Kathy Griffin has made a career out of her life on the D-list. Griffin, who is coming to The Eccles Theater later this month on a comedy tour in support of her new book, spoke to Salt Lake magazine’s Christie Marcy in a conversation that covered everything from relationship advice to Donald Trump. And then some.
This is is a transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity only.
KG: Hey Christie How are you?
SLM: I’m great, how are you?
KG: Well, I think we’re destined to become besties.
SLM: Okay, why’s that?
KG: Alright, so I just had my breakfast of champions—three spoonfuls of peanut butter. So, are you a peanut butter fanatic because it provides protein or just because you like the taste?
SLM: Did you stalk my Twitter, Kathy Griffin?
KG: Oh, I’ve read all your articles and your Twitter feed. I know everything about you.
SLM: I like peanut butter because it’s good. I don’t care about protein.
KG: I just want to let you know, you could be a secret comedian in hiding. Because, it’s kind of an old D.J. trick or a comic thing, to pound a little bit of peanut butter before a performance because you can eat it super quick and get a protein and sugar hit really fast.
SLM: The guy I’ve been dating doesn’t like peanut butter. It’s not that he’s allergic—he just doesn’t like nuts, specifically peanut butter. And I’m not sure how far this relationship can go.
KG: Well, when you kiss him, if you have peanut butter on your breath does he feel like you’re a smoker?
SLM: Yeah, that’s a no-go. It’s a nonstarter.
KG: I would say—this is what I do an an artist—find his weak spot and just f*cking go for it. So, whatever his Achille’s heel is in life, you just say, “How dare you!” And I would accuse him of racism and peanut butter bashing and tell him that you’re immersed in the peanut butter community and you’re going to rise up. I would pull out the big guns and if he doesn’t get it, he may not be your milk chocolate.
SLM: Thank you. That’s great relationship advice and I’m so glad I’m recording this so I can play this for him later and say, “Well, I’m sorry.”
KG: I’m like an underrated dear Abby. I have such good advice.
KG: I actually just finished doing New Year’s Eve with Anderson Cooper, so that was four-and-a-half hours and we got the highest ratings that we’ve goten in ten years. I’m very proud of that because I co-produced that show. Anderson takes it on the chin, which is all I ask of a hot model. So, I did that and I have a New York Times bestseller on the shelves right now called Kathy Griffin Celebrity Run-ins: My A-Z Index. That’s doing really well.
The tour I’m doing to support the book is called the Celebrity Run-Ins Tour and I’m starting it next weekend. You guys are going to be one of 50 cities I’m doing this year because there’s something wrong with me. Chris Rock asked me if I owe child support. I said no, but I love touring more than anything because unlike the red carpet you can really do and say anything. So my live shows, I’m telling you honey, they are not for the faint of heart. Don’t bring the kids—there’s going to be a lot of cursing. I don’t feel like I’ve done a good show until someone storms out in protest.
SLM: That’s not hard to do in Utah—you’ve done shows in Salt Lake before? You’ve been in front of Utah crowds before?
KG: Oh you mean the closeted gay men and their wives? I am very happy to come to Salt Lake again because I find that my outspoken brand of comedy is not for everyone and yet, believe it or not, when I do my show in a place where all my friends are saying, “Oh, it’s very conservative,” I find that this magical thing happens where a lot of the forward-thinking folks find me. I like to call it “The Ladies and The Gays Make the Drive.” I’ll go in there and I’ll think, “I don’t think I should hold back because the reputation of Salt Lake is be careful. I think I should double-down on my outrageous, hilarious award-winning style of comedy.” So I do pretty well in Salt Lake. I’m excited. My ticket sales are good and all I need is a nice hot dozen of Banbury Cross donuts and I can do a show.
SLM: Sometimes I’m at shows here, and I’m sure your show is an example of this, when I look around and I say, “Okay, if I had to be trapped in Salt Lake for the rest of my life, I would want it to be with the people in this room right now.”
