Was Kathy Griffin too far ahead of the curve?
No one saw this comeback coming. At the same time, no one saw the response to a mock photo on TMZ of Kathy Griffin holding a decapitated head of President Trump. Was it too soon?
May 30, 2017 was the day that ignited the immediate downfall of Kathy Griffin. A plethora of cancelled gigs, endorsements, and tour dates, was followed with the deterioration of long-standing friendships and business relationships. As if matters could not worsen, Griffin was then added to various ‘kill lists’ and ultimately forced to undergo a two-month federal investigation for a single photograph.
Nevertheless, a lot can change in one year. As countless scandals and controversies began to emerge from the Oval Office, Griffin continued to have a career outside of the country. Internationally the Trump administration is viewed with a much more critical eye. This Spring, Griffin announced tour dates for the North American leg of the Laugh Your Head Off World Tour. She sold out Carnegie Hall in a single day. With additional tour dates being added, Kathy Griffin took some time off to sit down with me.
Where do we start?
Thank you for opening up to Out In Jersey about such strong subject matter…
Kathy Griffin: Will, you’re not gay or anything, are you? I don’t talk to those people…
Of course I am!
KG: Thank God! Where do we start? I was just looking at your page on the Out In Jersey website and you are basically with all of my homegirls. I don’t really know Janet Jackson, but you’re with Lisa Lampanelli, who is such a good-hearted girl, and Margaret Cho, who actually was one of the first people on the planet to say ‘Kathy Griffin, I believe you can do standup!’
Now give us that exclusive throwback tea.
KG: Early on, Cho and I were only doing alternative spaces. Then, she got a gig at Carolines on Broadway and invited me to see her show. I thought I could never do that. However, she was so supportive with helping me take my storytelling style and make it work at a club. So, there you go, I am starting out with a big homage to Margaret Cho ‘cause she’s queer!
I posted on social media that I was going to be interviewing you and asked our readers for questions. So, in come a plethora of inquiries about your iconic mother, Maggie…
KG: You are not the first person to tell me that. I am a fragile person as it is with all I’ve experienced within this last year. The last thing I need is another gay man saying, ‘where is your goddamn mother?’ She is no saint, Will; she is drunk on her BevMo! wine ever since this buy one for $15, get the second for five cents deal. Meanwhile, I can barely get a gig!
Has the negative depiction of you within the media caused your mother to win over your own fanbase?
KG: I am bitter. I am not saying I beat my mother, but this might be the moment where I just fucking slap her across the face! I have been posting adorable photos of my 98-year-old mother. So get this: BevMo! has been reaching out to my mother on Instagram–and what if my mother gets a giant high-paid endorsement!? Meanwhile, people think I am a member of ISIS because I took a harmless photo of a mask with ketchup on it, and my own mother is shunning me because she is afraid my image will interfere with her potential endorsement as she is now the ‘progressive one.’
My bet is on your mother solidifying this endorsement.
KG: Let me tell you, when I ask for my 10%, that is going to be an NRA situation. Maggie will be all ‘out of my cold dead hands.’ My mother still watches Fox News, just with the sound off, which I am still struggling with.
For someone who is as conservative as your mother, what did she think when you experienced such backlash, in particular from the right-wing media and our own President?
KG: This is one of the ways I have had to learn to just make shit funny because it became so dark, so horrible, so fucked up. As of May 30, 2017, my life changed forever. My mother literally called me berating, ‘how can you join ISIS, of all the clubs you could have joined?’ Yet, she still took it better than literally everyone else. Then again, she also got death threats herself. People were losing their minds.
Do you in any way regret the photoshoot?
The infamous tongue-in-cheek Trump photograph by controversial photographer Tyler Shields hit TMZ prior to its initial release, with the headline “Kathy Griffin Beheads President Trump–I Support Gore.” Immediately thereafter, you faced a plethora of lost performance gigs, sponsorships and your decade-long New Years CNN anchor role. Do you in any way regret the photoshoot, and given a second chance, would you still execute it in the same manner?
KG: While I do not regret anything, I do wish that Tyler had not sold it to TMZ of all places, because Harvey Levin is super pro-Trump. During my last conversation with Harvey Levin, he was literally trying to sell me on voting for Trump. I said, ‘Harvey, you are a gay man, you used to be a consumer advocate of the local news, actually doing helpful work. Do you think Donald Trump cares about your community? How much money do you need?’ He tried to make the economic argument, but that man has more money than Trump, I guarantee you. He is due to give a big fat check to some gay charities, let me just say that. Nevertheless, despite all the money, I lost because of this… I did collaborate with Tyler on the concept thinking it would be a two-day media scandal, if anything, that would blow over.
Do you feel as though the public apology you had initially issued harmed you more than helped you at the time?
