Kathy Griffin: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Once the darling of celebrity gossip-mongers and fans of goofy reality TV, Kathy Griffin has run into a … bit of a career bump. The Guinness Book world record holder for most comedy specials on a network (that’s sixteen for Bravo for those of you keeping score at home) wasn’t exactly canceled after some extreme online political commentary, but things have definitely slowed to a crawl for the notoriously tireless comic. Let’s take a look at Griffin’s life on the D-List -- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Whether or not Kathy is your comedy cup of tea -- her autobiographical confessions about awkward celebrity run-ins are either dishy delights or tired, second-tier name-dropping, depending on your point of view -- Griffin was decidedly A-list on the stand-up circuit.
Her six comedy albums all received Grammy nominations (not that she’s ever won one). And she’s got staying power, killing it since the 1990s as one of the originals on the alt-comedy scene. “The girls were the ones who were getting famous,” says comic Greg Behrendt in We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy. “It was Janeane (Garofalo) and Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffin. Those were the girls that could fill the rooms.”
Those USO tours entertaining the troops earn her a couple of points as well.
My Life on the D-List
Take Griffin’s stand-up and turn it into a Hollywood outsider’s slice of life and you get My Life on the D-List, a two-time Emmy winner for Outstanding Reality Program.
What makes D-List (and Griffin’s stand-up) work is a self-deprecating “can you believe a complete nobody like me is hanging out with Cher?” attitude, the kind of lady who gawks at a passing Kardashian while figuring out how to score more free samples at Costco. In other words, Griffin is just like you and me if we suddenly found ourselves as mega-minor celebrities.
Crowdsourcing a cancer diagnosis
Maybe Griffin’s always been a little off-kilter but her behavior just seems to keep getting weirder. The latest example?
That would be turning to Instagram to ask fans for help reading her cancer scans. “I know this is crazy,” she admits, but not getting a call back from an oncologist and turning to social media for medical advice might not be the smartest idea. Especially considering the feathers she ruffles on the daily--wouldn’t some of her Internet antagonists want to steer her wrong?
Good news, reports Page Six -- the comments section declared her cancer-free. OK, but if it were us, we’d still try to get in with our family doc to make sure.
Getting naughty with Anderson Cooper
Look, we don’t care if Griffin wants to get down to her bra and panties on New Year’s Eve. It’s a party, Kathy--you do you! But Griffin pulled a number of other stunts on CNN holiday celebrations with Anderson Cooper, and some of them legit got her in hot water. In 2013, she simulated oral sex on the silver-haired journalist, earning her the ire of the Parents Television Council (the best kind of group to piss off since you get the controversy without the consequences).
But Griffin did get some actual slapback in 2009 when she dropped an F-bomb on live television while discussing a 6-year-old boy who was in the news that week. The slip (?) cost Kathy her paycheck, which CNN demanded back after the faux pas.
After scoring an Emmy in 2007, Griffin took to the stage to assure the crowd that, unlike other winners, she had no intention of thanking Jesus for His divine help in securing the statue. “I want you to know that no one had less to do with winning this award than Jesus,” she shouted. “All I can say is suck it, Jesus! This award is my god now!”
It's not necessary to endear yourself to Middle America, but it's also not necessary to rear back and unload on something millions hold dear during a nationally televised award show. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences cut the insult from the show’s telecast. “I hope I offended some people,” she said after the victory. “I didn’t want to win the Emmy for nothing.”
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights was angered by the “obscene and blasphemous” remarks, perhaps correctly noting that it was “a sure bet that if Griffin had said, ‘Suck it, Muhammad,’ there would have been a very different reaction.”
That Trump photo
It’s the stunt that Griffin truly regrets. Or the one she would do again in a minute. Sort of depends on when you ask her.
The picture of Griffin holding the severed head of Donald Trump, part of a photo session with edgy photographer Tyler Shields, was not out of character for the comic. Pushing beyond the bounds of good taste (see “suck it, Jesus” above) is Griffin’s comic modus operandi. Expressing rage over conservative politics is in character as well. But this was extreme, even for Kathy Griffin. And so was the backlash, with everyone from CNN to Squatty Potty severing ties. The Secret Service wasn’t nuts about it either.
At first, Griffin backed away. She posted a mea culpa video on Twitter, admitting, “I went way too far. The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people, it wasn’t funny, I get it.”
But her remorse didn’t last long. By August 2016, Griffin retracted the apology, arguing with an Australian journalist who claimed the gory picture offended both liberals and conservatives. “You’re full of crap, you know this,” Griffin argued. “Stop acting like my little picture is more important than talking about the actual atrocities that the president of the United States is committing.”
Then in 2020, when Trump was falsely claiming victory in the Presidential election, Griffin reposted the photo on her social feeds. She didn’t stop there, adding more fuel to a feed that continues to feature way more political diatribes than gossipy celebrity comedy.
Now Griffin claims she’s blacklisted, and it’s pretty clear that she’s not working nearly as much as she used to. After years on the road, she’s not touring. There’s not much going on these days at kathygriffin.com, save for the promotion of her 2019 autobiographical film, Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story. (For what it’s worth, the reviews are good!)
A hell of a story is right. Stay tuned to find out if her controversial Trump photo was the final chapter.
Top image: Rickmill Productions