In 2009, trashy celebrity gossip reigns. We don't care about award shows unless Kanye West has a bottle of brandy in his tummy and a seat close to the stage. We're far less interested in precocious sextuplets than we are in their parents' rough tumble through tabloid divorce court. So it's not surprising that Kathy Griffin has found success as a comedic chronicler of this insatiable celebrity infatuation.
Many comedians have made a living by finding funny eccentricities in everyday life. But Griffin's show is less about what you did or saw yesterday and more about what you read on TMZ.
"It's water cooler talk," she says of her act. "It's a lot of smack talking about whoever is in the news. The stuff you can't say around the office, I come in and say for you."
Griffin will be performing Oct. 18 at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. She warns that the audience should expect a fun, foul-mouthed romp through the gutters of Hollywood. Thankfully, Bible thumpers typically have their Sunday dance card filled.
"It's an evening of swearing and negativity," Griffin says of her stand-up. "Here's the bottom line: Don't bring the goddamn kids. Not appropriate."
Griffin's brutal treatment of Hollywood's biggest stars gives her stand-up its delicious bite.
"I did Rachael Ray's show last week, and I actually heard the audience audibly gasp," Griffin says. "I don't feel like I've really done my job until a couple of people walk out and I hear gasping."
She'll be the first to cop to comedic license, but Griffin's red-carpet battle scars lend a bit of authenticity to her routine.
"We're going deep inside," she says of her new material. "We're going to talk about my run-in with Jon and Kate, presenting with crazy Paula Abdul at Divas Live."
But it's not just about celebrities anymore. With her Emmy-winning show My Life on the D-List, and a gay following rivaled by straight funny ladies everywhere, Griffin is no longer the girl standing outside looking in. Instead of rubbing celebrities the wrong way on the red carpet, she's signing autographs at after-parties.
The first time you see Kathy Griffin, you might just prattle on about how funny she was on NewsRadio. But that was another smart-mouthed redhead. Griffin was on the other sleeper hit of that era: Brooke Shield's Suddenly Susan. Don't laugh — the show lasted four seasons, and Shields wasn't carrying the whole thing on her freakishly tall shoulders.
Griffin went on to win on Celebrity Mole: Hawaii, a reality show (hosted by CNN anchor and Griffin's recent on-air New Year's date Anderson Cooper). But, regardless of her success before or after her hit Bravo series, Griffin will forever be a D-list diva.
The cable channel had a hit with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but found it difficult to mine for a second diamond in the reality show rough. Enter Griffin with the most self-effacing show, short of the one about the guy with the dirty jobs sticking his hand up a cow's ass. There was the desperate plotting to get celebrities to attend her fundraiser. There were the faux dates with D-list dudes in an attempt to get publicity. There were the nearly 1,000 people she met on tour who mistook her for "Kathie Gifford."
"This is a show that started out with basically a camcorder — though that part hasn't really changed — following me around for five months every day, hoping that I say something funny," Griffin says.
But, somewhere along the way, she started finding success. The show has two Emmy wins, one of which was followed by a scandalous acceptance speech with Griffin saying, "Suck it, Jesus." That sounds like good ol' Kathy, but the fact that she sent fellow nominee Ty Pennington home empty-handed was proof enough that this show wasn't about a struggling comedian anymore.
"Now, I've gone to Iraq. I performed in a maximum security prison. We went to an anti-prop 8 rally. We go to Melissa Etheridge's house, where she makes lesbian cookies," Griffin says. "It's really turned into kind of a big deal."
The show has provided a backstage look at Griffin and her adorable mother, portrayed by Griffin in her stand-up as a foul-mouthed wine connoisseur.
"Paula Deen came and cooked at my house," Griffin tells us. "It was embarrassing because she was making this pie. My mom, who may have been slightly tipsy, was trying to give Paula cooking tips. And my mother's best dish is a little thing called Hamburger Helper."
Her mom isn't the only one to get the blunt end of Griffin's comedy.
In one of her early TV specials back in 2004, Griffin started her routine by stamping a big disclaimer on the pot of trouble she was stirring.
"Everything I say is true, unless you're going to sue me," she said, right after calling Renée Zellweger a sweaty, puffy coke whore. "Don't sue me. I don't have anything. Everything I say is alleged. ... it's an homage."
Celebrities who are frequently abused include Oprah (and her "boyfriend" Gayle King), Ryan Seacrest, and Clay Aiken.
"I'm open about being a Claymate. I'll make fun of Clay, but I also enjoy his music," Griffin says. "Even though when I told him, he wasn't impressed and didn't give a shit."
And the Kathy Griffin brand has leaped beyond the TV screen. She recently released her second CD, Suckin' It For the Holidays, and Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin is a No. 1 New York Times best-seller.
In the book, Griffin shares her struggle for success, her failed marriage, her plastic surgery disaster, and the ridiculous celebrity stories you'd expect. But all anyone is talking about is her brief relationship with Jack Black.
"That was such an afterthought to put in the book," she says. "People always ask me if I've ever slept with anyone famous. And I always said, 'No, no.' Then I thought, well, I did date Jack, but he wasn't really famous then. I thought well, he's famous now, I should put it in there."
As for a current relationship, her last arm candy was Palin impregnator Levi Johnston at the Teen Choice Awards. She interviewed him the following night as a guest host on Larry King Live.
