Comedian Kathy Griffin is a straight woman who have made huge steps standing up for gay rights — and have been recognized as such with recent awards. We sat down with her to discuss her art and activism in the time of Trump
Of course Kathy Griffin’s manager asks if our conversation is being recorded — have you heard her talk? Luckily, the celeb-skewering, gay-loving, Trump-hating comedienne’s filterless mouth moves at a meteoric pace, which is good news for anyone who wants to know her thoughts on basically everything: the practicality of celebrity activism, her idea for a My Life on the D-List spinoff and the surprising number of people she meets who say they’ve never encountered a gay person.
We caught up with Griffin, who discussed all the above just days after being honored with the Vanguard Award by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus earlier this month for her ardent and unwavering role as an ally in the LGBT rights movement. “There is so much more to her [than people realize], including her tireless work behind the scenes.” says Tim Seelig, former director of the Turtle Creek Chorale and now artistic director of the SFGMC. “Her acceptance speech, while hilarious, was also filled with a deep knowledge of the political landscape. It was our honor to share this with her.
Read on for her insight into what the hell we do — and what she’s doing — now that Donald Trump is running this country.
Interview by Chris Azzopardi
Dallas Voice: I hear you gave an incredible speech at the 11th annual Crescendo Gala in San Francisco, where you were presented with the Vanguard Award. Kathy Griffin: I did give an impassioned speech. You know, we’re all very, very engaged right now, although the LGBT community is obviously used to being engaged, and now my call to action is to ask the LGBT community to help engage folks that have never been engaged before. Know your local representatives. It’s all about the down-ballot. You know, stay galvanized. Learn from the Republicans. They stick together no matter what. We can’t be divided. We gotta all stay together. This is it. This is the big one.
You have two Emmys and a Grammy. How would you describe the way those industry honors feel compared to something like the Vanguard Award? This award feels special, because when I found out about the [San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus’] Lavender Pen Tour, I really thought that was a cool thing, as someone who is a touring animal like myself. I did 80 cities last year, and I’m doing 50 cities this year on my Kathy Griffin: Celebrity Run-In Tour to support my book. [Unfortunately, no Texas stops are currently on the tour.] And what’s so cool is, when I heard that the chorus, which by the way is the oldest gay men’s chorus in the world — they have a lot of street cred — were gonna purposefully go to every Trump red states, I was like, “OK, I gotta get on board.” Because I go to those places on a regular basis! I said this in my speech, but I see the Confederate flags on people’s garages when I’m driving gig to gig. What they’re doing is kind of like what I do. I think it’s so great, and I believe in many, many forms of activism, and it’s such a brilliant idea for the chorus to go, “We’re taking this on the road and we’re just literally gonna be a road tour of gay men singing,” so if anybody approaches them or has a problem with them, they’re just gonna look like assholes.
What does it mean to you to be an activist and a celebrity with the kind of platform you have in the Trump era? I think people that believe in any kind of nuanced thought, who can handle a thought, know that, yeah, a celebrity can actually provide a real service for a cause. Celebrities sort of apologize all the time, but we’re voting citizens like anybody else. I defend my right to speak about things as a celebrity or as an offensive comic or whatever you wanna call me. I’ve toured this country so many times, and I’ve also performed in Iraq and Afghanistan for the troops. I’ve performed in a prison. I’ve performed at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. So I kind of feel that’s what I bring to the table — that I’m really, really proud of.
Every city has a different vibe. I can kind of tell in the first few minutes of the show what they’re gonna be into. But some audiences really want to hear a lot of Trump material, some wanna hear a lot about my mom, some wanna hear a lot about, you know, my new neighbors Kim Kardashian and Kanye West [laughs], which is hilarious to all parties. My material is definitely new, so if you’ve seen me five months ago, five years ago or 10 years ago, you’re definitely gonna see a new show. And even though I’m supporting the book, I’m not, like, just sitting there reading from the book. I’m doing all different stuff.
