Shooting Barbs At The Stars: Kathy Griffin On Comedy And Intolerance

Shooting Barbs At The Stars: Kathy Griffin On Comedy And Intolerance

11:02am Jun 14, 2015
Kathy Griffin, onstage for her Like a Boss Tour.
Kathy Griffin, onstage for her Like a Boss Tour.
David A. Beloff / Getty Images

Kathy Griffin has spent her career going for the joke. The comedian has developed a style that eviscerates celebrities, while sharing delightfully bizarre stories that could only happen in Hollywood.

Along the way, she's won fans who feel she tells it like it is ... and enemies who think she goes too far.

On her new tour, called "Like A Boss," Griffin will be traveling to 80 cities between June and December. And, she tells NPR's Rachel Martin, no topics are off-limits — even Caitlyn Jenner.

"In fact, it's all I can do to not just talk two hours about Caitlyn alone," Griffin says.


Interview Highlights

On how to poke fun at sensitive subjects, like transgender issues

Here's how you do it. I called my friends in the community — and you know, I've got all the awards. I've got the Human Rights Campaign Lifetime award, the GLAAD, I've gone canvassing — like, don't talk to me about the LGBTs, these are my peeps. So the terminology has gone from, of course, back in the day, the F-word, which was never cool; then it was "homosexuals" and then "gays," and so I'm used to the names and the letters changing, and that's fine.

What I find amusing is when there are essays going around the Twitterverse telling people that they are transphobic. And so I started looking into, like, OK, what is, as of today — because this is changing by the minute — what is and isn't transphobic? But you wanna have fun with it. And by the way, Bruce Jenner, when Bruce was Bruce, said to Diane Sawyer, the first line of that interview — "You know, Diane, the most important thing is that we keep a sense of humor about this."

And I took that very seriously. I am very much keeping a sense of humor about this. Because you have to!

On whether her idea about what's funny has changed over time

You know, things change, and they evolve, like the world does. For example, if you were to look at my body of work, I guarantee you there's one of my old specials where referring to the gay community, I might refer to myself as an "F-word hag." OK? And over time, you go, "All right, I know more than I knew; that community has changed. It's not cool. If gay men wanted to call each other the F-word I couldn't care less." I personally made the choice to go, "You know what, I'm not gonna say that anymore."

On whether celebrities are fair game, and why Oprah hates her

Celebrities are more than fair game, but I will tell you, I tend to go for celebrities that don't have a sense of humor, that are doing really really well. You know, I'm always going to make fun of, obviously, people like Ryan Seacrest and Oprah. And Oprah hates me, but Ryan Seacrest and I are actually friends now. ...

I would suggest that Oprah does not have a good sense of humor about herself. Oprah has an incredible life. I mean, she won. OK, honey? You won. So take a joke now and again! I'm laughing at when you do My Favorite Things, and you choose gifts that you feel are essential, but especially when you do military families, and gave them various kinds of truffle and truffle oil — I find that amusing. And I will point that out.

On a 2010 joke where she mocked Bristol Palin's weight gain to a crowd of soldiers

Griffin: Tell me what's factually incorrect about that joke? I'm sorry, this is a young woman who has gay-bashed and it is fair game now to ...

Martin: So it's retribution?

Griffin: Yes! Yes. Do not come after the LGBTs without thinking that Mrs. Kathy is gonna give you an earful. There's the big academic background for that one.

On embracing the "boos" that audience gave her

Bring it! Look, after having performed in Iraq and Afghanistan, you really think, like, these people were shocked? I actually learned it from my good friend Joan Rivers, who truly was fearless. You can't hold back! You gotta go for the joke. And also, the way military folks talk to each other is a, let's just say, no-holds-barred situation.

On whether she could always have handled a booing crowd that way

No. I'm so glad you asked me that, because it takes decades of being in the trenches and in the clubs and the theaters and all over — it takes decades of being a woman, alone with a microphone, and it's all on you. We're a pretty small club, you know, women that just are out there alone. I mean, I've never had some big producer back me up. I've never had a Lorne Michaels.

It's just me, girl. I'm out there trying jokes, many times for the first time, sometimes in front of 10,000 people, sometimes in front 1,500, sometimes a casino, sometimes the Kennedy Center, sometimes Carnegie, sometimes a performing arts center in Roanoke — you know, that's how it goes.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Comedian Kathy Griffin has spent her career going for the joke - really going for it. She has developed a style that eviscerates celebrities, all while sharing delightfully bizarre stories that could only happen in Hollywood. Along the way, she has won fans who say, she tells it like it is and enemies who think she has gone too far. Kathy Griffin has just started a new tour. It's called Like a Boss, and she's traveling to 80 cities between now and December. Despite the grueling pace she has set for herself, Kathy Griffin says she'll begin each show with a minimum game plan, sharing whatever is top of mind.

KATHY GRIFFIN: OK, so I have some bits that are kind of what I call the greatest hits. And yes, we're going to talk about Caitlyn. In fact, it's all I can do to not just talk two hours about just Caitlyn, alone, because that is a...

MARTIN: Caitlyn Jenner.

GRIFFIN: Caitlyn Jenner. First of all, when Caitlyn came out as Caitlyn, there was actually like a missive going around Twitter saying all the things that you would be transphobic by saying. And one of them (laughter) was, if you call her anything but Caitlyn, Cait, or Caitie, you're transphobic. So of course, I went on Twitter as soon as she announced, you know, this is who I am, Vanity Fair cover. I said something like, welcome to the club, Caitie, and then I got barraged. You're being transphobic. Two days later, she reveals show is called "I Am Cait." So I, like the rest of the world, I'm just trying to keep up.

