Kathy Griffin isn’t kidding when she says, “If I can get serious for one second…” Putting aside her usual biting assault against all things celebrity, the comedian gets candid about her dear friend and idol Joan Rivers in our latest interview: Griffin’s frequent death-related conversations with the late comedy legend, “literally” getting Joan’s permission to succeed her on Fashion Police, and how Joan taught Kathy “not to give a fuck.” — Chris Azzopardi
Dallas Voice: Hi Kathy, how are ya? Kathy Griffin: Umm, this isn’t gonna go out to any, uh, gay people, right, Chris? Because, you know, you give those people an inch, they’ll take a mile.
Are you talking about penis size? I’m talking about, when are we gonna end it with the letters and the numbers, Chris! LGBTQIA-2-3-4-5! Dammit! I’ve got a GLAAD Vanguard Award and an HRC Award and I still can’t keep up.
I’m gay myself and I can’t keep up. Which letter or number are you?
Just the G for now. Look, Chris, you’ve gotta up your game. You’ve gotta stick in at least — can’t you be a Q? How hard is it to be a “questioning”?
For you, Kathy, I could be a Q. And I could be a number. OK, good. I just wanted to get a little something out of you, because, you know, I gotta be up on the times with the LGBTQIA2s, and from what I understand you people are adding letters on a daily basis.
It’s really confusing you straight people, I know. Keep it simple for the breeders! We are simple people, dammit!
So, Kathy, congratulations on Fashion Police! Thank you! I am so-o-o-o excited! I mean, obviously I have the biggest shoes in the world to fill. But the fact that Joan and I were such good pals — and, in fact, discussed the show many, many times — it’s just, for me, if I can get serious for one second, actually meaningful. And I know it’s a silly show — we’re gonna make fun of silly celebrities and pictures — but Joan was such a good pal to me, but also an unrecognized pioneer in many ways.
I have to say, I really am getting a lot of gratification out of the fact that I believe posthumously she’s finally getting the respect that she so earned and so deserved, and that’s kind of a mission that I’ve assigned to myself. No one has assigned it to me, but it’s just important to me that her legacy is protected and honored, because it’s a legit legacy.
I mean, she was wild and outrageous, and I get it — with the sequin jackets and the feather boas and the saying crazy things to TMZ — but just as a female comedian, I mean, talk about a feminist, talk about a groundbreaker. I would never have this career without her, and I don’t mean just this job (on Fashion Police) — like, duh — but I mean everything from the beginning: what she did for women in comedy in such a male-dominated field, and for the LGBT community, and being down with the gays long before Stonewall, before it was cool. Anyway, it’s such an honor for me to sit in that chair.
Because Joan obviously was such an immense influence on you, do you see your lives and careers aligning in any ways? I see our careers aligning in every way except stylistically. Joan was the master of the one-liners and the zingers; I am a lot more improvisational and conversational. Don’t think that I’m really gonna be doing Joan’s style of comedy, because one of the reasons we got along so well is that we were never competitors in any way. First of all, she was a fucking living legend, an icon, and I’m just me. But in addition to that, we had a deep understanding — and this is very Inside Baseball — that stylistically, she was in her lane and I’m in my lane, and that’s what’s gonna happen on Fashion Police. I’m gonna do what I do. I am off the cuff and take-no-prisoners, and in that way we shared a philosophy, but stylistically we’re actually quite different.
As far as our careers aligning, yeah, of course. I mean, the struggles. And one of the reasons I loved her so was, I’ve never seen anyone in my career have to fight so hard on their own. And this is no disrespect to my representatives, etc., but one thing I always admired about Joan and that we share is, I never had a Lorne Michaels, I never had a studio head take me by the hand and say, “Here, I’m gonna set up an environment for you.” That’s why my show was called My Life on the D-List, and that’s why my talk show … I had a blast, but it was canceled after two years. It’s been a struggle for me, and that’s just my road.
So when I look at Joan, I look at someone that struggled and it really paid off, and it paid off in so many ways. What I learned from her is something that is just my story as well, and it’s not everybody’s story, but it’s — you’ve got to have your tentacles everywhere. What was so great about Joan was the QVC line and the reality show with Melissa [Rivers] and Fashion Police and touring. We would often talk about how that’s just the way it is for us; it’s not just gonna be the one job where then we have summers off and we flip houses and we have our gifted children that go to school with other celebrity children. We’re just workhorses. So, that’s the way I roll, and that’s the only thing I know. I’ve come to actually really love it.
You’ve said that Joan, before she died, passed the Fashion Police torch onto you. How so? What was the context of that conversation? Besides the fact that she literally said it to me at dinner one time? I mean, we used to talk about death all the time, which is very common for comedians. It might sound macabre, but we talked about everything under the sun, and we would joke about everything, and nothing was ever off-limits and nothing was ever off the table. She did, in fact, make all these jokes [about], “If anything happened to me…” She would say, “If Jennifer Lawrence ever kills me, you should take over Fashion Police,” and I would say, “If Demi Lovato ever kills me, you can take over my one-nighter at such-and-such center.” Stuff like that. We discussed a wide array of things, but certainly the thing we discussed probably more than anything was, I would say, “Who was your Joan Rivers?”
