Long before she posed with president Donald Trump’s severed “head,” long before she was considered a political pariah, Kathy Griffin was in the fight of her life.
Ever since Griffin first hit stages and TV screens with her shameless confessional stories and stand-up comedy, she has called out hypocrisy among A-list celebrities in the two-faced entertainment industry, even when it meant losing social standing and career opportunities.
And, as she’ll be the first to tell you, Griffin advocated for the LGBTQ community long before it was de rigueur
The severed-head incident of 2017—in which Griffin posted a photo of herself holding a Trump Halloween mask in a way that suggested a decapitated head—led to Secret Service interrogations, death threats, show cancellations at theaters around the country, the loss of a job at CNN, and castigation from Hollywood and the media.
Now, after the most harrowing year of her life, the performance maverick is back and ready to battle with her 27-city Laugh Your Head Off tour, which hits Jones Hall in Houston on August 20. Griffin spoke to OutSmart recently in an exclusive interview.
David Goldberg: I just looked back at an interview I did with you in 2015, and we may as well have been living in a different galaxy.
Kathy Griffin: I can’t even imagine—the innocence! I don’t want to say we didn’t know how well we had it when we were in the Obama administration, but my guess is that there were very few political questions [in that interview].
We were talking about Jane Lynch and the time you met Lady Gaga…
Are we ever going to return to those days, David?
Now, we talk about Robert Mueller.
All we talk about is trying to survive the next goddamned hour with this lunatic. I don’t know if you know this, but I’m a member of ISIS. Big, high-ranking. I don’t know what my title is in ISIS that these f–king idiot Trumpers and possibly Roseanne [Barr] think, but I’m going to go ahead and give myself a good title—like Diva and Chief of Operations?
Just the fact that you’re on an Interpol list…
Honey, during the federal investigation, I was on the No Fly List, like one of the f–king 9/11 hijackers. We have a lot to cover, my friend, how they came after me. They tried to knock me down, and they’re still in the process. I don’t know if you watched the Keep Families Together march, but how much did you love it when Maxine Waters, whom I of course adore, said: “You better shoot straight; there’s nothing like a wounded animal!” F–king mic drop. Not that I’m encouraging anyone to shoot me, but I feel the same way: if you’re going to shoot me, motherf–ker, you better be a good shot, because I’ll show up at my next show with a bullet hole in my upper arm.
This magazine is in Texas, so…
You guys aren’t open-carry, are you?
Oh my God, David, you have to come work security for me! What the hell is going on in Texas?
“Seriously, the entire country could sigh a sigh of relief if they saw my 98-year-old mother in the Oval Office, even if she was drunk with a box of Franzia.”
Your act used to be about your reactions to celebrity culture. Now, your life is political. How does the new show reconcile the last year with your brand of comedy?
I really, really love doing this show, and I’ll tell you why: I’ve done something like 23 specials and all this other shit, and I’ve been touring for so long. I never think of my act as a show. But the Trump story, the photo scandal, really does have a beginning, middle, and end. I’ve enjoyed doing it to great success at my sold-out Carnegie Hall show [and at] Radio City Music Hall. I’ve totally flipped and now embrace the picture, because it has caused me the most trouble but is allowing me to play Jones Hall. Frankly, three years ago, I don’t think I could have sold out Jones Hall, and now I’m selling better than I have in ten years, because I really have a story to tell. But don’t worry: it’s not going to be a boring lecture about the government and the First Amendment. I will be making fun of [senators] John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. By the way, it doesn’t matter what year it is—Cruz is a comedy punching-bag no matter what.
I really still feel that as much as [my attorney] Lisa Bloom had me do a f–king press conference, the one thing I stand by—even though it was not my finest day, I’m happy to admit—was when I did stood there and said: “I really believe that if this can happen to me, it can happen to you.” And then it did! I was like the test case for Samantha Bee. At least enough time had passed since the incident with my photo, when 60 million Americans believed that I had joined ISIS and had actually severed the president’s head. We’ll get into the logistics in the show. Look, I’ve watched a lot of Grey’s Anatomy, and I don’t think you can sever a head and then sew it back on—which is apparently what the Trumpers must have thought. During the show, I tell the story, then I really go into the interrogation. And I’m not going to lie: it gets a little deep. Because, honestly, my situation has never happened in the history of this country, for real, where a sitting United States president has used the power of the First Family—although that’s a pretty sketchy bunch. And don’t get me started on Melanie [sic], with that f–king green jacket. I don’t know what the hell that was.
