Kathy Griffin is Finding the Funny

Written by | Entertainment

Kathy Griffin is one of the most resilient entertainment personalities on record. Living life as an open book, we have been witnessing her career triumphs as well as her personal and public low points. Hitting the road with her new show tour, My Life on the PTSD-List, and having just announced her Fall extension hitting up Carnegie Hall and The Chicago Theatre among a long list of others, she is once again using her voice to cause a sensation on behalf of the LGBTQ community, those who suffer from PTSD, and those who give a damn about the future of the nation. A recent cancer survivor and being diagnosed with PTSD, she is hitting the stage maybe a bit more delicate, but no less fierce.

Before the fiery redhead hit the professional scene, she was already causing a sensation in her hometown of Oak Park, Illinois, entertaining the neighbors with stories about her family, taking lead roles in high school musicals, and antagonizing the nuns. Even as a kid, she was laying the foundation for being one of the queer community’s strongest allies.

I was an obnoxious kid who was in trouble constantly with the nuns. My poor mother would beg me not to show up at church with a wig because I wanted to look like Cher. So, I bought a long black hair wig thought it would blend in with my red hair, which by the way, I got from Sears. (Leave it to a drag queen like me to know where to get wigs when you’re only six years old.) I was just that kid that was enamored with television and as much as I loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show, I wanted to be Rhoda. I Love Lucy, I wanted to be Ethel because I thought, let the pretty girl go in and have her name on the show, but I want to go in and do the jokes and get the laugh.

Believe it or not, my high school was a great training ground for Hollywood because it was very competitive. I was lucky to go to a big public school that had a great drama department, I was biting and scratching all my way through high school. And even in grade school, I was that kid that would find the gay kid and make him my friend whether he liked it or not. We would talk about variety shows, about the Sonny and Cher Show, or anything. So, it’s a relationship that truly is organic. Ever since I can remember, I would find the gay kid in school and we’d spend time together and if that kid was getting bullied, I’d get in trouble because I’d stick up for him or her, and then we’d be in the principal’s office together.

What was it about hanging out with the gay kids that Kathy gravitated towards?

It’s a feeling that we share about being an outsider but wanting to look in. It doesn’t always mean we want to be in, right? You don’t always want to be in with a cool crowd because sometimes those kids would be mean, but you still wanted to know what they were up to. That’s why I called my show My Life on the D-List because I love being on the D-List. I have A-List moments now and again, but the D-List is freeing because it means I can hang out with my gays at the party. And maybe I’m not in the VIP part of the party, but I’m still hanging out with my gays, judging everybody who’s on the inside of the cool crowd.

But let me tell you something. Being an ally is more than just hanging out with fabulous gay people and hanging out with industrious lesbians. My activism started as long ago as I can remember. Sometimes I would infiltrate a club in my high school that was not nice to the gay kids, and I’d be like a mole. I could go and say, “Hey, this football player is going to try to beat you up after school on Thursday. Let’s go form a little alliance and let’s make sure we get that kid in trouble.” That’s why when I got canceled by the government, they didn’t know I’ve had a lifetime of getting in trouble since I can remember. You’ve got to stand up to the bullies, and there are ways to stand up to bullies. Sometimes it’s going to a march and stuff, but the activism and the allyship continue.

Away from the spotlight or major media coverage, Kathy has been fighting on our behalf in the courts for the past three years, with little fanfare or support from our community. In 2021, Samuel Johnson, CEO of VisuWell, was caught on camera harassing two boyfriends taking photos for their prom, one of whom was wearing a dress. The video went viral with social media clamoring for an apology for his blatant homophobia. Griffin took to Twitter, tagging VisuWell, demanding action. The company not only fired Johnson as CEO but also from the Board of Directors. Johnson filed a suit against Griffin and is currently in the Tennessee federal court in its third year of litigation. The suit sets a dangerous precedent regarding the responsibility for hate mongers caught on camera.

