How Kathy Griffin Gets A Head in Show Business

By Ashley Naftule, November 2018 issue.

If living well is the best revenge, vengeance must feel especially sweet for Kathy Griffin.

The veteran comic faced a firestorm of controversy last year when she posted a photo of herself holding up a decapitated Trump head. The image was on-brand for the brassy, give-no-fucks Griffin. The prolific standup comic is Joan Rivers’ heir apparent, sharing the departed legend’s love for lampooning and ripping apart celebrities with savage glee (and like Rivers, Griffin’s knack for cutting cattiness has earned her a devoted LGBT[Q] following). And she’s never been one to be coy about her left-leaning politics.

But the image proved to be too hot for Hollywood and political pundits, who roundly condemned the comedian. She got blacklisted from venues, dropped from her New Year’s Eve CNN gig, and was investigated by the government. Some commentators viewed it as a permanent fall from grace, but the 57-year-old comic has clawed her way back up with a triumphant world tour.

Griffin has toured her new standup show, Laugh Your Head Off, across Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S. She’s fully embraced her status as an anti-Trump firebrand, selling merch on her website that reflects her convictions: Impeach Brett keychains, Fuck Trump mugs, even an air freshener of Trump in a prison jumpsuit pissing himself. And while industry insiders prophesized that her career was over after the photography incident, box office receipts don’t lie: the fiery-haired comic is more popular than ever. She’s also donating the proceeds from her June ticket sales to the Trevor Project, the non-profit organization focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth.

Talking to Griffin on the phone, she reveals herself to be a gregarious and impassioned speaker: The kind of raconteur who can switch gears from politics to dropping some hot goss at the drop of a hat.

Echo: You’re closing out your world tour at the Phoenix Symphony Hall. What made you choose Arizona as your curtain call?

Griffin: When I decided to go on tour, I put out my first mailing list ever and asked people to sign up if they wanted me to do a concert in their town. And Phoenix came through in a big way. That’s honestly how I decided which cities to perform in.

I am so excited about playing Phoenix Symphony Hall. I’m going to spill a lot of scalding hot tea up there. I do have one fear, though, which is that someone comes to the show accidentally thinking it’s a night of symphonic music and instead they get a night of resistance and dick jokes.

Echo: What can folks expect to hear you talk about at the show?

Griffin: There are a few parts of the show I call the meat and bones. About my interrogation, the dealings with the FBI. What it’s like to live under that spectrum of federal agencies for two months while they’re seriously considering charging me personally with the crime of conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States. Which carries a lifetime sentence! All this over a photo a citizen put up on Twitter that aggrieved the president.

I think it’s significant because the arts, the gay people, the folks in the Arab community, the academics: We’re the first to go. It’s shirts and skins, baby. Us against them. And they, as Kamala Harris said, have all the power. We have to take it back. And let me tell you – Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who is a member of your community whether he wants to admit it or not, has been a busy bee tearing away at LGBT[Q] rights. They’re now rescinding the rights of openly gay members of the military to be able to go to their locations with their spouse. So if there’s a gay U.S. military member in South Korea and they meet a guy in Seoul and get married, the new rule is that the Korean guy can’t come back home with their enlisted spouse. They’re clearly trying to tear away at the fabric of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I can’t believe we have to religitate this fucker.

But I’m still going to dish on the Kardashians, and I’ve got lots of great celebrity stories. I’m not going to do a three-hour lecture on the First Amendment. You’ll be laughing first and foremost, but I also do want to tell a story. And whenever that story starts to get too frightening, I throw in a nice fluffy Kim Kardashian story. You know they were my neighbors during this entire ordeal?

Echo: I had no idea.

Griffin: I lived next to Kanye and Kim. I had already moved by the time he went on TMZ and said slavery was a choice. They were very courteous neighbors, but I’m just saying: his wife has got her hands full.

Echo: What was your take on seeing your former neighbor talking to Trump in the Oval Office?

Griffin: I look at these things in a different way. I was on the no-fly list for two months, yet we’re living in a time when Ted Nugent gets invited to the Oval Office after saying, multiple times, that he would shoot Barack Obama. He gets invited, and I’m still on the Interpol list.

I do think it’s ironic that he was very interested in manufacturing jobs because it seemed to me like he was trying to say to Trump, “How can I make my shit cheaper? What country does Ivanka do it in? Can you please just point me towards the Ivanka sweatshops?” I know Kanye wants to be a creative visionary, but I have breaking news for him -- Manufacturing is not coming back. Coal is not coming back. He wants to be the new Steve Jobs, and yet he thinks this stuff is actually going to come back. That’s like Lucille Ball coming back.

Echo: How did you get involved with The Trevor Project?

Griffin: The first time I ever did a Trevor event was here in Los Angeles. I hosted it, and Drew Carey was there, and the cast from “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” I remember thinking, OK, that’s cool, Drew’s an ally. I’ve been working with them ever since. That’s why I got the idea to make a donation to them based on every single ticket sold in the month of June. All of the tickets, and not just a “portion of the proceeds.” When celebrities do that, it’s such bullshit. A portion of the proceeds – fuck that shit. I wrote a $12,000 check and presented it to them at my D.C. show. Probably all the proceeds. Dammit, portion my ass.

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