Right, Melanie? You picked [the day you are visiting children at the border] to make your dumb message to the press? F–k her. Anyway, it’s the first time truly in the history of this country that a sitting president has used the power of the Oval Office, the First Family, and the entire right-wing media to make [someone] lose [their] ability to make a living in [their] home country for over a year. I thought Not on my watch, motherf–kers. And that’s why I love doing this show, because I feel like it’s important to tell this.
A lot has changed over the past year.
When the photo came out, it was pre-Harvey Weinstein, pre-#MeToo. And Trump—let’s admit it—hadn’t done as many horrifying things as we now see, so it’s been a really slow process for me to get Americans to “forgive” me. What I pride myself on with this tour is that this isn’t a show I could do in a lesser venue, because there’s some meat on the bone. I’m reading my death threats on stage. And I think the audience gets it. Believe it or not, even with death threats I put in my Kathy Griffin sprinkle of hilarity. Sometimes I’ll take a break from the Trump story and do an ancillary story. One of the great things about this experience is that the day it happened, I was sobbing in a ball on the floor, thinking it’s all over. Luckily, since then, I’ve literally traveled the world oversees on the Interpol list—15 countries and 23 cities—and I really learned how to go, “Let me tell this story in a way that is really candid and real.” I talk about the phases of the fallout from the [Halloween mask] photo. Like I said, it’s historic. Can you imagine Barack Obama commenting on a comedian? Even George W. Bush? And I am no W. fan, trust me. By the way, I also got as many death threats in the mail as I did online. Some of them are so f–king nuts—a third of my death threats had return addresses!
I would hand them to the FBI, and they would be like, “Oh, we’ll have an answer for you in ten minutes.” And here’s one more: I got a consolation note from Billy-f–king-Bush!
No, I’m not going to tell you what’s in it; you have to come to the show! And no offense, I know he meant well, but I don’t want to be in the Billy Bush club. I’m sorry! But just so you know, I’ve been talking to Samantha Bee, and I’m in better company than I was. When it first happened, it was just me. Now I’m super-excited to be in the company of Jamele Hill from ESPN, Colin Kaepernick, and Sam Bee. So I have plenty of stories, and I can pivot a little to a funny Stevie Nicks story, and of course to my mother, who had the classic response [after she had been drinking]: “I’m not with you on this one, since you’ve joined Al-Qaeda. Why couldn’t you start stamp collecting instead?” I [also] have a story about wanting to go to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I got into so many fights that I basically ran out of there. Run! Run to the car!
Were you the only non-blond woman there?
Honey, I can’t even. . .when I saw that feckless c–t Kellyanne Conway. . . Look, honey, I’m 57, I’ve met them all—the good, the bad, and the ugly. You get to a point in your career when you’ll pretty much say hi to anybody. I’ve been in green rooms with that idiot Ann Coulter, and I’ll think it’s easier to say “Hi, Anne!” It really is. But when I saw Kellyanne Conway, and Mr. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whom I believe has actually been recruited as the entire defensive line for the Houston Texans. You heard me, I said “Mr.” and I know that the trans people are going to get mad. But when it comes to Sarah F–kabee and Kellyanne Conway, f–k those bitches! All bets are off!
“Honey, the gays and the comedians are next, so heads up, everybody! You tell those baby-gays to get out and vote, goddamnit!”
Thank God you’re back.
You can see that I’m not holding back. My Twitter header is “Mayor of Zero F–ksville.” Whoever first tweeted that at me, thank you, because that’s who I am now.
Well, your comedy used to be about how you were the only sane person in Hollywood. Now, DC is Hollywood. Sean Spicer is developing a TV show. It’s all full circle.
