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The Catalyst interview: Kathy Griffin

Bill DeYoung

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Kathy Griffin's career hydroplaned in 2017 after she criticized then-president Donald Trump with a gory satirical photograph. "I thought everybody would have my back," the chatty comedian says. "But the cheese stands alone, baby." Photo by Jen Rosenstein.

Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Comedian Kathy Griffin found the truth in that old bromide when her career imploded in 2017, followed by a series of life events that might very well have killed her.

Griffin is on her first tour in more than six years, and many of the shows are sellouts (she’ll make her sixth appearance at Carnegie Hall in October). There are tickets remaining for Griffin’s Thursday night performance at Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts (click here).

The tour is called “My Life on the PTSD List,” and its official image shows the redheaded comic emerging, phoenix-like, from a fiery dumpster.

“My life has been a glorious dumpster fire, and now I’m celebrating it,” she proclaims, “because it is what it is.”

All six seasons of Griffin’s Emmy-winning My Life on the D List have just been added to the Peacock streaming service.

Ironically, it was another bright-red promotional photograph that started Griffin’s ball rolling downhill. It showed the grim-faced comic holding up the bloody, decapitated head of then-president Donald Trump.

The response was swift. CNN, where she co-hosted (with Anderson Cooper) the annual New Year’s Eve event from Times Square, fired her. Many of her celebrity pals distanced themselves. Some condemned her in public.

Griffin apologized for the photo, but later rescinded the apology.

Six years and a whole lot of tough stuff later, Kathy Griffin is back.

“The Trump thing kept me permanently on the D List, but that’s where I’m happy,” she tells the Catalyst. “Being on the D list is more relatable than the A List. I still make fun of a lot of celebrities in my act. Don’t worry, I still have a lot of celebrity material. I take people down with impunity.”

She says she rarely, if ever, mentions the former president in her show.

 

St. Pete Catalyst: Let’s go right to the elephant in the room. When CNN gave you the boot …

Kathy Griffin: My abbreviated version is: I resent the word ‘canceled’ when it comes to me. Because all these comics that bitch about being canceled can kiss my ass. Or actors or other people. A lot of people, by the way, also get canceled for a good freaking reason.

I wasn’t canceled. I was targeted by the Department of Justice, and investigated by two agencies within the DOJ – the US Attorney’s office and the Secret Service. I was put on the No-Fly List. That happened to no one else. I was put on the Interpol list. That happened to no one else. I was interrogated under oath. That happened to no one else. I was interrogated under oath because they were very seriously considering charging me with Conspiracy to Assassinate the President of the United States, which holds a lifetime sentence. They wanted me to do a perp walk; they wanted videotape of me walking into the Federal Building in handcuffs. It was a really, really big deal.

 

We always enjoyed your New Year’s Eve show with Anderson Cooper.

Aww, I really, really miss doing that. It’s funny because (CNN boss) Jeff Zucker couldn’t wait to fire me, and then he got MeToo’d out of the business.

 

Any chance CNN will invite you back to do it again?

Why would you ask me that? Why does everybody ask me? Why don’t you call CNN, as a journalist, and not ask the girl who was a scapegoat? Ask the company that did it. I’m the one that was fired. I’m the one that had someone take my job. And for taking a political photograph?

Did it affect your bookings?

Honey, I’ve been canceled until now! I’ve been out of work for nearly seven years. My own industry turned on me. I lost my health insurance. When I call the show ‘My Life on the PTSD List’ I’m being tongue-in-cheek because I’ve been diagnosed with Complex PTSD, and I think the Trump thing was the catalyst.

I lost about 75 percent of my friends. I was in the middle of a 50-city tour; the second 25 cities got canceled because of bomb threats and death threats to me that were so intense that every theater just pulled the show. I wasn’t able to travel. I wasn’t able to make a living.

It’s never happened in the history of comedy. Even the great George Carlin and the great Lenny Bruce – and I’m not putting myself in their category – were hassled by local police. I’m the only one in history that’s had the federal government come down on me at the behest of the president and the attorney general.

So yeah. It broke my heart, it broke my spirit. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I became addicted to prescription pills. I tried to take my life. I was on a 5150 psych hold for three days. A year after I got sober I got diagnosed with lung cancer. I have half a lung on my left side. I have a permanently damaged left vocal cord. That’s why my voice is a little bit altered. I became really ill after my cancer surgery.

You know, this has been a tough time, but I really, really believe that if you can somehow, somehow search for the humor, or the joke, that’s what got me through. Even a joke where you go ‘OK this isn’t funny today, but it will be at some point.’

For example, if I’m in the oncologist office and they call out ‘Miss Gifford? Miss Kathie Lee Gifford?’ I’m not gonna correct them, it’s the f—in’ oncologist. I’m still so on the D List that when I go to the doctor they call me Kathie Lee Gifford! I go ‘Here! I’m here!’ and just walk in. Shit like that just happens that’s funny.

 

When everything hit the fan, did you at any point think ‘I can’t be funny any more’?

No, I knew I could be funny. Because I got a call that day, the Trump day, from the great Jim Carrey. And I don’t know Jim very well, and I don’t even know how he got my number. Anyway, he called me and I was sobbing. I said Jim, this is over for me. I’m in love with my work, I’m a happy workaholic.

Jim said ‘Kathy, any comedian would give their right arm for this. Number one, you’re in the history books.’ I was like who cares about that, I’m crying. He said ‘No, you take as long as you need. You put it though your Kathy Griffin comedy prism, and you’re gonna make it funny.’

And honestly, that bit of advice was life-changing for me. Because I loved the term ‘your Kathy Griffin comedy prism’ coming from Jim Carrey – it was quite a compliment – and I liked that he said ‘take your time.’ Because I had nothing but time.

But through all my trials and tribulations – I’m even going through a divorce now – I never stopped writing. Like, I’m always writing in my head. And whether it was six years ago or six minutes ago, if I have a funny idea, I’ll write it on a cocktail napkin. I’ll put it in my comedy notebook. I’m so old-fashioned, I still write my topics, even though the show is very improvisational.

The audience doesn’t know exactly what I’m going to say in Tampa, and guess what, I don’t either. I fly by the seat of my pants, baby!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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