This guy’s not getting a dime from me. Let him try. And he has been trying for years and the case gets dismissed and then he appeals, he gets dismissed and he keeps appealing. If I lose this case, that means anybody who goes on social media, whether it’s TikTok or Twitter or Instagram, and voices how they feel about a powerful person harassing out and proud LGBTQ kids, if you post about it, or your mom posts about it, or your cousin posts about it, then you can be dragged into court. It’s a big case and there’s a reason he keeps going up to higher courts. Let’s see how far he gets because, let me tell you something, you don’t want me in a courtroom in Tennessee because I’m going to protect these kids, they’re minors. So what if one of them had a dress on, who gives a shit? They weren’t bothering this guy. All this guy had to do was go back and have his dinner. So that’s what I’m saying when it comes to being an ally, there are many forms that can take. Do what you have to, because if Trump gets reelected, you can kiss marriage goodbye on day one. You can kiss all your civil rights goodbye on day one, day two, and day three.

And it’s not just the presidential race that matters, it’s down ballot. It’s the judges, it’s your local reps. Find a good LGBTQ organization that’s done the research for you and just go on their website and make sure you get out there and vote. My friend Gloria Steinem, I’m gonna drop a name, but the great Gloria Steinem – feminist icon – gave a speech that just about had me in tears. She said it’s all about the Republicans and the far, far right. She said this movement that’s going on now is so anti-gay, they are not playing around. And they’re going to take every single civil right you have, marriage is going to be almost the least of it. This is a party that doesn’t think you guys should be allowed to exist. They don’t just want to throw you back in the closet. If you get attacked on the streets, good luck. I hate to be really serious, but I just want you guys to know I’m out there fighting for you and you guys got to fight too, because I feel kind of out there and alone on this Tennessee case, but I know if you guys know about it, you’ll help me out to get the word out.

From playing Hodel in her high school musical to convincing her parents to move to Los Angeles when she was 18, to infiltrating Hollywood’s comedy scene, to having one of the first highly successful reality TV shows and putting Bravo on the map, to becoming a thriving brand unto herself, she has garnered a long list of career accolades. Two-time Emmy Winner, six-time Grammy nominee with a win, Guinness Book World record breaker for the highest number of air television specials ever, New York Times bestseller for her memoir A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin, GLAAD award recipient, are all titles under her belt, all while selling out comedy tours around the nation and building an on-screen resume. Even with these wins, the media still focuses on her bans and being canceled by a presidential regime. Is she able to step back and appreciate all that she’s accomplished?

I am and I’m not, because I hear my dear departed beloved mother Maggie, who’s drinking a box of wine in heaven if I know her, “You’re never done. And there’s always more.” And that’s how I feel. That’s why I’m so thrilled to be on this 40-city tour with bigger cities in the fall. I hope I’m un-canceled enough to eventually get a special because I’m just dying to do another special, I have this material I’m dying to get out there. So hopefully the networks and the streamers will hear this and give me that special.

Through all of Kathy’s career ups and downs, cancel culture nipping at her toes, and her long absence from the scene, her fans continue to rally and fill seats. What is it about her that Kathy thinks they come back for?

No two shows are alike. I make every show personal. My peeps know every time I go out there, I give it 110% because that’s all I know how to do. And I love it. And the show’s personal and they know I’m gonna give ’em the real deal dirt whether I get in trouble for it or not.

And get into trouble she has. The night before this interview she appeared in Tarrytown, New York, the home of the Headless Horseman. Needless to say, she prepared material just for the occasion, and it may have referenced another headless moment from Kathy’s career, a comedy move that caused her to lose major gigs, become ostracized and targeted by the government, being detained at airports for hours, and, more importantly, lose close friends from her circle. The repercussions of that move would force Kathy into depression, isolation, and poor mental and physical health. But she picked up the pieces and persevered, firing back with her A Hell of a Story show.

I was so emotionally on edge, every minute. I felt the only time I got respect, honestly, was when I was on stage. But the notion that the former president and the former attorney general would put me on the Interpol list, calling overseas allies, was just insanity. It was the kind of level of insanity that led me to probably get addicted to the prescription pills, which I’m now three and a half years sober from. My friends that ditched me, and I’ll say it was most of them, didn’t come back. A lot of people who turned their backs on me had a kind of self-righteousness to it like they were going to put me in my place. These executives who fired me, and these executives who issued their public statement, everybody and their cousin felt the need to issue a statement. Every time I turned on CNN, there was a new statement or there were people arguing about how terrible I was. And I didn’t have an advocate among them.

To this day, I still can’t believe the number of people who are supposedly smart, educated people going on news organizations saying, yeah, she should be on the no-fly list, she’s a terrorist, she might as well be in ISIS. It was just insanity. I think a lot of ’em that stuck to that feeling, they never could bother and call me and say, “Hey, you know what? Maybe I overreacted.” I just gotta try to get over it.