KG: Exactly, I’m like a foul mouthed safety pin, going from town to town. Even though my language may be heinous, I am, in fact, your safety pin. Of course, forward-thinking people want to laugh regardless of their political leanings and of course the LGBTQAAQ345 come to my shows. I can be in a market like Birmingham and I think, “Oh god, I’m going to get slaughtered here,” but then I’ll start to see my twitter feed and people will post busloads of gay guys or whoever wants to come—and is probably not someone who follows conservative politics. I love when I get busloads of people that go into a certain town and they’re there to blow of some steam and have some good laughs—that’s all I want to do, too.
SLM: I’ll be at your show, and I asked a gay friend if he wanted to go with me and the noise that came out of his body, I think, has to be the gayest moment of his entire life.
KG: Was it a primal sound?
SLM: He squealed with delight like nothing I had ever heard before.
KG: I actually talk about that in one of my specials, because when I went to perform in Iraq and Afghanistan, at one point the Sergeant Major of the Army—he literally didn’t know what to do with me because I was so offensive and running around and just being crazy doing anything to make these brave men and women laugh—at one point he said, “Just go to the chow hall and sit down at a table and make people laugh.” And that’s when I heard, what I lovingly framed “The Gay Gasp.” I’m literally in a chow hall in Afghanistan and I’m just sitting around men and women in uniform and I just hear this one guy go “Ahhhhhhhhh! Oh my God, diva! What are you doing here?!” And I turned to him and I said, “No. What are you doing here?” This was before the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. But I find whenever I can give someone a gasp, gay, straight, Q, I, A—whatever letter—it makes me happy. That’s all I really want to do.
KG: Celebrities who think I’m mean or offensive, usually when I can get to them, I’ll try to calm them down and go, “You know I’m really just trying to make people laugh?” I write in my book about a conversation I had with Miley Cyrus after calling her every name in the book. I swear to God, Miley was like, “So this whole time you were just trying to make people laugh?” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s it. It’s really no deeper than that.” She said, “So, like, when you make fun of people it’s, like, just to get laughs?” I go, “Yeah, That’s it.” And she goes, “Okay. We’re cool.” And we’ve been cool ever since.
It’s all I ask from these celebrities. It’s when they want me to stop talking about them that we have a problem. I’ve been approached by many celebrities who say, “Okay, so I need you to not talk about me in your act.” I actually just had this conversation with Christina Aguilera, and I said, “It doesn’t work that way, you know it. I’m always on the lookout for you or somebody else to do something crazy.”
SLM: And it’s not really about them.
KG: No! It’s about their behavior. It’s really tricky now with no-bullying and the way that the right-wing has sort of co-opted my expression of politically incorrect. I don’t want to be in with that alt-right crowd, but what I do is politically incorrect. Now, Donald Trump says “politically incorrect” and it’s code for racist verbiage, so I have to find a new way of saying I’m out and loud and proud and now more than ever, I refuse to hold back. At my own peril!
I don’t know what’s going to happen onstage in Salt Lake. Everywhere I go I’ve got to assume that probably half the audience voted for Trump—I’m just walking the line. Thankfully, I have personal stories with Trump because I’ve run into him several times, so you can’t be mad at me if I’m just recalling a personal run-in that I had with Donald Trump. I mean, I can’t believe he’s supposedly going to be president—I’ll believe it when I see it. But, he’s just some guy I knew who was an orange Realtor in New York. I don’t think anyone who knows him really took him that seriously.
SLM: I don’t think he took himself seriously until about October.
KG: But! I think he now does.
I personally believe he’s a true believer. And I will say, and this is not good as a feminist, but it does make him funnier for my act. Seriously, there’s a big difference between people who don’t know they are funny—I can’t do anything to him, he’s kind of got the Oprah/Ryan Seacrest thing—no matter how much fun I made of them I’m not going to cause any damage, which I wouldn’t want to anyway. But, the genius of Trump is that he doesn’t even know what’s so funny because he keeps doing it and as a comic, honestly, that’s a dream scenario. You can’t make fun of Obama in the same way because Obama is self-effacing and has a sense of humor and even W was harder to make fun of because he would chuckle at himself. But Trump is comedy gold. He’s just bad for the world.
SLM: As long as it’s job security for you!
