Interview: Kathy Griffin's Life On the Blacklist
Support for NPR and the following message. Come from Chapman university located in the hub of southern California's thriving industries and designated as a high research activity institution Chapman university here to inspire achievement at Chapman dot EDU slash NPR. From NPR. I'm Sam Sanders. It's been a minute. I guess for this episode. She was really curious. Whether I'd seen her newest project. Did you watch the movie did you, of course? Oh my God. I'm so excited. Thank you. She was excited because for a while. Now, a lot of us haven't seen that much of her at all my name is Kathy Griffin. And I've been involved in a little scandal coming up on two years. So it's been that long may thirtieth two thousand seventeen so you count the days the night the change my life forever. Can it's back up talk about how we got there in two thousand seventeen scandal almost killed Kathy Griffin's career and it actually started during some downtime for her in between gigs. I will just do a million crazy things to try to make you laugh and on that day. No joke. I had done a photo shoot. We had no paperwork. There was no Pablo's supposed to go anywhere. Kathy says the whole photo shoot took about twenty. Minutes, and it was pretty nonsensical. Except for one photo. I did say I want to do some kind of a picture to shame. Trump Cathy said she was mad at Donald Trump for what he said about Megan Kelly, the former Fox News host this is after Kelly grilled him in the presidential debate in two thousand fifteen you know, you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes blood coming out of her wherever she was. So can the Griffin wanted a photo of a bloody Trump no joke? Like, I sent a friend of mine out to like a party store like a Halloween store or something. And I said just bring back anything like America slash Trumpy in the picture Kathy holds up. This Trump mask over a styrofoam wig head covered in ketchup. She puts it online, and then the backlash Kathy Griffin fired by CNN over that photo of her holding aplenty Trump head might recall this story after that photo came out president tweeted about it. Kathy lost worth immediately. Even after she apologize. And there's more fallout. Federal officials threatened to charge Kathy Griffin with conspiracy to assassinate the president. I couldn't fly for two months. Okay. I mean at all the no fly like eight terrorist people accused of joining ISIS. She got death threats her tour got cancelled fast forward to now. Kathy Griffin is ready for her comeback. She's out what the comedy feature all about her experience over the last few years. It's called Cathy Griffin. A hell of a story. We're gonna talk about that movie and more in this chat. And we'll start with Kathy telling us why she still stands by that. Now infamous photo. Number one. I want to clear up one thing. I did consult my attorneys before I posted that picture. Really? Yes. So you lawyers may have said it was legal. Did they say, maybe they were I it's covering. Okay. It's covered. And by the way, that's all I need to hear because I know that I enjoy pushing the boundaries of the first amendment. But I also am not crazy. I don't want to violate it. Certainly don't want to break the law like anybody. So. I knew it was I I knew it was covering it would blow up, but in the whole span of the investigation all this stuff that anyone Indio J. Authorities say that you broke the law. No, they wouldn't say anything directly to me. But they were just telling my lawyers do it during the whole investigation. They really made it sound like this big investigation and after the interrogation under oath because I simply kept refusing to go downtown in an orange jumpsuit in cuffs because my lawyer said that's the video that they want. They wanted like the Whitey Bulger like aerial shot of like comedian Kathy Griffin. I'm assuming in the feature you really walk us through a wonderful tick tock of how that day played out when you found out, and how you began to like process all of this news, and you go through which people you talk to I it was such an. Interesting to sort meant on the day that it breaks you talk to Rosie O'Donnell. And then you have is it Kris Jenner over for dinner party. Like, oh, yeah. Who was in your life that it was such a crazy day? I mean, I now upon reflection. I wanna thank the stars aligned because I do I do talk about getting a cold call from Jim Carey who I've only met like twice, and I don't have his number and I just loved that. He tracked me down. What did he say? He had he Jamie Foxx. Also tracked me down. Really? Yes. What did both of them say? I first of all I can almost cry just even recounting that because I also got you know, ninety five percent of the calls for the other direction. People calling me going what have you done, blah, blah, blah. But Jim Carey said Cathy today, you're the most famous comedian in the world. And I was crying. And I go rule the ROY breezes. He goes, I get it. I see the death threats instead of Jamie. He's like you're under heat girl you under real he's like, this ain't Hollywood heat. This is like government. He did Jamie think that you were going to survive it to. Yes. And the roses she called you too. I wish Rosie and cat Williams called. I can't Williams. What he's saying cat said. The best thing of all what