FEATURES / EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS

Kathy Griffin's Finger is On the Pulse
Stephan Horbelt
4/12/2013

Photos by Mike Ruiz / Bravo

No stranger to twinks, bears, dykes or ‘silver gays’—or the cover of Frontiers magazine—Kathy Griffin has long been an honorary member of the LGBT community. It’s this very fact that makes her the perfect cover model for our 806th issue, celebrating not only the 31st anniversary of Frontiers as SoCal’s beloved LGBT publication of record but also the strength and vitality of our accomplished community. 

Known for her fiery brand of sass and celebrity gossip-fueled stand-up routines, Kathy Griffin makes it a point to always leave you blushing—albeit with a huge grin on your face. She can ‘tell it like it is’ like no other—and, boy, does she.

There really isn’t much that Kathy Griffin hasn’t accomplished, having branched out from her stand-up comedy brethren long ago. A two-time Emmy winner, New York Times bestselling author, Grammy nominee, GLAAD Vanguard recipient and a Trevor Project Life Award honoree, no one understands better than she that amazing things can happen—for yourself, your close friends and the community surrounding you—when you employ the power of laughter.

Kathy Griffin had me rolling with laughter during our recent chat, as you’ll see below. Find out what she has planned for her upcoming May 4 show at the world-famous Dolby Theatre, Kathy Griffin’s idea of a ‘party’ and what this brazen redhead wants to do to the future of news programming. (Hint: it involves a certain silver fox favorite of yours.)

Hi Kathy! How are ya?
I’m in Cincinnati, turning this city gay!

I’m sure it could use a little gay in its life.
You know, it really does. I have a sold-out show tonight, which I’m really happy about, but last night I went to this really good pizza place with my boyfriend, and these three guys are kinda eyeing me—and I’m a Midwestern girl myself, so I was like, “Yes, it’s Kathy Griffin.” Can I tell you, I didn’t even get that they were Midwest gays! The Midwest gays—I don’t mean to be rude—they wouldn’t cut it in WeHo for one minute.

So you’re saying they threw off your gaydar?
Yes, they did! And after this, I go to Columbus, Ohio, so good luck to me!

This isn’t the first time you’ve graced the cover of Frontiers, and it’s certainly not the first time we’ve spoken to you.
I’m a cover model! I’m a shallow, shallow cover model. I’m going to puke after this conversation to feel more like a model.

This is actually our big 31st anniversary issue, and we’re very happy to have you on the cover. You’re known for your charity work for the gay community—
Well, what a time this is, right? Literally just waiting day by day for the Supreme Court decision.

Does your gay charity work come from having so many friends in the community?
Yeah, primarily I think it comes from the feeling of—well, I identify with the LGBTQIA community—and don’t you leave out one letter, Stephan.

Well, and don’t leave out the number 2 for the Native American community. You’ve heard about that, haven’t you?
What?! So it’s LGBTQIA2? Oh, thank god you told me this.

Many Native Americans believe gays are “two-spirit” people, so some put the number 2 on the end of our long acronym.
I accept that, but I will say that the ‘2 community’—and I’m gonna go ahead and call them a community now—they may have trouble going into a ‘2 bar,’ so I’m suggesting for the time being they go ahead and start with, “Hello, I’m a member of the LGBTQIA2 community.” You might have to explain the ‘2’ for a while. Let me tell ya, the ‘QIA’ has been a struggle for me, to be honest.

I don’t think you’re alone.

Here in Ohio, they’re just “the gays.” The other letters—those are baby steps. I’m very fascinated to hear about the ‘2,’ though.

I personally feel like it was an organic thing. I always say, “I found the gays, the gays found me”—at a young age. I think it’s a feeling where you’re on the outside looking in, and you have to jump higher and work harder, and that’s how I’ve always felt. I think that’s why the gay community and I inherently found each other. 

As far as charity work, honestly, that once again was quite organic, where I was hanging out with my gay friends and started getting involved in everything from Best in Drag Show, which benefits Aid for AIDS—I do that show every year, of course, and then work with the group outside that event. 

And the other thing is that when I was starting out as a stand-up comedian and desperate for stage time anywhere, I really would do anything from The Comedy Store to The Improv to open mic night at a gay club, where they didn’t want comedians, so I’d sing a song. 