She would say, “Look, for a long time Phyllis Diller and I were linked, but the truth is, Phyllis was kind of the only girl in certain clubs.” She said, “Phyllis was a little older, so she paved the way for me and, of course, there’s Moms Mabley and Totie Fields.” And, for me, that person was Joan. So when I say I lost my person, that’s really what I mean. As much as I’m a fan of all the comedy girls and I am a comedy girl fan, I am not a competitor.
Everybody has a different story, so, for some reason, Joan is the one that I connected with the most, [especially] as far as, “What are you in trouble for this week?!” and always laughing through it and never really feeling like it was like real trouble. We used to say, “Are you in real trouble or ‘Hollywood trouble’?” And it was always Hollywood trouble. Through her example, and whether or not it’s to my detriment, I really did learn not to give a fuck.
Regarding the skepticism of your role as host of Fashion Police — how do you respond to the naysayers who doubt you know anything about fashion? First of all, I would say that I really did have a fashion evolution, and what’s so funny about that is, and I actually talk about it in one of my specials, it’s called a “gay mission.”
When I started out on Suddenly Susan, I would turn to Brooke Shields and say, “You know all these people who can give me an outfit for a day!” I was on the worst dressed list and then stylist Robert Verdi came into my life and he said, “That’s it. I’m making this a gay mission. I just think, because of who you are — a wacky comedian — you need to be out there in labels. I don’t think you’re Eva Longoria where you can be putting designers on the map. You’re someone that needs to be out there in Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors and Dolce & Gabbana. If you look at my red carpet stuff over the last couple of years, that’s all I’m in. So, it’s been an evolution for me, and it’s been a learning process that I love. I love getting to know these designers, and I do legitimately love fashion. And so I am learning and continue to learn and I love the artistry of it, but I’m always gonna make fun of it. I’m gonna bring the hammer down no matter how amazing these designers are.
You wouldn’t be Kathy Griffin if you didn’t. I’m gonna be the Tom DeLay of Fashion Police, except without serving the prison time, and I’m not a conservative. Someone’s gotta bring the hammer down, and Fashion Police is still the go-to destination to see who’s gonna really tell it like it is about who was best and worst dressed. I mean, it’s Fashion Police, but it’s not all gonna be limited to fashion; it may be for the others [on the panel], but as far as when it’s time to infuse the comedy and the ridiculousness, that’s my job. They’re actually identifying it now as a comedy show. They didn’t hire me to really be a fashionista. I love fashion, but they hired me to really be the funny one and be the brutally honest one, and also brutally kind whenever it warrants. Just like my act, I never know what I’m gonna say.
Of everything you’ve done — books, sitcoms, reality TV and now Fashion Police — where does standup rank for you at this point in your career? Number 1, always. First and foremost. And I’ll tell you why: It’s the fuel for everything. I actually believe that as a nation, if not world, we are on the verge of some sort of return to legitimacy. What I mean by that is, with everybody lip-syncing, you actually notice a real-live singer and you can’t help but notice it whether you’re looking at them on Vine or on an old-fashioned television or live or at a movie star who’s talented versus some dumbass reality star.
I’m in the business of comedy, and I have two Emmys and a Grammy and the Guinness World Record [for having the most televised comedy specials], and I am performing at the Kennedy Center and have performed at Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House, and so standup is always gonna be number one for me because no matter what sort of trendy device for finding our art exists, nothing can ever replace the live experience. I mean, I have literally played bus stops in Oklahoma and people know the real deal versus, you know, somebody who doesn’t know how to bring it. That’s why standup is always gonna be number one for me, because that live experience can’t be faked. You cannot lip sync a comedy show. You can’t do them in seven seconds. You can’t Instagram it. You can’t edit it. The live experience is still gonna be the most pure artistically. It’s where I rea-a-a-ally don’t hold back.
I mean, Fashion Police is gonna be — I’m gonna try to get fired, let’s face it. I’m gonna try to say something so heinous I get fired — same with any talk-show appearance — but honestly, the live experience, it’s the one place you can’t get fired.
Being that I’m a gay man, I’m naturally concerned about Cher, one of your BFFs. How is she doing health-wise? Is she better? She is! She just texted me last night and she hit me right back and she’s feeling better. It’s funny, I reached out for the same reason you did: I was like, “I’m a gay man and I need to know,” and she was like [in Cher voice], “I’m feelin’ a lot betta.” She texted me back in seconds. If she’s able to text me back within five seconds, I’m thinkin’ that’s a good sign. And of course she stuck in some emojis, which I think is an even better sign.
Which emoji did she send? She did two lips — kisses.
Good. I’d be concerned if she did “happy poop.” Six of one and half dozen of the other — they’re both good emojis from Cher.
Lastly, Kathy, if you could turn back time…? I would have slept with Anderson Cooper for the one week he was heterosexual during his 21st birthday. I tried everything in the book, trust me, and it just wouldn’t happen. I tried everything short of the Cosby.
— Chris Azzopardi