"I'm in a very serious committed relationship with Levi Johnston, and it's not at all a publicity stunt," Griffin says, her sarcasm barely audible over our laughter. "And I resent your tone because I have found love in my life.
"Let me tell you something, he spills," Griffin says of her new love. "This one is pissed off at Sarah Palin and talking about it. I'll be passing it all along."
On With the Show
It's what she does — wandering with and near Hollywood celebrities and bringing her sordid, foul-mouthed tales to theaters across America. And the hit show might be the fancy coat everybody compliments, but the stand-up routine is the dutiful coat rack it hangs on day after day.
There was a time when Griffin didn't know if her show would work on stage.
"I sort of came up in the brick-wall era of stand up," she says. "It was the comedian getting 10 minutes, and they'd stand in front of a brick wall, and it was one-liners: 'So, the dog's thinking ...,' 'Here's the difference between New York and L.A.,' 'Am I right ladies?' And that was never what I did. I would tell these stories, and I'd say, 'Oh my gosh, did you see this on the news yesterday,' Or I'd be like, 'I worked with this celebrity, and this is what they're really like.' "
With her unique act, Griffin started performing in small theaters instead of nightclubs, later translating the show for a club audience.
"My dream is to make it funny anywhere," she says. "Funny should be funny. It shouldn't rely on a certain style."
Griffin is honest enough to say she hasn't got a clue if she's ever been to Charleston before.
"I tour so much I'm like a foul-mouthed Britney Spears, who may or may not be receiving helpful medication," says Griffin, who is sure to get a dig in within the same breath of any celebrity she names. "It's not uncommon for Britney to say in whatever city she's in, 'Goodnight Vancouver.' I'm going to go with it, because it makes me feel very A-List."
There are no reservations about bringing her gay-loving, progressive fuck 'em attitude to the South.
"I find that the audiences in the South are more enthusiastic," she says. "And I find that the gays will make the drive. And that the people who have had it with Fox News and maybe want to make fun of the Glenn Becks, they're more enthusiastic. Sometimes I can let loose in a Southern market more than I could even in New York or New Jersey or any of the more godless, heathen places I play."
And Mark Sanford may be falling off the radar nationally, but Griffin says he'll get some time in the show.
"This is something we need to discuss as a family," she says. "It's going to basically be an open forum on Mark Sanford. It's like a Sanford colonic — we're leaving no kidney stone unturned."
And he won't be the only one getting poked in Griffin's routine.
"We'll be talking about Whitney in full detail," she says of Houston's comeback. "As well as all the fake divas at the Divas Live show. I personally am not comfortable putting Miley Cyrus in the diva category. Aretha. Cher. Celine. Tina Turner. Miley? Not so much.
"I love a party, and I love the USA, but I am not comfortable calling Miley a diva," she says, then groaning. "Now she is going to get mad and sext me."
The Best A-List Moments
The thing about Kathy Griffin’s comedy is that it doesn’t end when the lights come up in the auditorium or when the cameras go off on her show. Griffin is “on” 24-7. Here are our top five moments that have made Kathy Griffin famous.
5. During an innocent appearance on the Today show in June 2006 (interviewed by weatherman Al Roker, of course), Griffin tore into an early guest that morning: Ann Coulter. “What is she doing wearing a cocktail dress at seven in the morning for?” Griffin asked of Coulter’s trademark uniform. “She get home from the party last night? Doesn’t she make things up, Al? Who fact-checks?”
4. Griffin had already been booked as a guest host on The View for the day after Rosie O’Donnell’s surprise exit following a fight with co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. The comedian acted like she was tying to provoke Hasselbeck into a fight and told producer Barbara Walters, “I’d love it if Barbara would punch me in the face and I’d be on all the shows tomorrow.” The teasing went on, even after Walters warned, “Would you like to be on the show again?”
3. During E’s 2005 red carpet coverage of the Golden Globes, Griffin began a faux rumor that one of Hollywood’s blossoming 10-year-old stars had already hit troubled times. “We heard a rumor that little Dakota Fanning has entered rehab, and we wish her the best,” Griffin said. It provided terrific material for her show, including an uncomfortable introduction to director Steven Spielberg.
2. For the 2009 New Year’s celebration, Griffin was cohosting CNN’s coverage with Anderson Cooper. A Times Square reveler was heckling her, yelling from off camera. As they were heading to a break, Griffin loudly responded, “I don’t go to your job and knock the dicks out of your mouth.”
1. Griffin was an Emmy winner in 2007 for Best Reality Show. Accepting the trophy, she told the audience that Jesus had nothing to do with her winning the award. “Suck it, Jesus. This award is my God now,” she said. It was totally Kathy Griffin and it was hilarious, even confounding the clueless gang at Fox and Friends. “Why do people think that was funny?” a co-host asked the next morning. “People are laughing. Are they doing that out of deference to a comedian?” No, it’s because it’s funny. On her second turn on the stage for a win in 2008, Griffin said, “I’m not going to tell anyone to suck it. I would make love to this thing if I could.”
If you go
What: Kathy Griffin Live When: Sun. Oct. 18, 8 p.m.
Where: North Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum Drive, North Charleston
For Info: (843) 529-5000, coliseumpac.com