I remember very distinctly my parents—from Oak Park, Ill.—coming to see me in gay clubs and just thinking, [mimicking her mother Maggie’s Midwest accent] “Oh my, these audiences are very enthusiastic, Kathleen. All the men are in such great shape!”

So which came first, the chicken or the egg?

 

In time with the magazine’s anniversary, we’ve got our big Birthday Bash coming up at The Abbey. I know you’re not a drinker, but does Kathy Griffin like to party?
Oh, do I! My partying—this is something I’m afraid the community will not identify with, especially the ‘2s’—my partying comes in the form of hot donuts or donut holes. So, I’m no stranger to the donut shop right in the middle of WeHo—the one that has the signs on it at Crescent Heights and Santa Monica.

First of all, I’m going to acknowledge the bitterness I have against that particular donut shop, because I go for donuts at a fairly reasonable hour—you know, you can stumble out of Hamburger Mary’s and go get one—but they have those damn signs covering the windows, so you can’t actually see the fryer. I’ve actually gotten into altercations when I’ve gone there—if I’m not worried about my girlish, hot model body and want a donut—because I feel like they’re holding out on me and not giving me hot ones.

I’d say that donuts for me are a food group. I also enjoy a cake pop. I have a sweet tooth, and that is my version of partying.

The thing is, I have parties quite a bit. You know, I love me some ‘silver gays’—or as my mother calls them, the ‘sober gays,’ because she doesn’t care for sober people, and also her hearing’s not so good—but I’ve had many, many pizza nights with the ‘silver gays’ at my house. I will admit, though, that I tend not to have them over if the younger partying gays are over, because often it will lead to an argument of “What the fuck do you mean you’ve never heard of Stonewall?” 

I get upset with the young gays when they don’t know about Stonewall, or that AIDS was called GRID. I expect people to know their damn history, because that’s what we’re fighting for.

I agree. And going back to the donuts, you’ll be happy to know that donut shop is going to be leveled and turned into a Walgreens. 
What?! 

That whole strip center is going to be turned into a big Walgreens, so no more donuts.
First of all, that’s fine, because I’d like to see more meth heads hanging out at the door and a little more crime in that corner. [Laughs] That’ll be great. But let me tell you, the death of a donut shop in West Hollywood is something only a straight person is going to care about, so you’ll probably just see me in a ball crying in front of their very final batch of warm glazed buttermilk donuts.

You have an upcoming gig at the Dolby Theatre here in L.A.

Where are Oscars are! I’ve arrived, and I’m very excited. The Dolby, formerly the Kodak, formerly I don’t know what. I still call it the Kodak, which is wrong, but I just say, “You know, the theatre where they do the Oscars at Hollywood and Highland, where you can all park.”

Just knowing that I’ll be doing stand-up where Oprah has her post-Oscars specials, knowing that I will be standing where Jennifer Lawrence tripped on her Dior—I mean, I just love that. I’ve seen many shows there, except Cirque [du Soleil], I’m not going to lie. I’m not a Cirque fan.

I’m bitter against Cirque du Soleil because they took the Dolby away from me for two years. But I got my night at the Dolby back—Saturday, May 4, I’m taking it back.

Without giving too much away, what are the big topics of your act this time around?
Well, first of all, obviously we will be talking about the Supreme Court decision, and I’ll be waiting up to the minute. Trust me, I’m on my computer—or if I have a TV backstage—up until the last second. I was doing a show recently when rapper Lil Wayne was in a coma from drinking too much sizzurp, and I happen to find sizzurp humorous, even though I guess it could kill you—I find something funny about people getting high from codeine cough cyrup, Fanta and Jolly Ranchers, especially when one of those people might be Justin Bieber.

So, anyway, I was about to go onstage and Lil Wayne was in a coma at Cedars, and I was actually on my phone—I went onstage at 8—I was on my phone until 7:59 debating whether or not I could do the joke. I thought, if he dies during the show, I’m gonna look like an asshole. So I’m about to go onstage and he’s still alive, and Nicki Minaj is visiting him, and Drake is visiting him—you know, before Drake went to murder Amanda Bynes’ vagina, which I don’t think he did, I just think she wants him to. Anyway, it was showtime and I said screw it, I’m doing the joke. 