May I give you an exclusive? Ten emails from the f–king company that’s doing the Sean Spicer pilot. They want me—of course for free. I’m sitting here, nobody will do a special with me, I can’t get a series sold. Hollywood is the last group to forgive me. I’m selling out Carnegie Hall and Radio City, and every network is like “Oh no, she’s scary and my mom said she was in ISIS, and she tried to cut people’s heads off!” I’m bitter. But Sean f–king Spicer not only has a pilot and I don’t, with my two Emmys and a Grammy, but he also thinks I’m going to go on his motherf–king show. I will be putting that online and humiliating him in the way that is deserved until he goes to prison! You know he must have been in the room with Trump, who is clearly in the throws of dementia. I say that with full love for my 98-year-old drunk mother. Seriously, the entire country could sigh a sigh of relief if they saw my 98-year-old mother in the Oval Office, even if she was drunk with a box of Franzia. Even Angela Merkel would go: “Oh, thank God! Maggie Griffin is president, we can relax a little bit!”
Even your neighbors, the Kardashian-Wests, have met with the president.
After over a year of the Trumpies threatening to shoot me in my c–t at least 50 times a day, and then decapitate me and put my decapitated head up my c–t—by the way, they’re all about civility—I have now decided that I totally love all the Kardashians. Hear me out: given the choice of a bunch of dumb-asses that make sex tapes and makeup, and people who are trying to shoot me, I’ll take it. I saw Kim yesterday, and let me tell you, I was literally like, “Hi! Oh my God! How are you?” I even tell a story in the show about how I made a deal with her. If you continue to let me make fun of you and your insane husband, you can call me literally any time, 24/7, and I will give you a free comedy concert if you’re having a bad day. And she’s done it twice. I have a deal with Kim Kardashian!
In 2015, when we spoke, you really wanted a talk show. What are your goals and your dreams right now?
First of all, Andy Cohen killed [my Kathy] talk show. When I had the show for two seasons, I loved doing that job. I’m not saying I was perfect at it. I had a lot to learn, but even when I started doing it, I asked Bravo, “Are you guys going to let this show coexist with Watch What Happens Live? And they’re like, “Yeah, of course!” The reason everybody is afraid of me is that now they know I’m just going to blab, because I have nothing to lose. Maybe I couldn’t tell you in 2015, but I remember when I got canned from Bravo—after helping build the network, frankly, and earning eight nominations and two Emmys—they canned my ass with a “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” I just want to let you know that Billy Bush, when he was fired, got a nine-million-dollar severance package, and I got a middle finger from Andy Cohen. So I did 80 cities. I was like, “Girl, you better get your hustle on.” That’s what I’ve been doing. Touring has been my only source of income since I got fired at Bravo [in 2013]. Try being a 57-year-old redheaded chick in television. They’re like: “Go out to pasture, you old cow!” And I say I refuse to moo.
And the stakes are only getting higher.
When the freaking government comes in and says “You can’t even go on tour,” you start to panic. That’s one of the reasons I love to do this show. I’m not going to lie: it’s crazy times, and I don’t know if networks are afraid of me because I’m so associated with the scandal or because we’re all fearing that, God forbid, Trump keeps on winning. Then is the network going to give me a show? I’m sure TBS [which airs Full Frontal with Samantha Bee] is thinking, “We got through the one tweet, but let’s say Mueller calls and all of a sudden Trump tweets ten more times asking why Sam Bee isn’t fired.” I lived it. They really did fire me. I don’t know anybody at TBS, but I started a whole online campaign begging my fans to flood TBS and make sure to not let the president get another female comedian’s show cancelled! That is not good for the world! I’m thrilled to be touring, but I’ll be honest, honey: after November 1, I’ll be back on the breadline. I’ll have to figure out my own future. I don’t have an agent, I don’t have a publicist, I’m kind of a one-man band, and luckily I’ve never run out of ideas. I’m no stranger to rejection, and I’m going to keep pitching television shows—unscripted and scripted shows—and hosting opportunities. Luckily, I’ve always realized that you only need one Yes, and I’m still hoping for one. So far, there’s not one call—nothing, from Netflix, HBO, nobody. But I’m hoping, hoping, hoping.
I celebrate you, and even if you’re performing in the concentration camps in ten years, I’ll be there, front row.
F–k, man—I know. Honey, the gays and the comedians are next, so heads up, everybody! You tell those baby-gays to get out and vote, goddamnit! I don’t want them to think they can just vote every four years. Elections are every year.
What: Kathy Griffin’s 2018 Laugh Your Head Off Tour
When: 8 p.m., August 20
Where: Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana Street