KG: We’ll see. We’ll see how soon I get run out of town. Look honey, you’re next. It’s going to be the journalists and the comedians first, then we’ll be somewhere in a gulag.
SLM: What do you think of the Meryl Streep thing at The Golden Globes? Do you think that was the platform to make that statement?
KG: Of course! Celebrities vote. I mean the vitriol that these celebrities take, and I am going to defend a lot of them because when I look at someone like George Clooney or even Ben Affleck I think, “You know, these are folks who have gone to Sudan for a long time.” I don’t really care about someone on twitter saying “Hey, shut up, so-and-so celebrity!”
Usually what people give me crap about saying anything political I want to say, “So, first of all I’m a comic so of course I’m going to talk about everything. I’m not going to remove politics. Second of all, I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m not going to listen to some conservative person talk to me about my feelings or my experiences when they didn’t even go.” And by the way, that’s another one of my favorite things about Trump. It’s like, why don’t you go to Iraq and Afghanistan and then see how quickly you want to get into a war.
I get a little on my high horse, but I absolutely think that Meryl Streep is probably a lot more intelligent than a lot of people are and I thought she was eloquent and the haters are just hating. I think it’s really bizarre to say that because of someone’s field what they say doesn’t matter. It’s just a continuance of Trump’s whole my team matters and your team doesn’t matter approach. Also, do you really think Meryl Streep gives a f*ck? That’s another thing I love, I love when celebrities and public figures get to an age that they just don’t give a f*ck. And I write about them a lot in my book.
I’m actually friends with Sidney Poitier—and one that’s something people don’t know about me—and two, he has a great sense of humor and three, who wouldn’t want to speak to Sidney Poitier? Like, the guy is so smart that I do want to hear him talk about politics—he’s met every president.
So if there’s a celebrity and they are informed and they have a point of view, I’m in. Look, now we’re in an era where I’m just looking for anyone who has a brain cell working. We are definitely in a different time so I have no issue with people who are truly passionate and interested and have actual experience, I don’t care what their field is.
KG: I am very proud of being at a point in my career where I could actually get some celebrities to not hate me. I’ve become friends with Sharon Stone. The reason I’m proud of that is that I’ve been really tough on her over the years because she’s, you know, she’s nutty. But I still think she’s super cool, so I call her on New Year’s Eve day and say, “Is there any way you can film a 15 second shoutout to me that I can play on CNN on New Year’s Eve?” And God love her, she sent two versions of herself in a bubble bath, pretty much recreating her iconic scene, if you know what I’m saying. And she looks down at the bubble bath and she says, “Anderson, is that you?” I am proud of that moment. Here’s a giant, globally recognized movie star who, 15 years ago when I started becoming well known as a comic, pretty much wanted to strangle me. I love that I’ve been doing it this long and a good number of these famous folks have finally come around and been like, “This chick isn’t going anywhere and I might as well just accept it.” I love it when someone says, “Yeah, I’ll show you I can get in on the joke. I’ll get into a bubble bath and act like Anderson Cooper is under the bubbles.” That’s what it’s about. I just want to make people laugh. If they are mad I’m going to try to bring them around and if they really play along everybody wins.
SLM: Our jobs are probably not that different, in that, if people know what to expect from you and they know they can trust you then they’ll play along
KG: Yes! You articulated that perfectly. That’s also really essential for touring. I did 89 cities last year and I’m doing 50 this year. To do a theater tour—not clubs but nice theaters like The Eccles—to do a theater tour without any television show supporting you or a movie franchise—let me tell you honey, especially for a 56 year old woman, it is a Sisyphus going up the hill situation. But I think the cool thing is my audience knows what they’re getting.
They know it’s going to be two hours of unbridled profanity and me trying out new materials, throwing out a story I didn’t think I would tell that night or something that happened to me two hours before the show. I think it’s really important to let the audience know what they’re in for, that’s why I’m always saying, “All-new material, don’t bring the kids, not for the faint of heart.” But I promise you’ll laugh.