The truth is, I have a general idea of what I’m going to say, but trust me, I don’t really know what I’m going to say until I’m out there. And the people that have been to see me live in Los Angeles multiple times—they know it’s improvised and that I really don’t know what I’m going to say until I’m up there. Will I be giving up the greatest hits? Yes. Might my Oprah impression come out? Yes. Might I make fun of Ryan Seacrest  a little bit? Yes, I think he can handle it.

You know, my mom will probably be at that show, which means we’ll need to beef up security. Gays love her—they want to adopt her and be adopted by her. 

 

Kathy, my favorite thing about you is that you’re such an advocate for the gay community and you know your gay history, but at the same time, you can reference Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj and Drake murdering Amanda Bynes’ vagina. It’s impressive.
My finger is on the pulse. Also, I’m not above making fun of any politician. OK, well maybe I’m going to make fun of conservatives like the Palins a little more, but only because they keep doing funny shit. You know, I’m fascinated—at CPAC, Sarah Palin literally accused President Obama of wanting to be a reality star. Last time I checked—and let me tell you, if there’s one thing I know, it’s reality television—I don’t think the president has had even one reality show, and I think the Palins have had about five. I thought that was ironic.

And then Senator Rob Portman of Ohio coming out for gay marriage, which I’m going to make fun of, and here’s why: I think it’s an amazing thing—Ohio is arguably a red state, it’s on the bubble—but you don’t think it’s a little bit funny that he’s in favor for gay marriage because of his gay son? [Laughs] I mean, is that what it’s going to take? Does every United States Senator have to have a kid come out and say, “Mom, Dad, I’m gay” for them to actually believe in equal rights? If that’s the case, I say we infiltrate.

I say we go canvassing door-to-door to conservative—especially religiously conservative—representatives, and we go to their teenage children. Seriously, it’d probably take 50 dollars. We say, “I need you to do me a solid. Tonight at dinner, just tell your parents that you’re gay. See if they change their vote, and if you play nice, there might be a payment of 10 bucks per month for the next year.”

Do I have to think up all the big ideas, Stephan? I’m not saying it’s legal. I’m just saying it’s an idea. 

Well, legality isn’t the most important thing here.
It’s relative. We’re fighting the good fight.

I want to talk about your late-night show, Kathy, on Bravo. You just wrapped up Season Two.
We wrapped up Season Two, and they have not ordered anymore—I think you know what that means. We’ve fulfilled our obligation and they have chosen for us not to return—ever. [Laughs] And I just wanna say, it was sorta accidentally the gayest show in the world. 

First of all, I’m really proud of the show, because I think first and foremost, it was a funny show. But if you look at the guests I had—and I really loved having all three celebrities up there at once—we had Chris Colfer and Johnny Weir and Lily Tomlin and Jane Lynch and Margaret Cho and Pauley Perrette. 

I was really proud that our guests ran the spectrum of a religious person like Pauley Perrette—but one who’s very pro-gay rights—and then you have Margaret Cho who, like me, has been involved in this community and working for this community for years, and then you have Lily Tomlin, who definitely was more of a trailblazer in the community. Then you have Chris Noth—Mr. Big [from Sex and the City]—who’s kinda accidentally part of this community because every gay guy loved or loves him. Then you’ve got Kelly Osbourne, who is the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA, as I am. So yeah, I’m very proud of the show, and I’m very sorry it’s not coming back. We had a blast doing it.

I was a big fan myself, I have to say. I’m curious, though, what you had to say or do for the network to let you do the show live. 
[Laughs] You know what, I had to do something called New Year’s Eve and get an 18 percent ratings spike with Anderson Cooper. 

I mean, I really wanted to be live year one, and they were nervous about it, and I said, “Well, CNN is a news network, and they’ve been letting me do it for seven years.” Season One, we had these long, laborious tapings, and we tried having the three panelists be civilians, and then honestly I had celebrities approach me who wanted to do the show. That’s how we got into the format of having three celebrity guests.

Then, luckily, I convinced them to let the guests stay up there longer. They wanted to just have the guests up there for a few minutes, and I said, “Look, when you’ve got Josh Groban, Kristin Chenoweth and Eva Longoria, you want to give them as much time as possible. They’re all pros, they’ve all performed live.” 

I really just begged them to let me go live for Season Two, and I definitely think it was the way to go. I’m just a live performer. I have three live shows in three different cities this weekend. But also, the guests were thrilled because they were in there and out of there in an hour. I kinda pride myself on doing live television, because not everyone likes to do it. I know a lot of comedians and talk show hosts who have no desire to go live, but I just love it.