happened said take out a piece of paper and pen. He said right down, the names of the people that call you and support you today and by the end of the day look at that list. And that's your list of real friends, and I was like which line. Fine, which three besides a common because you've listened. Now. What I have to say I'm gonna throw cat and there's four, but yeah, I would say it was like, Jamie. Rosie and Jim. Yeah. And you let me just say like, I love all four of them. But like I said, I'm going to be honest. I don't like hang, Jamie. And I like I said another numbers, I think cat is a genius. But sometimes I go a year without seeing him in person in the special. You do a really good job of laughing about all of this. Do there's a little bit of tears wants. But you mostly laughing about this. And I wonder I wonder wondered the whole time getting ready for this. How much time did it take from the day of the incident for you to start crying and start laughing again like how long was that process? Well, first of all, I'm pretty dark, and so there were things I left at that day like just just the over the top nature of the accusations. But the other line that I remember Jim Carey telling me, which was a high compliment is he said. Take as much time as you need to process. The story put it through your Kathy Griffin comedy prism. Find a way to tell it and make it funny and relatable and tell it you talking on the special about having some regrets. But I wondered like if you could go back to that day. Would you do the effigy in the photo again? I would I think I need to San by the photo because it is people need to know. I didn't break the law and importantly, if you or your kid put that photo up on their Twitter. They should not have to go through. What I did. I think though, and what I was mulling over in my mind. Definitely allowable legally. And do you have a right to do this? And this is your right to make such a photo showed you want. Yeah. But I think like do you think that making that image and putting it out? There was like good overall for the culture. I think there's why because I feel like I have far it went far. I get it. Kobe had the same issue. He's like it went too far. And could do it. You can do it. That's right. I mean, you should help. That's right. There's a long history which and I talked about this in the film, which I didn't realize until Hillary Clinton herself put it in her audio book where she said, oh, it was obvious to me. It was a send up of perseus and Medusa. So of course, so there's a long history of this kind of look at your Spiegel, look, Shirley Abdou. And honestly when I did that photo shoot, I truly thought the shooter the photographer I really thought he was going to try to send it to like paper or or like, I said dir- Spiegel and do I think it's necessary. Yes. And I'll tell you why this I wasn't a W fan, right? And I'm not going to rewrite history and act like he was the Saint, but I have been doing standup since Hw Bill Clinton w I have never seen anything like this where if you make a joke about the president of the United States who works for us. You may die or go to prison forever or be stigmatized and not I'm not insurable I've had so many publications say that I have lupus that I'm bald. I love that those AM I guys turned because people don't know they don't just own the Enquirer, which did a million hit pieces AM is American media, and they own the Enquirer, but they have also been able to do an acquisition where they now also own okay magazine in touch life in style in my industry. These are called weeklies. I didn't know that they were in bed with the administration. I just thought they were guilty, pleasure magazines. And now, those magazines which I'm sure. Agents read and network people read will there's an article thing. Kathy Griffin has lupus. No, I don't. But that person might go. Oh, I can't hire Hershey's uninsurable. The president shouldn't be able to do that to any citizen public or private. Could you have seen yourself making the same imagery under another president? Besides Trump, you know for no. And that's the reason is eight years old. I have never seen anything like this. And I have traveled the country for so many years prior to the tour the fifty city tour that was canceled because of the photo halfway through. I had done an eighty city tour of the year before I mean, I've been to everyone America. This is this gets part B of my question. Like what I feel like I've been observing and the in the time since Trump began to run for office and into his presidency. He has escalated the rhetoric of everyone. Right. So Trump is combative bombastic figure he ascends. And then before we know it we have all ratcheted up our volume. As well. Yes. And we can. Yeah. But overall, if all the culture makers in the world, right or like in America ratchet up as much as he ratchets up. Does it get us to a good place as a society? You're absolutely right. And I feel just like, you know, when I go in for jobs over and over again, and whether it's a network studio, and they say like, oh, you're really funny. It's great to meet you. But we already have a female comedian or we already have a comedy person for our channel, whether it's male or female. I am that person that goes yet. We're not all monolithic. Yeah. So I feel really strongly. First of all, I'm