Kathy Griffin turns the ups and downs of her life into comedy gold

JENNY BLOCK | Contributing Writer

Kathy Griffin is magical.

Her career was nearly totaled over a photo shoot depicting her holding a bloody severed head that looked like Trump. The incident meant she was investigated tirelessly, and it even got her put on the no-fly list.

Then she lost half of one lung to cancer. She’s getting divorced at 63. She lost her mom. She was addicted to pills. She attempted suicide. She’s being sued for advocating for a boy in a prom dress.

And yet, somehow, Kathy Griffin’s still got it. She’s as funny and as fiery as ever. She’s also incredibly warm and insightful and as genuine and vulnerable as they come. She’s incredibly grateful for the people who continue to love her, including her pal Gloria Steinem.

She’s a TV star, television host, best-selling author and outspoken advocate. And now, after more than six years of not touring, the two-time Emmy Award- and Grammy Award-winning comedian is bringing her new show, My Life On The PTSD List, to Dallas’ Majestic Theatre on Wednesday, April 17.
Dallas Voice had the chance to chat with Griffin recently about her triumphs, her tribulations and her current tour.

Dallas Voice: Were you a funny kid always putting on shows in the living room? Is this always who you’ve been? Kathy Griffin: Oh yeah, I was this obnoxious kid. I used to do the “Captain Griffin Show” in front of my dinner table while my mom served her culinary cuisine called Hamburger Helper. And I would try to do scenes from movies or a scene from a book or try to sing or do a dance, all the ridiculous stuff.

And the beauty of it is my family just kind of ignored me. Like, they were all just busy doing their own thing. So, at a young age I learned you’ve got to jump higher and work harder, damn it. Even to keep the interest of people having a few cocktails and some Hamburger Helper.

I love that. And then were you imagining then that you would do that one day as a job or were you just being goofy? I really did have a dream, even in Forest Park, Ill. I wanted more than anything to be in comedy, but I wanted to be a sidekick. I loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I wanted to be Rhoda or Phyllis. And I loved Lucy, but I wanted to be Ethel.

I felt like they got all the jokes. I thought, yeah, let the pretty girl be the lead. But it’s so much fun to go in, get the laugh and get out. And I loved all those great iconic roles.

When it came to stand-up — I think I might even remember Ed Sullivan, but certainly Johnny Carson — that’s when I fell in love with Moms Mabley and Totie Fields and Phyllis Diller and then, of course, Joan Rivers, who I was lucky enough to become very, very good friends with later on. … She’s somebody I miss every day.

Oh, I bet. And as you started growing up, did your parents or family at some point start taking notice and think, “Hey, that kid’s actually pretty funny and yeah, you could do that?” Oh no. I wanted me to be a dental hygienist, and my mother thought, even though we were Catholic, she thought I’d be better off with a nice Jewish dentist. And my dad wanted me to be a secretary. Good steady jobs.

All they would talk about was benefits: “You’ve got to get good benefits, Kathleen. It’s all about good benefits.” So it took a long time of many years of me working for free. And that’s what’s so funny about the fact that I didn’t even get paid to do what I do until I was 35 years old.

God love my parents because they hung in there, and they came to see me at every talent night at every gay bar, and I found that, obviously, gay audiences were better, and I would do anything the talent night would let you do. As long as they served booze, my parents were happy to come and laugh in the back.

And what’s funny is that’s how my parents became — if I may say, since they’re both resting in peace — they really were gay icons in their way. I think the reason that gay people so appreciated my mom and dad, Maggie and John on My Life on the D List is because my parents later on waved the Pride flag, and they kind of learned how to do actual activism.

But my mom and dad, they just loved the arts. And when they lived in California, they just happened to move to WeHo kind of by accident.

My mom would say, “Kathleen, we love a happy hour with free appetizers. And the gay bars always have the best ones. We always go to the gay bars.” And it’s really true. So my mom and dad, they just were always accepting, and I think it came across on My Life on the D List. They didn’t have a judgmental vibe. I always hung out with the gay kid in grade school or the gay kids in high school. So, my mom and dad just knew I was always going to be around gay people, and it truly was organic.

You’ve just been such a huge supporter of our community. Why is that? Because I think I relate to being an outsider looking in; that’s why I call my little brand the D-List. It’s kind of making fun of the idea that the D-list means you’re invited to the party, but you’re not necessarily in the VIP room. And you’re kind of rubbernecking looking to see what’s going on with the C-listers, the B-listers. And I think there’s a lot of comedy in that, but I also think there’s a lot of humanity.

And, so, I think I relate to the struggle of the community because just being a female in stand-up comedy with the misogyny and the ageism, I understand struggle, and I understand what it’s like to be different because I was terribly picked on and bullied and all this other stuff. And I think that’s where there was just a natural relationship there.

As far as being an ally, I take it very seriously. And there are many ways to be an ally. It’s not just wearing a rainbow shirt, which is also great, especially in certain regions of this country at this time. But it’s also really trying to get out the vote in gay communities with young gay people. And, also, since the Trump photo incident, I’ve had several people sue me from the MAGA world.

I have a case now in federal court in Tennessee. There’s Samuel Johnson, a MAGA guy. And there were these kids just at their photo shoot for their prom. One boy was in a red dress, and this guy just starts harassing the hell out of ’em, and the video went viral. They’re minors and they’re saying, “Get away. Get away.” And he won’t leave them alone.

It had made the rounds on TikTok. So I advocated for these kids, and I said on Twitter, “Who is this guy? He should be named and shamed. He should be fired.” And the guy got fired, swarmed with people saying, “Hey, this behavior is unacceptable.”