It’s been pretty widely reported at this point that you recently filmed a pilot for CNN with Anderson Cooper. Can you say anything about that?
I think Jeff Zucker [the president of CNN Worldwide] is looking to kick things up over there. He was my boss at NBC for a long time, and I admire that he is willing to make bold moves. 

[The pilot] was a lot of fun, and I think Jeff is looking to capture some of the New Year’s Eve razzle dazzle, but with the gravitas of someone like Anderson Cooper, who really is just bringing the heat day after day—Anderson being an actual newsman who likes to have fun, and me being a real comedian with awards and a real body of work behind me. 

Thinking of me on CNN might be a bit of a stretch, but you know, Jeff is thinking he has two people in their fields who know what they’re doing. But I actually have no idea what’s going to happen with that. I know Jeff is making changes, and Anderson and I enjoy working together. I actually filmed his last Anderson Live, so I felt like I got to be the Bette Midler to his Johnny Carson, and I just think the guy’s great. He definitely knows his shit, and he likes to have fun.

 

I hear you have something else in L.A. coming up soon, Kathy.
Yes! I’m star struck as much as the next guy, so I’m thrilled to be doing this—Linda Perry and Sara Gilbert approached me to host this really great event called An Evening with Women to benefit the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. Number one, Ozzy Osbourne is performing, so I’m really excited about that, because, believe it or not, I’ve never even met Ozzy, even though I know Sharon and Kelly very well. I’ve been working with the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center longer than I can remember. 

It’s a great evening at the Beverly Hilton on May 18. Natasha Bedingfield is performing, and Sia, and of course Linda Perry is a legend and Sara Gilbert has been walking the walk for a very long time. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to host it. 

And also, when you host an event called An Evening with Women for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, it’s not exactly like I’m going to be Ricky Gervais getting in trouble at the Golden Globes. Let’s face it—there’s nothing like a gay audience, especially a thinking and generous gay audience. No matter what I do, it can’t top anything Ozzy has ever done. If it will help the gay cause, I’m happy to eat the head of a bat, although I’m more afraid of PETA than the gays. But maybe a bat that’s made out of a donut?

On a recent episode of Kathy, you were attached to a lie detector and you confessed that you were at least a little—
Oh my god, Stephan, are you gonna f*cking throw this in my face?

I am going to! You brought up Ryan Seacrest earlier, and on your show you unfortunately confessed that you were sexually attracted to him. 
That was the worst moment of my life! 

Have you heard from him since your little confession?
Let me tell you something about Ryan Seacrest. Ryan Seacrest is a game player, alright? It made his f*cking year when I failed my lie detector test. And I don’t mean to sound like an angry single father on The Maury Povich Show, but I now believe that test was rigged! 

I am such an idiot, once again, trying to bring my best work to Bravo and entertain the audience at any cost. They were like, “We can just do a fake one,” and I was like, “No, I really don’t think any lie detector is going to show that I could possibly be sexually attracted to Ryan Seacrest.” I guess the joke was on me. 

Now it has set off an obvious chain of events. You know the real victim of this is Julianne Hough. Obviously there is a link between Ryan finding out I am somehow inexplicably attracted to him, and the fact that poor Julianne Hough is now going to be an old maid. She’s basically the collateral damage of the undeniable sexual tension between Ryan Seacrest and myself. 

No, I have not seen him! I cannot face him, and I know why—he’s going to shove it in my face. He’s probably walking around with a lie detector right now, just hoping to run into me.

You’re breaking up families left and right!
He’ll probably be in row one of the Dolby Theatre. He and my mom are my biggest fears at the Dolby—them being in the audience. I’m not even worried about the Westboro Baptist Church anymore. I’m much more worried about Ryan Seacrest and my mother disrupting a live show. 

Although, you know I don’t mind a protest. I’m sure your readers probably wouldn’t protest. I’m just saying, it kinda makes my day when I get protested. Getting protested in L.A. is kinda a stretch, but honestly, I think I have a pretty good shot of being protested tomorrow night in Columbus, Ohio.

Well, best of luck with that, Kathy, and we’ll see you at the Dolby here in L.A.!

 

Find more on Kathy Griffin, including her tour schedule, at kathygriffin.net. Purchase tickets for Kathy’s Dolby Theatre gig at LiveNation.com.

 

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