MARTIN: But, how do you poke fun at this and, at the same time, protect sensitivities?

GRIFFIN: Here's how you do it. I called my friends in the community - and, you know, I've got all the awards, I've got the Human Rights Campaign Lifetime award, the GLAAD - I've gone canvassing, like don't talk to me about the LGBTs. These are my peeps. And so, I've - the terminology has gone from, of course, back in the day, the f-word, which was never cool. Then it was homosexuals and then gays. I'm used to the names and letters changing, and that's fine. What I find amusing is when there are essays going around the Twitter-verse telling people, you know, that they are transphobic. And, so I started looking into - well like, OK, what is, as of today, 'cause this is changing minute by minute, what is and isn't transphobic? But, you want to have fun with it. And, by the way, Bruce Jenner, when Bruce was Bruce, said to Diane Sawyer - the first line of that interview - you know, Diane, the most important thing is that we keep a sense of humor about this. And I took that very seriously. I am very much keeping a sense of humor about this 'cause you have to.

MARTIN: People are always asking you, I'm sure, about where the lines are, and you've talked about this. I mean, let me just ask you, you were on a show called "Fashion Police" on E!

GRIFFIN: Right.

MARTIN: And, we should say, you ended up - you left after seven episodes...

GRIFFIN: Yeah...

MARTIN: ...And you did release a...

GRIFFIN: Yeah, I left after seven episodes...

MARTIN: Has your idea of what is funny changed over time because, in relationship to your departure from the show, you released a statement saying you didn't want your comedy to contribute to a culture of unattainable perfectionism and intolerance towards difference?

GRIFFIN: Yeah, you know, things change and they evolve like world does. For example, if you were to look at my body of work, I guarantee you there's one of my old specials where, referring to the gay community, I might refer to myself as a f-word hag. OK. And, over time, you go, all right, you know what, I know more than I knew, that community has changed, it's not cool. If gay men want to call each other the f-word, I couldn't care less. I personally made the choice to go, you know, I'm not going to say that anymore.

MARTIN: Are celebrities still fair game for...

GRIFFIN: Celebrities are more than fair game. But, I will tell you, I tend to go for celebrities that don't have a sense of humor, that are doing really, really well. You know, I'm always going to make fun of, obviously people Ryan Seacrest and Oprah, and Oprah hates me, but Ryan Seacrest and I are actually friends now.

MARTIN: Why does Oprah hate you?

GRIFFIN: I would suggest that Oprah does not have a good sense of humor about herself. Oprah has an incredible life, I mean, she won. OK, honey, you won. So, take a joke now and again. I'm laughing at when you do my favorite things, and you choose gifts that you feel are essential, but especially when you do military families and gave them various kinds of truffles and truffle oil, I find that amusing. And I will point that out.

MARTIN: You brought up talking to a military audience, so I'm going to ask you about a joke. 2010, you made a crack about Bristol Palin in front of a audience of service members.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRIFFIN: She's the only contestant in the history of the show to actually gain weight.

Now, OK, tell me what's wrong about - what is factually incorrect about that joke.

MARTIN: The crack was about this young woman's weight, and when we're in this culture of picking apart women...

GRIFFIN: I'm sorry, this is a young woman who has gay-bashed, and it is fair game now. Do not come after the...

MARTIN: So it's retribution.

GRIFFIN: Yes, yes, do not come after the LGBTs without thinking that Mrs. Kathy is going to give you an earful. There's the big academic background for that one.

MARTIN: OK, I don't want to belabor the point, and I promise I'm pivoting off of Bristol, but I want to get to this bit because it's about how you perform and what is exhilarating about being on stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRIFFIN: Come one, she gained like 30 pounds a week. I swear to God, it was fantastic. She's like the white Precious. You can boo louder than that. Come on, boo me. I love it. I love it. War is hell. War is hell.

MARTIN: You're on stage, and you're just like, bring it.

GRIFFIN: I was hosting it, yeah.

MARTIN: Just bring the boos.

GRIFFIN: Bring it, bring it. Look, after having performed in Iraq and Afghanistan, you really think, like, these people were shocked. Like, come on. I mean, I actually learned it from my good friend, Joan Rivers, who truly was fearless. You can't hold back. You got to go for the joke. And also, the way military folks talk to each other is a, let's just say, no-holds-barred situation.

MARTIN: Could you have always handled that situation the same way? I mean, it takes some guts...

GRIFFIN: No, it take - no, you know what, I'm so glad you asked me that because it takes decades of being in the trenches and in the clubs and the theaters and all over. It takes decades of...

MARTIN: Abuse (laughter).

GRIFFIN: No, of being a woman, alone with a microphone, and it's all on you. We're a pretty small club, you know, women that, just are out there alone. I mean, I've never had some big producer back me up. I've never had a Lorne Michaels. It's just me, girl, it's just me. I'm out there trying jokes, many times for the first time, sometimes in front of 10,000 people, sometimes in front 1,500, sometimes at casinos, sometimes the Kennedy Center, sometimes Carnegie, sometimes a performing arts center in Roanoke. Yeah, that's how it goes.

MARTIN: Kathy Griffin, her new tour is called Like a Boss. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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