Kathy would barely get her footing back when lung cancer reared its ugly head. Having never smoked before, she had to have half of her left lung removed. Her voice, her one tool that never left her side, was gone. It continues to be a long road back to rehabilitation. She is self-conscious about her voice, even though her message remains loud, and is undergoing more surgeries to make her physical voice stronger. She is bringing everything to the stage for her My Life on the PTSD-List tour, bringing humor to her situation and spreading mental health awareness and pro-LGBTQ messages to the forefront.

I thank God for this tour because something happens; maybe it’s muscle memory, it’s psychological, I don’t know what it is, but something happens. I’m not kidding. The minute my feet touch that stage, I’m at home, I relax, I’m excited, and I’m a high-energy nut bag. My audiences have been on their feet every single show. And I know I sound like an asshole saying that, but it’s so meaningful and it’s true. It’s so meaningful because I think the people coming to this tour, they know, they saw the picture, they know I had freaking cancer. I wear a special headset now because it helps me amplify my voice and everybody’s really forgiving. My impressions aren’t as good as they used to be. But if I do an impression of Oprah or somebody, they know who I’m doing and they just kind of go along with it. It’s really been magical and I’m so thrilled to keep continuing and I get to play these wonderful venues. It’s just a dream.

What is she most excited to use her voice to talk about, being back onstage?

I was excited to talk about PTSD because I feel like our nation collectively has a bit of PTSD. COVID alone, let’s not act like we handled that well, that was not our finest moment as a nation. I mean, Jesus, the anti-vaxxers and the QAnons and honey, when I found out there were gay QAnons, I was like, hold it, hold the phone. There’s a gay QAnon who thinks Hillary Clinton is harvesting baby parts in the basement of a pizza parlor? For God’s sake, I gotta go back on the road. There’s just so much out there that needs to be said. But also, it’s still me, right? I’m still telling stories about when I went on vacation in Mexico with Sia and everything went wrong on the trip. It was hilarious.

She’s also added a story of a party where an exuberant Gigi Gorgeous gave her a piggyback ride which ended up with Kathy sprawled out on the floor, with her dress up and not much (if any) underwear to hide her goods. She’s waiting for that moment to go viral, or she’ll start an OnlyFans, she hasn’t decided.

So, yes, Kathy has definitely been through the wringer.  In her personal life, belying the comedy and brash we see as her persona, she has been through a number of losses in her family, including the loss of her beloved parents, which she so openly shared with the world. Her bouts with PTSD can be intense, resulting in vomiting, even in the middle of the night. But she goes on, with her next tour date keeping her going. She credits her gays and her girlfriends for being there, and for every part of her tour, she brings one with her to be there for comfort. During this interview, she had THE E. Jean Carroll by her side, while both in bathrobes, cheering each other on. So yes, Kathy is different, but that fire has not dimmed one bit.

And her message to her fans?

If you’re coming to the show, come with an open heart and an open mind. I’m still going to try to shock you. I still love getting the gay gasp. I did a show last night where I know I went too far and I’m going to do a show tomorrow night where I’ll go even farther. Just know I’m out there for you and I’m doing anything to make you laugh. I’ll do cartwheels. I’ll let Gigi Gorgeous drop me without underpants. Anything for a laugh, especially in the darkest of times. I just encourage you to look at whatever’s going on in your life, if it’s a struggle somehow try to find the funny, even if it’s cancer or addiction or depression. Try to find the funny and it’ll give you that little glimmer for your day that’ll somehow get you through.

I just want to say to the young gays, in particular, don’t feel disenfranchised. I know you feel hopeless, or you feel like your vote doesn’t matter. It DOES matter and it matters even in a blue state. I’m registered in California and that’s where I vote. But it matters everywhere, every single place. So please, young gays, get out there and make a party out of it. Bring your friends, do whatever, you must vote all the way down the ballot for your rights. Who are the representatives that know you, that see you? And don’t even start me on the trans community because you people are in such danger. It’s absolutely terrifying. So, get out there for the whole community.

Thank you, Kathy, for using your voice, in every condition, for our community.

For tickets for Kathy’s tour, head to KathyGriffin.net

Last modified: April 1, 2024