not a comedy stop. I think it's great. Jerry seinfeld. Doesn't swear. I think it's awesome. The gym gaffe, again is so clean. He can do stand up the pope. I think it's funny. I think to Larry, and I also think there's a space. Okay. Are the type of comics like myself that are the edge will slow blower, naughty? I mean, you know, we call it. We call it t and this is really me. Spilling the tea, but about the government. And it's also a guy I've known for twenty five apprentice, I wasn't on the part of two challenges, but I know him from everything from when you're a female comic. You get to know a lot of these people because, you know, everyone always needs a comedian toast. So that's my dirty little secret is the way I actually know so many a listers isn't because they like me or invite me to their house. It's because I get the call and they always need a comedian to host. Whether it's a I've hosted the billboard music awards. But I've also hosted you know, the race to erase MS cetera. Donald a few times many times. What's what was he like he was a joke and believe it or not when I knew him. He was the type of guy that I got along with okay because I could make a joke right to his face. And he just kind of you know, because he doesn't really doesn't have. He's so myopic. Shing he does. I don't think he would really even hear it. Like, I actually like no joke. The last time. I saw him. Mm. He hired me to roast him on an episode of the apprentice. So he knows my gig back and forth. He is act-. I actually sat next to him one time for four hours at a roast of Larry King, and he was like in my ear the whole time. And I'm like, oh this one like so for the all he he's super nonsensical. Like it's worse now than when I knew him, and I haven't seen him down a few years. But it's he would just say really weird stuff like he turned to me. And he goes, so you're female comedian. And by the way, I had known him for at least ten years, and I go. Yeah. Next thing, you know, we're going to want to vote and he just had literally no action to that. No reaction. So that I mean, then my little horns come out. And I'm like, oh, this is the type of guy that I can kind of like mess with him because he's not listening. So then it's it's interesting seemed like a harmless fool, so where he could have called you after that image came up because he had met through several times when he it was. He knew he was in my opinion. He was activating the army, honestly, anybody contract this. You know, all my comments are flooded on my social media platforms with robots and they're all like ISIS, lady bad. You know, it's not pretty I have to warn my friends if they post a picture like if we take a photo posted. I'm just know that the comments are from running for robot. They're not going to be pretty okay? And then occasionally you're going to get like a love the fierce diva. But there will be people accusing you of maybe joining ISIS with me, which my joke is when people still think, I'm an ISIS. I always go like this. I worked at the gift shop for like a week come down. And then I just watched their faces like turn gray. It's real. All right time for a break. When we come back Kathie talks about her friendship with the Kardashians. Also heads up we used some strong language in this next section B R B. Support for this NPR podcast and the following message. Come from better help better help offers licensed professional counselors, who specialize in issues such as depression stress, anxiety and more connect with your professional counselor, and it safe and private online environment. At your convenience get help at your own time and your own pace schedule secure video or phone sessions plus chat and text with your therapist. Visit better health dot com slash minute. To learn more. We're back with a new season of rough. Translation. Yeah. And this time we are following people break the rule in lying. He's part of the business. Opinion. The best revenge against ISIS is to be humane. A mess supposed to pinch. Yeah. Yeah. Episodes every other Wednesday. Subscribe. I wanna talk about celebrity culture, which is still a good part of the special. And which is the way that I came to love you. I can recall as a kid watching your specials, and I'll never forget, whichever one was where you spent a good amount of time calling Renee Zellweger puffy core. Res L Wigger called me that day. She actually texted me. And she was like hanging there girl and was okay with that not only that it was such an affirming thing. Because one of the things that I do admire about like, I said, those who shoulders I stand on is. It would be so gratifying for me when I would hear I mean. He's no longer with us. But Rickles somebody like, Don Rickles, saying, you know, after a certain amount of time these people I made fun of for all these years. They would actually say like, oh, I get it. You're just kidding. Yes. So Zellweger, obviously when she texted me a supportive text. I was like, oh, thank you. Thank you. I really was just kidding. I think you're great. And guess how I met her. I was hosting a charity. She did this really cool dramatic reading and we came. But it's and then she ended up going. Oh, you're kidding you. So I'm think I've ever seen a comic get into like the metaphysics of being celebrity in the way that you have for so long. I'm fascinated by what is