KG: Yes. Frankly, in hindsight, I didn’t know there was this big campaign apparatus in place. I did not realize I was part of this media grinding machine. At the end of the day, I was just the wood-chipper of the day. It was less than two weeks after Robert Mueller had been exposed so the Donald was having another orange freak out and in desperate need of a scapegoat. I know now that I am just part of a group of folks, issues, and entities to use when Trump is having an especially embarrassing day, ala Colin Kaepernick. For example, just recently out of the blue, a full year later, Sean Hannity published a big blog about my Trump photo, conveniently two days before it was revealed he was being represented by Michael Cohen. I am just this shiny object used to distract their followers from the real trouble they are all involved in.
Do you feel you as though you were set up for failure? Moreover, do you feel certain constitutional rights of ours as a people are in jeopardy?
KG: I have to actually defend the photograph even though it so adversely affected my life initially. This is a First Amendment issue. Many right-wing and Trump folks genuinely do believe what I did was illegal. Hell, the right-wing media was actually suggesting I be locked up, and insinuating I broke the law. Honestly, that photo changed my life overnight. It is historic. Until then, never in history has a sitting president used the power of the Oval Office and the first family to try to decimate an American citizen, much less a 57 year-old comedian. I was the easiest target for him to go for. I think Harvey Levin’s relationship with the President is what helped lead to my temporary demise. TMZ was literally recording the cancellations of my 50-city tour due to death threats and bomb threats in real time. Something they have never ever done previously.
Donald Trump is seemingly the only president in recent history who has been so vocal about his fixation with his celebrity image as well as how he is perceived by the press, media and entertainment industries. Do you feel the federal investigation was done out of spite?
KG: Clearly. This was a two-month federal investigation over a mock photo. I had Don Jr. tweeting, then his father a.k.a. the accidental president, and it all blew up. Suddenly, I was all over Fox and the right-wing media and ‘banned from CNN for life.’ I only worked [at CNN] one day out of the year to begin with. Meanwhile, the oldest two sons have killed people, allegedly. Also, the gays have to let go of hope that Ivanka is going to be ‘the one.’ She is dumb as a stick, and just like her father, doesn’t give a shit about anyone except herself.
Where does your friendship with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen stand now?
It appeared as though you were abandoned by many of your celebrity friends, including former besties Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen. Where does your friendship with the aforesaid and others stand today?
KG: That part was the worst. If one more person says to me, ‘you were a Dixie Chick,’ I will have to lovingly remind them I definitely was not. I mean, The Dixie Chicks had the full entertainment community around them! They were even on the cover of Entertainment Weekly as ‘First Amendment Heroes’ who were being oppressed by the Bush Administration. I had none of that. It definitely hurts that everyone turned on me left, right and center — and hardcore at that.
How did you cope during everything you experienced due to one infamous photograph? Who and what did you learn you could rely on during such low times?
KG: Interestingly, one of the first calls I received was from the comedian Katt Williams, and the first thing he said was, ‘I can’t believe they are doing this to a white lady! (Laughs). Get out a pen and a piece of paper. You will know by the end of today how many friends you have.’ I asked, ‘Is it going to be three?,’ and he replied, ‘If you’re lucky.’ Ultimately, my stand-up agent is the only one who stuck with me. Everyone else flew the coop. I was told either ‘you are too scary to work with’ or ‘you will never work again.’
You had posted a video on your social media last year in which you stated something along the lines of that, despite being both an Emmy and Grammy award-winning artist, you were still unemployed. Has it affected your state of mind? Will you continue to speak your truth on this new tour?
KG: It is definitely one of those situations in which I have had to assess how I think about a lot of my so-called friends. I have become much more of a homebody. I have become much more selective about who I invite over my house and who I trust to tell something to. One thing people do not realize, is this shit is still going on. I just got notified by another federal agency that I am on yet another kill list. As I dip my toes back into touring, a tour where I will not hold back at all, I have a lot to say. Yet, due to the continued threats, I am definitely only doing select American cities.
How did it feel the moment you realized that the Trump incident had not in fact ruined your career as many on the opposing side had hoped?
KG: When everyone abandoned me, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. I called my lone ally, my stand-up agent, and said, ‘I never routed a tour like this, but can you put together cities and countries where they just can’t stand Trump?’ Two weeks later, my agent called me saying, ‘I have 15 countries and 23 cities.’ Hence, that was the birth of the Laugh Your Head Off World Tour and the first half of the tour, which we performed completely overseas.
What is the best part of it all? Any sweet revenge?
KG: All of those business associates who dropped me are all coming back now! When you sell out Carnegie Hall in a day, you know you’re back in the game. I am so grateful for your readers and those who have stuck by me when my own friends and associates, long-term ones no less, dropped me so effortlessly.
After the Trump photo, I did receive a lot of correspondence from people asking if there was a way they can support me. So, when I began the North American leg of the tour, I decided to start a mailing list of sorts. It is honestly how I am selling out shows. I am able to correspond with the fans who want to hear about the interrogation, who was naughty, who was nice, how it was living next door to Kim and Kanye the entire time, etc.
Please head to KathyGriffin.net for all the 411 and to check on new shows. Text ‘Kathy’ to 345345 to keep in touch. Tickets are still available for the following area shows:
October 6, 2018 at 8 pm — Merriam Theatre at Kimmel Center — Philadelphia