And who does he sue because he got fired? Me. He doesn’t blame his bad behavior. He sues Kathy Griffin. I don’t know if the community knows I’m fighting that fight, but I’m not going to give in. I’m not going to give this guy a penny. I believe firmly that he deservee to be fired based on that behavior. And I think those kids needed somebody to stand up for them.

When all that stuff happened with the Trump thing, I was scared for you and I was scared for all of us. Your actual job is making fun of things. If you can’t make fun of things, then you’re out of work. I make my most money from touring. I joke around — kind of half-jokingly, frankly — about how Hollywood is still afraid of me, and I’ve gotten in fights with many powerful executives. Luckily for me many of them have been me-tooed out of the business by now, but I have a real history of actually fighting directly with executives because, like a fool, I always think I’m going to get equal pay. But to have the president of the United States and the attorney general and two agencies within the Department of Justice, the secret service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigate me and me alone ….. They did a full investigation of me. They put me on the no-fly list, which made it unable for me to tour, because I had 50 cities that I was touring that year.

I had done 25 cities when the photo came out, and the other 25 cities were canceled because of bomb threats to the theaters and death threats to me and to the theaters, et cetera. And that is the government itself. And I’m not anti-government at all. I’m not one of those nut jobs. I’m pro-government; I’m pro-union — all that stuff. But to have the federal government at the behest of the president, and this is a guy I’ve known for 25 years. I’ve known the Donald since the ’90s.

I mean this guy would show up to the opening of an envelope. I was on The Apprentice twice, not as a cast member, but as part of challenges. And he called me up one time and begged me to do a gig for him. So to have him step in personally and make it impossible for me to make a living …

Tell these gays that this comes from me: They have to vote, and they have to vote Joe Biden, even if you think Joe Biden is too old or whatever your issue. Because let me tell you, if Trump wins, not only are you going to kiss gay marriage goodbye on day one, your rights are going to be stripped. You can never imagine.

All of that plus your health issues. It’s all so horrible. And yet here you are. How has all of that informed sort of who you are and how you continue on? I think I would just be in bed with my dog. It’s so funny you said that because I’m literally sitting in bed. Two of my four dogs are with me. They always know when Mommy needs them. And yet, I did a show last night in Palm Desert, and honey, the gays came out!
Barry Manilow was there. Lance Bass was there. Jesse Tyler Ferguson was there. It was like the Gay Academy Awards. The lesbians came out with their fucking matching rings and the whole thing. And it was magical.

I so appreciate people’s patience with me because I talk about some heavy stuff in this new show. I mean, I have lots of fun celebrity stories, and don’t worry, I’m still making fun of the Kardashians. And I have funny stories about Rosie O’Donnell, and I went to Paris Hilton’s Christmas party.

I have a hilarious story about Rosie having a meltdown because Paris wanted everyone to wear pink sparkly dresses. And I mean, you can imagine Rosie calling me going, “Griffin, what the fuck am I supposed to do? I’m a lesbian. I don’t got a pink sparkly dress. What is she thinking? I don’t even know where to buy a pink sparkly dress.”

But I do talk about PTSD. I talk about my suicide attempt. I talk about my prescription pill addiction — for which I am three years and eight months sober.

I talk about my mom passing away during Covid because I feel like the audience really knew my mom. When people say to me, “I feel like I knew your mom,” I say, “You did.” She was just like that. There was no acting with my mom.

And I talk about how I just freaking filed for divorce three months ago. Can you believe that? I can’t. I’m 63 and getting divorced. I thought I was going to be with this guy forever. But I am such a firm believer that in the darkest moment, maybe more than ever, you got to somehow, somehow twist yourself into a pretzel and find the laugh, find the joke. I have lung cancer.

I just find the humor in everything. And look, I didn’t mean to be out there in an election year, and trust me, honey, I didn’t think it would take people six-and-a-half years to finally say, okay, you can go out there and work. And all these theaters finally said, “Hey, we know you could sell tickets.”

And as we know, money talks and bullshit walks, and I sell tickets. But it did take six-and-a-half years for the toxicity of that Trump situation to make people somehow go, “Okay, okay. Come to think of it, compared to the stuff he’s done, that picture Kathy Griffin did was really no big deal.”

Most of my friends deserted me, and they never came back. That’s painful stuff. So at the tender age of 63, I’m starting over. But I’m so grateful for this tour, because to be 63 in Hollywood is like, bye-bye sister! They tried to dump me 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago.

I can’t wait to be at the Majestic. The Dallas audiences have always been so good to me. I’m warning you don’t be late. I do two hours by myself. I don’t have an opener, and I love every single minute of it. I absolutely am just so grateful to be doing what I love. I have the best job in the world.

No matter how bad things are in the world, it seems like we always need comedy. Maybe we need it even more. I’m curious about your take on why that is? I have come to think it’s chemical, because I feel like the brain touches something in the body. And the great Gloria Steinem had me host a couple of things for her. [She’s introducing me and] she said, “I’m bringing out Kathy Griffin, but I want to tell you she’s a little nervous. She gets a little vulgar sometimes. She uses four-letter words. But I want you to know laughter is the only involuntary emotion.”

And I thought that was the most amazing thing. Think about the times when you didn’t think you were going to laugh, and you just laugh. I call it the church giggles, because when I was a kid, I would get the worst giggles in freaking church, and my mother would be hitting me and pinching me, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the priest or whatever.

So that’s what I think it’s like: Laughter is an emotion, and we should embrace it. And if you laugh at the wrong time, good for you. Come to my show.

Visit  KathyGriffin.com for show and ticket info. Find the complete version of this interview online at DallasVoice.com.