like in your what twenty thirty years of like mocking celebrity? What does your big takeaway about the celebrity industrial complex? I think the takeaway that people find the most fascinating is when they feel like number one they're in their living room with one of their best friends. Like, that's my highest compliment say this just doesn't feel. Like a regular comedy show with one liners. I feel like oh my gosh. I was led into this person's living room, and they don't know anyone's here, and they're just spouting off with impunity. So the other thing is I I've learned people really like when someone pulls back the curtain, and honestly, that's what made my life on the d list success is that they did all these focus grouping and all this other stuff and people said their favorite part was watching her go through something in real life. And that was a real show. Nothing was scripted. No writers. And then at the end of the show seeing it hit the stage and seeing how she took that incident. And then went oh, I can make this funny quote chunk. And so I like, oh people I am just someone who is truly not afraid to pull back the curtain, and what I've learned about celebrity that I find the most conducive to comedy is. It's very two faced industry. Yeah. I mean, but that's what I find humorous as these celebrities that appear to be one way. And we really think we believe it. And if I haven't experienced with them that shows. That they're different than I love to go. You know, actually, look and see this. That's right. And if it's funny, honestly, believe it or not I really don't just go out there and go so and so is ugly. Goodnight. If it isn't funny, and I don't want to unusually. It's funny because I liked it. You point out that. Celebrities in a certain way, there's a lot hypocrisy. Let's and she's the word, and they'll do anything. It takes. Yes, stay celebrity. There's this moment in the special where you talk about not on purpose. The the night in which the photo breaks in your the biggest in the world is also a night that you have a dinner party scheduled with Christian or Kris Jenner, and I'm sobbing, and I'm a wreck and also Academy Award nominee Melanie Griffith. Who's who's different? She's more. Like and Christie was your advice. Chris gives me advice that I'm saying, I should apologize because. No, oh, my friends because I apologized, and then she just is like she's like cutting a stake in God love her. She's called Zeiss. And I do think she's killed people. Now, I can't prove it. But would you cross her? Hell, no. Thank you. Anyway. So. So anyway, she's kind of your steak, and she's like, no it was a good idea. We do it all the time apologizing and then people just start laughing because they know through all the time. And they know what's real, and they go, you know, one of the kids take trademark by mistake. And then, you know, they get sued and we just apologized, and I was like, oh it was. Yes, I was laughing that very night win. You are seeing that layer of celebrity peeled back. And you see these real celebrities and these real moments. Yeah. Do you respect these celebrities more or less because they're shrewd both? And you know, it's interesting. The kardashians. Are an example, like the fact that during this whole thing I lived right next door to all people can make Cray Cray, Cray, Cray, all caps. And I was happy and grateful and truly that when I bought the house. I foolishly believed a tabloid that had said, oh, they moved back to balance or Bassus or wherever their country is because I believe I think Chris made wherever they live its own country. I can't prove it. But I think she's done or she could. And so so when I first moved there, I honestly did want to assure Kim who I do know like, I'm I'm really not like stocky you. And I know this must look weird because I've called you guys every names in the book for ten years, and what was so delightful. They're so loaded, and like when I first met them, I think they did kind of stress me. And it was so lovely to hear Kim be like, oh, my God you like the least of our problems like we're like mad at Taylor swift right now like we really literally don't care about your jokes. Like, welcome. And I was like oh my gosh. And I wanna tell the audience that too. So after years of going like, oh the Kardashians. Baba I want to go guess guess who turned out to be there for me frigging Kim Kardashian? What is relevant first of all she said after all the stuff that we've been through. She's like, I got your back and nobody's gonna come for you. And we made this really sweet deal, which I'm very proud of which is. She is obsessed with Elizabeth Taylor. And I was friends with Joan radios. Right. I know Ed, and she didn't know they were best friends. And I said, did you know that they had a deal and she's like literally, I go no figuratively. Anyway, I said the deal in this Joan told me this. And I believe it. I didn't never met Liz Taylor. But I'm just believing Joan rivers because I do. Anyway, she said that their deal was they really became friends, and I would be offended by the jokes. And after a while, she just started laughing about them, and the deal was you can make whatever jokes about me. If I have the freedom to just like call you when I feel like I need a laugh from the great Joan rivers and Jones like done. And so I go Kim. We're gonna