Sometimes in my shows I’ll actually talk about the kind of activism that I’m up to, and I’ll try to make it funny. Like, I had a one-day show in Mexico, where, by the way, I spent the whole day apologizing to the whole country; I just walked around stage saying, “Lo siento [for] Señor Cheeto.” But I bought a bunch of Mexican postcards and those, for example, are fun to mail to legislators that are maybe not helping the LGBT agenda. You can march, you can call, you can send letters, send postcards.
The cool thing is, we’re no longer focusing just on Trump. And also, I think we’ve written him off as just a crazy person. The other thing is, elections are every year. We have to stop thinking, “Oh, I’m just gonna be depressed till 2020” — no, no! If a celebrity says [something political], I love it. If Katy Perry can say, like, here’s a way you can help — these are grassroots [efforts] and very much in tune with how the LGBT has been rocking it forever. I’m really tired of these people apologizing. It’s important that the LGBT community keep standing strong. And what we’re gonna hear a lot of is, “Well, you guys are single-agenda” — no, we’re equality. Equality is for all. “Oh, a trans woman is gonna molest my kid.” OK, hold back. The last thing a Jenny Boylan or even Caitlyn Jenner wants to do is go into a bathroom because they’re gonna … I mean, I can’t even finish the sentence it’s so ridiculous.
And also, by the way, there’s a lot of comedy in that. There’s a lot of comedy in how some of the Trump voters are kind of coming around a little bit, like not a lot, but some of them. I put a lot of thought into it when I do my messages or calls to action. I don’t want to hit them over the head with it, but if you do it with humor — I still say the greatest protest sign I’ve ever seen is when my mom was in her wheelchair marching with me for the repeal of DOMA and her sign was, “Gay marriage — I’ll drink to that.” So, you know, we could use humor.
We need humor. I think you’re absolutely right. The thing that I hear now as opposed to a year ago and certainly opposed to five years ago is overwhelmingly people saying, “Oh my god, I needed this laugh so bad,” or, “I’ve been in a ball since the election,” or, “I’m scared that my cousin is gonna be deported and I needed a night of laughs.”
If Trump can get into office, anyone can, apparently. And now Oprah wants to run. If you could replace Trump with any celebrity in the world, who would you put in the White House? If I could replace Trump with any celebrity, I would replace him with a lady named Hillary Rodham Clinton! Because she fucking won. And it’s hers. And she’s a celebrity! Well, I mean the obvious joke is, I would put my dog Larry in the Oval Office and have a lot more confidence in [him] even though all he does is fart and eat and sleep.
Larry for president… and Anderson Cooper for V.P.? Yes! I actually think that works for both parties, because you don’t want to make Anderson president because then that’s gonna cut down on his modeling. And I want him to be able to take care of the wonderful Gloria Vanderbilt in the style to which she is accustomed for the rest of her life, which means forever. Gloria Vanderbilt for president wouldn’t be bad!
Gloria and Anderson: 2021? I think that’s got a mass appeal that you tapped into and this could be the new movement.
What did you think when you discovered that Kellyanne Conway was a former “comedian”? Well, she was at, like, a corporate party and she had to get up and do standup. Look, Kellyanne Conway is the perfect example of somebody who’s like a wet dream for me. I mean, first of all, everything about her is made for comedy. Everything from the lies that get more insane every day to her denials, which are hilarious, to the inauguration outfit, which still haunts me. My theory is maybe she got herself a vindictive gay who just said, “When you go to Gucci, buy the entire mannequin and wear the whole mannequin.” You know how gay people can be — don’t act innocent! It was a gay man with an agenda going, “I know how to make the real story here. We’re gonna put Kellyanne Conway in a crazy ass red hat like she’s in Devo. And then we’re gonna give her a Civil War jacket from Gucci that only fucking Rihanna could have pulled off, and then give her a matching handbag. And don’t forget the gloves, because when she goes and hugs Steven Bannon you’ve gotta look at the red gloves and then the red alleged meth marks on his face and see which one strikes you as being more patriotic.”
Let me just say: That is one gay agenda I am behind. And I am too, dammit!
Similar to what you’ve done as a touring act, and now what the SFGMC is also doing, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is returning and going to red-state cities that need help. I mean, look, that’s really the best thing we can all do right now, because we’ve all decided to live in these weird bubbles, and this administration obviously has a different world or America or whatever they’re doing.