SLM: I have a dear friend, Amanda, who saw you several times with her mother, who has now passed, and so I contacted her and I said, “I’m interviewing Kathy Griffin,” and after she hyperventilated she said the thing about your shows that kept them coming back was that you make everyone in the audience feel like you’re just sitting down and chatting with friends.
KG: That is is the best compliment, because truly that’s my goal. It’s how I started, so my act is truly that. It’s an extension of me inviting friends to my house and trying to make them laugh in my living room. That’s what I did pretty much every night during the holidays, it’s second nature to me and I love it.
And yet my friends will bust me sometimes. I’ll have a couple people for dinner and they’ll be like, “Are you talking now or are you trying out a new story?” And I’m like, “Both. It’s both.” Because it’s true. Even when I’m talking to my mom I’m taking everything she says in, because I know that the Salt Lake audience is going to want to hear about their beloved Maggie Griffin. And luckily, boy did she deliver over the holidays. So I have new Maggie Griffin stories.
And by the way, I saw that you tweeted about boxed wine, so I hope you know you have a sister in your 92-year-old mother.
SLM: What’s her poison? What’s her box?
KG: First of all you’re triggering me, and I’ll tell you why. Her jam is Franzia and my good friend Suze Orman had a conversation with my mother saying, “I think I can get you an endorsement deal with Franzia,” and my mother foolishly said, “I don’t want people to think I have a drinking problem.” I have been pissed off at that old bag of bones ever since. For the right price I would have sex with a donkey. But no, mother, you—with your boxed wine everyday—even though Suze Orman is saying “Maggie, you should do this.” And you can just hear Suze saying it, “Maggie DENIED, you need to do this for Franzia, why not, you know you enjoy the product anyway.”
But no, my mother who—the reason she’s funny is I can never figure out where she’s going next—but my mother who still acts like it’s the depression and counts pennies and wears a shredded moumou from Target decided she was too high and mighty, as she would say, to do a boxed wine ad. So there are the complexities of Maggie Griffin.
SLM: I’m a Bota Box girl.
KG: Now do you celebrate your boxed wine, or do you say to friends “I’m only doing this one time.”
SLM: No, I’m like, “I’m coming over and I’m bringing the box!”
KG: Good for you! Not only that, I can’t tell you how many people have tweeted me photos of all of the products, I’m sure you’ve seen the side strap, so you can carry your box like it’s an electric guitar. It’s a whole industry. In fact, now you’ve made me so mad, I’m going to go to her retirement village and just yell at her for a minute.
KG: Oh, by the way, I hope you appreciate this, on New Year’s Eve, after four and a half hours on CNN, I went to Gloria Estefan’s penthouse in New York—she had the whole broadway cast of the Broadway show On Your Feet there and they were all singing. I said to Gloria, let’s call Maggie—all of my celebrity friends like my mom way more than they like me and I’ve accepted it, she’s just more adorable. So, my mom maybe had a little too much of your beloved boxed wine and for the first part of the conversation I think she thought it was Gloria Steinem and then she thought it was Gloria Vanderbilt and it wasn’t until Gloria Estefan actually said, “The rhythm is gonna get ya,” that my mother went, “Oh! That’s the girl singer!”
Because my mom calls Gloria Estefan, to her face, “The girl singer,” because Gloria had my mom as her personal guest to the freaking Hollywood Bowl when she played with the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra. So my mom is like, “Oh the orchestra is great and they got a girl singer!”
SLM: We’ve come a long way, baby.
KG: And Gloria will never let me correct her because I’m trying to yell at my mom but she’s not listening and Gloria said, “No, I think it’s good. Your mom’s right, ultimately I’m a girl singer.” I’m like, “Ugh, Gloria, you can’t fall under her spell!”
KG: I will promise you this, I have an act. It’s imperfect, it’s a little tangential, but I write every single word of my act and every word of my specials (many comedians don’t, that’s a little inside scoop for you) and I promise to be funny and I promise a good time will be had by all.
SLM: Perfect and thank you so much for your time and I’m so glad that I have a new best friend, united by peanut butter. This is great for me.
K: Right? Peanut butter and boxed wine and God only knows what else.
Kathy Griffin plays The Eccles Theater on January 27. Show is at 8. Tickets are still available here.