make a deal. She's like what I go. We're making a deal, and she's like, I go I get to call you guys dirty whores as long as I want on or off TV and whenever you're feeling like you need to laugh. I will literally issue say literally either come to your house or you call me, and I will give you a private Kathy Griffin concert. Wait until you're laughing whether three times stop it. No. I won't. I went over there twice. You I would sit on her couch. And you know, we talked after the robbery and I've been held up at gunpoint twice. We talked about that. And I said, I'm not gonna leave till you're laughing. So we talked about it and then Connie walks in and then I had to start because you know, if he thinks he's probably Cosso, and he makes them all wear shirts that say Pablo. So I'm trying to make him laugh. So he comes downstairs, and she's like, I know you're how and then she's like, ABBIE. And he he just you know, how it gives that like empty stare and the besides I'd met him one time. I'm like, I get it. I'm just he's not a big talker. So of course, I have to push it. And I go like this pops shirt. Sure. And I put my arms out, and it was the hug where like his body like stiffed, and I'm like rocky. I'm not letting go now I go out, and he's so uncomfortable and Kim's laughing and she's like. Her and he and then he for real he walks out of the room almost like river, Dan style. And he goes like this this never happened. I wasn't here. This never happened. Okay. Now, if you think I'm not going to honor the deal Kim. Which is I'm allowed to talk about them. Like, I cannot keep that story inside me human shared it. In a minute. Kathy tells us about her struggles searching for a distributor right now that they'll that we talked about earlier her newest project. It's only been shown at south by south west coming up. We talk about why it's been so tough for her to find a distributor for her latest project is it a Trump is people getting quote, the tweet more after the break. Support for this podcast and the following message. Come from the Walton family foundation where opportunity takes root more information is available at Walton family foundation dot org. Support for this podcast and the following message. Come from the Walton family foundation where opportunity takes root more information is available at Walton family foundation dot org. Find a one a podcast on the NPR app or wherever you listen to podcasts. What is next for you? You're gonna try to shop this movie still trying to shop the movie, and I'm gonna just say, look, I don't know how these things get done. Because like I said, I don't even have an agent. I am state persona non grata of. And you don't have an agent. I have a lawyer. I have a great publicist everybody in town to find me they all know how to get to Kathy Griffin. Yeah. I talked about myself in the third person that person, but I'm hoping that that the people will somehow want to see it. And honestly, I will say that the response and south by south west was was the polar opposite of my sort of current Hollywood bad girl status, I got love. But also, I got real interest in the questions were different. They weren't just like, what's so. And so like they were going. Okay. Wait talk to me about this process. And what should I be worried about? And how did you get through this part or people would say I had this difficult experience and laughing got me through it. And like it was a bigger conversation. Would you self distribute this film, if I have to I sure will when it's you know, if you have to. I'll know if I have to if I don't get an offer where I feel like we'll never want to have to retain ownership. So that's number one. So I got my entire library back from NBC universal. It has no value now. But who knows? And and that is another message to people going like, oh, okay. You know ownership is where it's what it's really about like learned that from the music industry people. That's how all those cigarettes, go broke. It's the licensing in the publishing that is they'll see was broke. That's right. And yet probably some executive who said yes to waterfalls got more money than vandy Burs or Chelsea. And so I was like, oh, you while to learn that, you know, and I always talk about like the first two years. I did New Year's Eve on CNN. It didn't even occur to me to ask to get paid anything. What you did the first CNN New Year's for free for two years. That's right. And then when I asked for a raise my eighth year when the show went from ninety minutes to four and a half hours. Jeff Zucker was so offended that I even asked for raise Dr thirty percent, and I still do more. Well, of course, of course. But no. And that one just hurts like, I just honest with people I go. There's no punch line for that one. It just hurts. I and the reason the reason I talk about it is I really do think everyone knows that feeling of like you thought this was the person you could count on. And then sometimes you're wrong. And there's also away. This is what puzzled me about him. There's a way to say, I don't like to see did this one thing. But she's my friend, right? How close were you? I thought very close. I loved him. I really love you still love him. I. I mean. Yeah, I'll always love him because I'm that type of person I'm like this Daljeet, and I tend to look at my history with someone. I don't see a