Kathy Griffin has gone from the D-List to the No Fly List and back again. After bravely risking staining her blue pussy-bow blouse with ketchup during her infamous 2017 photo shoot, the comedian’s career imploded, and since then she’s been through hell. She was the subject of a monthslong federal investigation, battled an addiction to pills, attempted suicide, and was diagnosed with lung cancer, which resulted in losing half of her left lung — all of which contributed to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. “I love talking about this stuff, which I know initially doesn’t sound hilarious,” she says, but she has found that, surprisingly, especially after the collective trauma of the Trump era and the COVID pandemic, audiences have been able to relate.
After “biting and scratching” her way back, Griffin is now set to head back out on the road with her newly announced My Life on the PTSD-List tour. “Something has happened where it’s almost like America has finally forgiven me or something,” she says. “All of a sudden, I got a call from the Mirage in Vegas, and they were the first to say, ‘Yes, we want you to do a show,’ and it sold out. After this long dry spell, all of a sudden I got a call from a manager, and he got me an agent, and this tour came together, like, two weeks ago. So it’s been a shift.”
The tour’s title is, of course, a reference to Griffin’s Emmy Award–winning reality show, My Life on the D-List, which she recently bought the rights to along with her 19 specials and eponymous talk show that also aired on Bravo, from 2012 to 2013. It’s yet to be determined where the catalogue will land now that she owns it, so in the meantime she has begun making it available for free on her YouTube and TikTok: “I think on YouTube, you get a dollar per 1 million views. God help me.”
After a record-breaking amount of televised specials, I’m sure fans think they have a good sense of what a Kathy Griffin show is. How do you think this new tour will compare to those expectations?
This show is gonna be more personal because I’ve been through so much crazy stuff really in front of anybody who was paying attention. I actually do have PTSD, and I’m laughing because I thought that was only for combat veterans. But apparently if you’re put under investigation by the Department of Justice, and the president wants you to be charged with conspiracy to assassinate the president, and you’re put on the No Fly List, and then your tour is canceled because of bomb threats, and then your phone doesn’t ring for six years, and then you get cancer and lose part of your voice ’cause half of your lung is gone … you gotta laugh about it. And I talk about all this stuff I’ve been doing to try to get through. I do something called cat-cow.
Oh, what’s that?
Well, it’s when I get on all fours like a kitty cat and then I arch my back and I am instructed by my teacher to say the word meow. I feel like a fucking fool, but I do it. And then I unarch my back and — wait for it — I “moo” like a cow. PTSD is a bitch, and when I get PTSD attacks, I can’t stop vomiting. So if I have to meow like a kitty cat and moo like a cow, I’m gonna fucking do it.
When I talked about it in Vegas, I could hear a recognition type of buzz in the audience and I went, “Wait a minute — I’m not the only one who does fucking cat-cow?” Like half the audience clapped. I had no idea that in times of trouble, other people were walking around their homes meowing like a kitty cat.
The tour’s title is, of course, a play on My Life on the D-List, which I recently read you bought back the rights to. What made you want to do that?
Okay, so you’re gonna laugh. I’m watching TV one night and I see … remember those Carol Burnett ads where she was like, “Buy The Carol Burnett Show on DVD”? Like an idiot, it took years and tons of money, but I bought back My Life on the D-List, the Kathy talk show, and all of my 19 specials from Bravo, NBCUniversal. It cost me a fortune and lots of lawyers. Then I own my library, right? So I’m very proud of myself, and I feel like a kick-ass businesswoman … No one wants to buy it. Not even Peacock! So I’m gonna just start putting it on YouTube — and I think on YouTube, you get a dollar per 1 million views. God help me.
Even though you haven’t been able to place it somewhere yet, has there been something rewarding about owning it all?
It makes me very excited for my legacy when I croak. I have a theory that when I’m dead, I’m gonna get a lot of props. I almost can’t wait. I think that once I croak, I’m gonna get one of those docuseries and then maybe Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will cry. New Year’s Eve can be a whole “In Memoriam.” And everybody who screwed me over will feel guilty. Can you see what a healthy person I am?
You’ve been sharing clips of D-List on TikTok. What has it been like getting props from people either revisiting the show or experiencing it for the first time?
