The Kennedy Center
2700 F St., N.W.
Saturday, June 20
Kathy Griffin’s no-holds-barred brand of comedy has catapulted her into stardom with everything from her former reality show “My Life on the D-list,” to her outrageous celebrity-skewering stand-up tours to briefly taking over Joan Rivers’ reign as host of “Fashion Police.”
The notorious comedian and outspoken LGBT rights activist, who opens her 80-city “#LIKEABOSS” tour at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday, declined to answer questions about her “Fashion Police” departure in March, having commented on it earlier this year on Twitter and to other outlets. She says that although she was told accommodations would be made for her brand of comedy, once she tried it, she felt uncomfortable critiquing the stars’ red carpet looks. She taped seven episodes and told “The View,” her departure was “no harm, no foul — it just wasn’t the right thing for me.”
But Griffin, 54, still had plenty to talk about. During a phone interview on the road, she discussed her upcoming stand-up show, Caitlyn Jenner and how talking to Lady Gaga in an elevator made her re-think her celebrity status. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: You’re bringing “#LIKEABOSS” tour to D.C. at the Kennedy Center. What’s the show about?
KATHY GRIFFIN: Well, I named the tour because I realized after doing, and I’m in the “Guinness Book of World Records” for this, 23 stand-up comedy specials, more than any comedian male or female, living or dead, I didn’t want people to think, “Oh I’ve already seen her,” or, “I’ve seen her three years ago.” I want everyone to know it’s all new, new, new. I also want people to know I write all my material and I’m pointing that out because I frankly recently learned a lot of comics don’t even write their own act. Fuck that! Like a boss, I write all my stuff and why wouldn’t I? I mean what better time to come to the iconic Kennedy Center when we are on the verge of the decision coming down about the legalization of gay marriage. It’s all about Caitlyn or Catie as I call her. It’s all about Caitlyn, which is an ever-changing minute-by-minute story. I couldn’t be happier to be in D.C. at this time. The Republican race is getting down right hilarious. The D.C. audiences are notoriously smart and open-minded and that’s all I ask. You thought you knew me but I have some new things to talk about at the Kennedy Center.
BLADE: Why are LGBT rights such an important issue for you?
GRIFFIN: I always say gay audiences are the greatest audiences in the world because there’s nothing I can say that can shock them. There’s nothing I’m going to say out of my potty mouth or that’s too far across the line that a member of the LGBT community has not heard or dealt with. As a woman, I feel that we have a lot to learn from the LGBT community because women you know, we have a lot of ground to cover and a long distance to go as feminists. Frankly, I don’t feel we’re as effective as a women’s movement as the LGBT movement. The LGBTs fucking get together and legislate and march and protest and come together in a way I think is so effective and so moving in the right direction. As a woman, I am often telling my straight female friends, “Look at how the LGBTs are doing it. Come on ladies we need to learn from them.”
I think that’s why I’ve always been immersed in the community and we’ve always worked well together. When I started doing open mic nights, I honestly would prefer to do stand-up in a gay bar than a conventional comedy club. That is what the folks that have been coming to see me all these years they know. Leading up to the Kennedy Center I’m doing Roanoke and Charlottesville and those markets one may not expect them to be quite as liberal as D.C. but the folks coming to those cities know what they’re in for. They see a ticket that says “Kathy Griffin: Like a Boss” and they know I’m not going to be holding a pro-Sarah Palin rally.
I think that is what I have been building and that is what I have been seeing side by side with the community such progress and it’s thoughtful. Its not like the LGBT community has just been hoping for miracles. It’s fucking hard work and I think that’s why the community has been so good to me. I love doing it all and I feel that is another way I identify with the community is like this is a community that realizes they have to work harder and jump higher and that’s my story as well. So that’s why we’ve always been kindred spirits. And we love a good laugh, damn it!
BLADE: Your comedic style is known for being controversial and offensive. How do you feel about comedy and talking about sensitive issues like Caitlyn Jenner?