future for us this, friends, frankly. But you know, I gotta let you go soon. But I I think that I noticed in your story and the experiences of comedians period right now, it's a hard on a B comic because you have to walk on that show. Like, nothing I've ever seen. It's really different out there. But the folks that get the worst in harshest pushed back when they step over whatever line is imagined. It's always women comics. Yeah. I mean, we can go through the list. You know? Samantha b oh, yes. They try to show Michelle intimate the be win. But then there there are men like I don't know Bill Maher who it doesn't matter what they say or do. Oh there there. There are men that have are you kidding? First of all been arrested five times tanked shows. On sets with their shows are two million dollars an episode, and they're they're adding on coke like don't even start me. So then given that landscape seeing how much harder it is still especially now for the women doing the stuff that you knew in. What are you want to say to the young women who might your this who know that they're funny and might say I want to do a Kathy does one day. I want to be a comic. I wanna be a funny person. What is your advice to them? I love when people ask me that. Because I always number one. I'm very honest, and I go look, I don't know if everyone's going to tell you this. But I'm just going to tell you my experience it is almost as bad as the day. I started regarding sexism and misogyny, so just accept it. You're going to have to work harder than the guys and jumped ten times higher say twice as hard for have as much absolutely that that is that is my experience, and maybe it isn't someone else's. But I'm telling you, I've lived it. Also, I always say you're going to have to figure out a way to do it all within the system. So as much as it seems like I do crazy. Things and stuff. I'm still believe it or not doing it within the framework of whether it's a film festival, or you know, a whacky picture. I put online that isn't offensive trying to keep keep motivating in whatever way possible. And I always tell like, I said, certainly young people of color gay folks are women and maybe by the way, this is any industry in this environment in my humble opinion. You know, be aware and be aware of what's going on. It's important that you have a broad base of interests. So if you're a comedian, I think that it is okay. That is expected of you to be up on stuff, you know. And by the way, it'll make you better. It'll make you more interesting. Whether you're a comedy writer or comedy, performer or writing a script and the ones I know that have been successful. The most important thing is if you love it, you you just don't stop no matter what. And by the way. I don't mean if you're if you're bombing for five years, then I got bad news for you. You're not. But if you like. Me if you've had some success, and you've had more yeses than no in the long run, you're onto something if you really love it, and you have to have what I consider it a call to be a burning desire because if you are a mart in a marginalized community. And once again, I'm saying fifty eight year old woman, even though I have white privilege Fifty-eight trust me. They I might as well be one hundred and fifty eight in Hollywood. But you know, I think the most important thing that I the only example I'm trying to set is I'm not high and mighty obviously it's just important that people see I didn't go down. This is also a business where like I said you can make ton of money on year and make nothing the other. We'll save some Honey I just did an interview with the economist I was so excited because I'm all about save save save. And my joke is safe for rainy day. Like, I did because I had among soon. So yeah, if you get a little success, save it. There's no rush. It's like those those shows like on TLC like the curse of the lotto, y'all go crazy and by ten Lamborghinis paper, calm down. That's right. Last question. You said the gentleman soon is a son back out yet for you. The sounds coming back out and the part that I that part that I've made peace with is. I'm gonna have to do this to myself. Like, nobody's got a shovel for me. And it's gonna help dig dig my way out of it. So I'm going to just have to keep like I said doing shows that the left factories so people can go. Oh, she's not like some zero anti president person. She's out there just being ridiculous and funny and they were super excited. I can't wait to do it next Monday. And a wait till I do my next tour because this last one was so big, and it was so sort of single topic that some time has to pass I have learned, and I really do believe on my pessimistic days. I have lived one phone, call can change your life. When I got the phone call from Warner Brothers saying you're starting as a regular on a network show on Monday. And then I did twenty three episodes a year for four years pit changed my life in a phone call. So I always tell people that two down it really, I've lived it. It can happen. Kathy griffin. Thank you so much. My pleasure. Many thanks again to Kathy Griffin. You can catch her performance at the laugh factory on Mondays here in Los Angeles. You may even see me there. You can also catch Kathy's film. Once she finds someone contribute. All right. That's all for this week back in your feats, Friday toxin.