I’m so flattered because I haven’t watched My Life on the D-List since it aired; I only rewatched episode one recently. I’m so thrilled when people mention that show or say they’d watch it with friends or their family. I’ve had a lot of guys be like, “I came out because of your show. My mom and I would watch it together.” I’m so proud because that show was really real. We overshot the shit out of it. It was eight episodes a year, and we would film for six months. They just followed me around and hoped I did funny shit. I think maybe people miss it because they know that good, bad, or indifferent, it was all genuine.
After going through the ordeal of buying back your catalogue, what advice would you give to new comics being approached to do specials?
I would tell them the best thing you can do is get licensing money, which is very difficult. After doing specials at Bravo for many years, I finally got them to just give me a sum of money and then I got to choose the production company and do the budget. That’s probably why I have so many enemies in the executive world: because that’s how the guys do it. I thought I earned the place to be able to have that kind of power, but I’m sad to say it’s always tricky when you’re a chick because they’re just not used to that. So while I’m thrilled I have ownership, it’s hard because a lot of the dudes that sign the checks — the David Zaslavs and those guys — if they’re not a fan, you’re kind of screwed.
So if you can own your stuff, do it. If you have the money or can do it supercheap all yourself, that’s the way to do it. Because then you can give a buyer the product and you can go, “This is what I do. Do you want it or not?” And if not, young people are much more enterprising than I am about social media. I’m sitting here at 63, still working hard, trying to be a TikToker.
I feel like we hear so much lately about artists owning their own work, especially in the music industry with Taylor Swift. But you don’t hear about it as much when it comes to comedy.
Think about the amount of juice she has to have to do that — going up against Scooter Braun. If you’re a woman, you have to be Taylor Swift level to do that. And I don’t mean to sit here and just shit on Andy Cohen, but I think one of the reasons he just didn’t care for me after a while is I was pushing for ownership many years ago. I didn’t know it would piss off so many dudes because I just thought, Well, you’re gonna make a ton of money anyway. You might make a teeny bit less, but I think that’s fair; I’m the one who wrote the material, produced the special, and performed it. But like I said, once I did buy it back, nobody wanted to buy it. At this moment, I’m trying to be hopeful.
Your material itself feels particularly unique, both in style and subject matter, which makes me curious about your development process. Do you test out material before touring it?
I think it’s different because it’s so improvisational. I didn’t start doing stand-up until I was, like, 35, but I was in the Groundlings in Los Angeles, and they have a Friday-night late show, which is where you’re supposed to try out your experimental material. And I said, “Can I just open the show with a story?” And it turned into me opening every Friday night with a new 15 minutes. And then — are you ready for a name-drop? Lisa Kudrow said to me, “You’re good at improv and you’re good at sketches, but you’re really good at storytelling and stand-up. I really think you should focus on that.” But I knew what I did wouldn’t work at the Store or the Improv. It’s a different cadence when you’re telling stories. I’d like to think I do have jokes and punch lines, but they’re within the stories. And I take notes all the time — I mean, I have six years of notes on stuff that I think will be funny.
When I did my first show [this past June] at the Mirage, I didn’t try it out anywhere. Somehow the material goes from my head to working on the mic when I hit the stage with the audience. Now, this is not good advice. Most people try it out in small venues, but for some reason that makes me less confident in the material. I feel like I know my audience so well now. We’ve been doing this thing for 25 years.
You’ve obviously gone through a lot over the past several years, and it now feels like you’re coming out on the other side. What about your comedy has stayed the same through that experience, and what has changed?
My agent said something really good to me, which, you know, I hate to give an agent credit, but I have to. He said, “Look — you can make fun of the Kardashians, but your audience knows you now know them and go to their house sometimes, so it’s a little different.” But I think people, so far, are accepting of “Hey, this is a personal story,” whether it’s cat-cow or [going on vacation with] Sia in Mexico. I’m still giving them the personal stuff, so that’s the stuff that hasn’t changed, and that’s what I think my folks expect. And — fingers crossed — I think that’s why the first few shows have gone well. They’re like, Okay, she’s doing something a little different, but she’s still the Kathy that we know from D-List and the specials.
- How a Bookstore Became the Unlikely Birthplace of Alt-Comedy
- Kathy Griffin’s 10 Favorite Books
- The Passion of Kathy Griffin
Tom Smyth , 2023-11-21 17:01:03