But the cool thing is, we’re all here doing our thing, and that’s what I love. The Gay Men’s Chorus is going, “OK, this is our reaction; we’re gonna go on the road and we’re going to frickin’ Trumpland.” And I love that Queer Eye is like, “We’re coming back, but we’re not just coming back to Manhattan; we’re going to the real America.” It’s gonna be amazing how many people are probably gonna look at them and go, “You’re the first gay person I’ve ever met.” And I love that to this day I’ll hear that. I do meet-and-greets, say, at the casino, and to this day I’ll have someone after a show say, “You know, I don’t think I ever met a gay person before, but there seems to be a bunch of gay people at your show.” And I always say, “You never met a gay person?” And they’ll go, “Nope.” And I’ll go, “Well, do you go to church?” And then usually it’s a little bit of a conversation ender, but I’m just saying, I’m out there in the real America, and I’m telling you, there are many, many people in the real America who think that they’ve never even laid eyes on a gay person. But we’re all gonna get together and go, “Here we are. We’re here, we’re queer, don’t fucking be scared of us.”
Do you think it’s time D-List makes a comeback, too? Well, I sort of would love to do something similar. I mean, the challenge is, would anyone really let me do a reality show? Because D-List really was unscripted, and now they’re all scripted and you can see them reading a teleprompter in the interviews and stuff. I’d love to do, like, D-List to Legend, where I’m trying to become a legend and I’m trying to surround myself with, I don’t know, Sidney Poitier, Mick Jagger and Cher. Like, all right, maybe I’m not A-list, maybe I’m B, but it’s time for me to become a legend. I think there could be some comedy there. If nobody wants to do it, I’ll just have to be a living legend in my mind and rock my 50-city tour and my bestseller, which Anderson Cooper told me he just read his section and then closed it.
If you do another reality show, can all your confessionals be like Mariah Carey’s in Mariah’s World, with the best lighting and on a settee? Oh my god. I love it. There’s an example of a show that clearly had an agenda to be about her engagement to Packer and then she starts banging the young, hot dancer — Tanaka or whatever his government name is — and then the show becomes about that, and then there’s just a lot of scenes with a lot of airbrush, filters and lighting where Mariah is dancing on her private jet.
Speaking of divas, you’re already besties with Cher. Who’s another gay icon you wish you were chummy with? I’ve kind of met most of them by now. Cher is definitely the diva that I’m closest with, but I’m pretty close with Bette, and Bette is super cool, super hardworking and will say anything and yet she has a very classy side. Streisand is definitely a tough cookie and hard to have a conversation with, but being a gay boy, I just love her anyway. Liza is just a dream because she’s just so Liza. But yeah, I love anything that brings divas together. I hosted Divas Live one time on VH1 and that was fantastic. It was like, I’d be in a van going to set — me, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj and, you know, Sugarland.
Who do you plan on inviting to your Fire Island viewing party? Well, first of all, the gay mafia is real. I’m a product of it and it exists. So, actually, on the Twitter, I just got a tweet from Jai Rodriguez, the original Queer Eye, saying “overdue for a Kathy Griffin mafia night at her house,” so it’ll be Jai Rodriguez, Chris Colfer from Glee, Lance Bass and their plus-ones, and they’ll all come over to my new house and we’ll sit in my fabulous screening room… and then we’ll watch Feud. But that’s just a typical night for me.
Feud is so your show. You must be eating that up. Oh, yeah. I’m eating it up almost as much as Jessica [Lange] and Susan [Sarandon] are eating up the scenery. Actually, we all have indigestion from how much eating of the scenery we’re all doing.
Thanks for being on the frontlines of the gay movement. I feel we’re all kind of re-energized. Our work is not done. But I couldn’t feel like I was in better hands with the LGBT community. I always say this community knows how to litigate and get shit done and get moving and galvanized and get together when the rubber hits the road, and the rubber has hit the road, my friend. So, I’ll see you at the next act of resistance… or we’ll be sharing a jail cell. One or the other.
With a TV to watch Feud. That’s all I ask.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 31, 2017.