that humidity, I almost gave them comps. I didn't because I know they want to assassinate me, and every day online I get very specific death threats about how they're going to shoot me in the cunt, cut my head off, stuff my head up my cunt and then shoot me again. That's one of the most common ones.
So the protest started out at 6, and then two of them went home because it was too hot. There was a long line of cops, and when my fans showed up — and I know it's a cliché to say this, but I have the best fans. The industry, people who I thought were my friends, they all abandoned me. But the ticket-buying public have kept showing up, and when they saw these protestors, they just laughed at them and handed out water.
Am I a hypocrite for being annoyed that you got fired but happy that Roseanne did?
No, you're correct. In fact, what's hypocritical is ABC giving her a large-budget sitcom in the first place. Her online activity has been going for a while. I wasn't really following her, but I've checked out her feed, and they had to have already known all this stuff. Ironically enough, Hollywood can be the last to come around. I think in the real world, or at least in the comedy world, we all knew Roseanne was leaning so far to the right that she's retweeting Nazi shit now. Who at ABC couldn't do a simple Google search?
I throw Roseanne under the bus in my act, too. Fuck that Nazi. Don't go after a shooting survivor like David Hogg and expect me not to comment on it. Right now, I think Hollywood is still a bit scared of me. But I've made a lot of money for a lot of corporations, and I'm definitely taking more meetings now. Luckily, with every week that goes by, the administration does something far worse than taking a photo with a mask covered in ketchup. Some people thought I was holding up an actual head. That's where we are now. People used to get their information from newspapers, and now they get it from fucking Facebook.
If there's a little blue checkmark by your name, you must be legit.
Well I don't know anymore. I don't know what the hell Jack Dorsey is thinking. I'm going after all of them. Fuck ’em! Fuck Zuckerberg, fuck Sandberg; she should lean the fuck back out! They're all taking payments in rubles; it's a bunch of bullshit. But I do feel a little more vindicated as time goes on, and I am reveling in it. Because I am a bitter bitch. And I think bitterness and negativity are a bit underrated. It's often a healthy way to get things out.
Good motivators, too.
It’s a good motivator, you’re darn right! And like I said, I had to change my whole business model. I had to hire a D.C. marketing firm because frankly, Live Nation and AEG and all the promoters, their geo-targeting is so antiquated toward this, you know, compared to the firm I hired, because they actually do unknown Congress people. So the way I’ve sold out their tour is I can no longer just blanket Denver with posters and ads and say “Kathy Griffin is coming to Denver. Do you want to go?” I had to start — and you can make fun of me, but I started my first mailing list in February, and I’ve actually sold out this whole tour with my mailing list and my text list, because the purpose of it was “Only sign up for this mailing list if you want me to come to your town.”
So then I actually text and email each person back, being like, “Okay,” you know the Denver people. All right, so let’s say you 5,000 people in Denver signed up and said, “If you come to Denver, I’ll buy a ticket, damn it.” So that’s what it’s been. It’s been a whole Team Griffin. We’re small but we’re mighty, and I’ve had to really find my peeps, because I’m a different comic now.
My life’s been changed irrevocably. My material definitely has more meat on the bone. It’s a story I feel needs to be told. And honestly, I hope it sees the light of day in a docuseries or a documentary or something. Because it’s all — actually, a lot of it’s funny too — so I just really don’t want your readers to think they’re just going to hear a boring lecture on the first amendment. I throw in a lot of light, fluffy shit, everything from living next door to Kim and Kanye — you heard me — to spending the day with Stevie Nicks when we were both on tour in Australia, and she was playing a giant stadium, and I have a great story about that that’s actually funny. So I do go back and forth. I can tell if the audience starts to get freaked out, like when I tell about the interrogation and being under oath and all that shit. You know they were considering charging me with conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States?
I didn’t until I started doing research for this article. I had no idea the extent of how bad all that shit you went through was.
Thank you, because that’s what keeps Hollywood behind. I just did the two shows in New York, and I did two nights at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, and the people that came from the industry, and not a lot did because I’m still so scary and dangerous, but the people that came immediately called my lawyer the next day, because I don’t have an agent, and they wanted to meet. I actually get a lot of gratification going, "Wow, I didn’t know it was that bad," because like I said, I’m on a comedy mission to go, “This is how bad it is. This is how bad it could be for you tomorrow.”
And when I said in my horrible and embarrassing press conference before I shitcanned that asshole Lisa Bloom, “If it could happen to me, it could happen to you.” It’s already happening to other people, civilians and otherwise, but I was the first celebrity that got thrown into the, I call it, "the Trump woodchipper." Prior to me they were just doing politicians. And also, that was pre-MeToo. It was pre-Weinstein, and so a lot of people also think if it had gone up after that, it would have been maybe different. But now they just got their teeth into me like a dog with a bone, but it’s kind of getting funny.
But you know, to be put on the no-fly list for two months? I’m still on the Interpol list to be detained at fifteen foreign airports where they take your passport and your phone and go away and you don’t know when they’re coming back. That’s some heavy shit, so I feel compelled to tell this story. But being a standup-comedy addict, as I happily admit that I am, I also just want you guys to know that I pepper the whole thing with lots of laughs. Everyone is going to be laughing at the end. But there’s a couple jaw-dropping moments; I’m not going to shit you.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
A portion of the proceeds from the Laugh Your Head Off tour are going toward the benefit of the Trevor Project. How did you get involved with them, and why do you think more people should know about their efforts?
I've been involved with them a long time. The nice thing, too, is that their hotline doesn't reject straight people. A lot of people think of them as merely a LGBTQIA2345Caitlin service, but if you're in distress, they will talk to you no matter who you are. And I've raised $12,000 for them myself. And I knew the corporate entities wouldn't let me do it, so instead of going through Live Nation, I thought, "Let me just put up the money myself." So, yeah, it was $2 per every ticket purchased in the month of June, at every show across the country. It's just a nice thing to do. I'm a bitch, so I'm just going to say this: When I see other celebrities donating like $500 to some tragedy, I'm like, "Oh, fuck off! I gave $12,000 to Trevor Project, and you don't even want to know how much money I gave for the AIDS memorial in L.A." I'm very proud to give them that check. And why not?
This tour is about telling this story. My favorite reaction is when people walk out of the theater going, "Wow, I had no idea," while still laughing about my crazy stories about one of my new puppies who, even after I got him neutered, won't stop licking his lipstick. I had to get him a cone! I've got a dog who blows himself, Byron! What more could you want from a show? I bring everything to the table! I don't just bring everything to the table, I bring the table too, goddamn it!