GRIFFIN: Well first of all what I loved about the then Bruce Jenner interview with Diane Sawyer is the first thing he said to Diane is, “Now Diane, before we start I think it’s important that we keep a sense of humor about this.” I, as a viewer, I was on the road somewhere, and I remember just cheering out loud and saying, “Yes that is essential.” As someone who has done stand-up comedy in AIDS hospices, in Iraq and Afghanistan, that is what I have heard my whole career. People who are in all kinds of situations whether they are having the greatest day of their life, the most challenging day of their life, changing their lives as Caitlyn has done. It’s so interesting, it’s always the first thing out of their mouths to me. They always say, “I want a joke, I want to keep this funny.” It’s so important to keep a sense of humor about everything. Comedy really is the best medicine. There’s always funny in everything.
I had a friend who was in the end stages of cancer and I went to visit her and I thought it was going to be this serious visit and she said, “Oh God, just make fun of me. Just make me laugh.” I know what that meant. It didn’t mean make light of the situation; it meant, I need a laugh. So I really loved that then Bruce Jenner said first out the gate we’ve got to keep our sense of humor. Within the community, I’ve met many, many transgender people that are not in the position of Caitlyn with a lot of money and a Vanity Fair cover. There are many colors to this rainbow. It’s all fair game and there are many, many ways to have a great sense of humor about Caitlyn’s journey and about the community. So I’ll do this the same way I make fun of everything and everybody.
BLADE: Washington is such a hotbed of political activity. It can be very serious and people can take themselves very seriously.
GRIFFIN: Let them even try! Let them even try the minute they walk into that Kennedy Center for the Kathy Griffin show. I would love nothing more than if like even two people walked in thinking they were seeing the symphony and then 20 minutes into my pussy jokes storm out. I’m not above a good walk out. I enjoy them. I’ve experienced several walk-outs, typically more in the red states. They’re not going to be allowed to take themselves seriously that night. I’m not having it.
BLADE: On the other side of that, do you ever find that your humor helps your agenda in support for LGBT rights?
GRIFFIN: Oh my gosh absolutely! My greatest contribution to the community is honestly bringing humor. I’m not saying I’m Larry Kramer, I never did. I’m just saying I’m here to make you laugh. That is my function in the community. That’s my profession, that’s what I do, I’m hard-wired to do that. Whether it’s a talk show or “My Life on the D-List” or hosting an awards show, that is the way that I am able to contribute. When I hold a rally or go canvassing, I’m putting on a little bit more of a different hat. It’s more of a serious hat. But frankly, the best way I can serve the community is to make them laugh. That’s really the message that I’ve heard over and over again from all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, in particular difficult situations. It’s, “Get me through this. Tell me a fucking joke. Tell me about going to see a Bette Midler concert the other night and Barbra Streisand was in the audience and what happened.” I really do believe laughter is a relief, it’s the best medicine and it gets you through things. I believe it. I live it. I’m from a crazy drunken Irish Catholic family and that’s kind of how we dealt with everything. But I also do believe that there is a true cathartic experience to showing up at the Kennedy Center knowing that you’re going to hear some things that are beyond the pale and then leaving with a belly laugh. That’s my job.
BLADE: Are you still “D-list”?
GRIFFIN: I consider myself someone who moves through many lists. I think that honestly everybody does and that’s what I love about the whole concept of A-list, B-list, C-list, D-list. And that’s why I say it with a complete giant tongue in my cheek. I don’t know what list I’m on because it changes minute by minute. When I’m in an elevator, as I was two nights ago, with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett? Fucking A-list right? If I’m driving through Mississippi and I stop at the Waffle House and someone says, “Aren’t you the lady from the TV?” then I go alright maybe that’s not an A-list moment. But I am at the fucking Waffle House what do I fucking expect? That’s why it meant so much to me to win the Emmys and the Grammys because it’s all about the longevity and having fun with it. I didn’t want to stay on the D-list forever. I don’t expect to be on the A-list forever and I’m going to always live somewhere in between.