Interview with comedienne, best-selling author Kathy Griffin

The coolest thing about comedienne, actor and New York Times best-selling author Kathy Griffin is that she is never boring.  She feels like a naughty friend who has no filter and is up for anything and just makes life more fun.

This incredibly well-informed woman keeps up on everything including, but not limited to, pop culture, old Hollywood, history and current events, and she can and does, chime in on any subject with aplomb and clever panache. She also has has an infectious smile, a delightfully wicked sparkle in her eyes, and an enviable body, but it is her work ethic—a work ethic that would break a sherpa–that is truly remarkable.

Born in Oak Park, Illinois, Griffin moved to Los Angeles in 1978 where she studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute and became a member of famous comedy troupe The Groundlings (a group for which she later served as an instructor to people such as J.J. Abrams and Will Ferrell). She starred on NBC sitcom Suddenly Susan from 1996–2000. She gained more notoriety in her hit show on Bravo Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List that was on from 2005–2010, for which she earned two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Reality Program.  She has guest starred in many TV shows and movies including Law and Order: SVU and Pulp Fiction as well as being a fixture on CNN’s New Year’s Eve special with Anderson Cooper since 2007.

Griffin published A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin in 2009. In 2014, she joined Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg as the third (solo) woman to win the Grammy for Best Comedy Album.  In regards to her comedy, she holds the Guinness World Record for the highest number of aired TV specials for a comedian–20!  She has also participated in two USO tours. She supports many charities including many LGBT causes, Aid For AIDS and more.

Not only does she have boundless energy, but also she obviously loves what she does for a living.  When someone genuinely plays back with her colorful queries, great things happen.  Sometimes when people don’t play along, things get even better.  No one and no-thing is off-limits for her.

Three things to note about this sometimes polarizing comedic force are:

1. Between Kathy and her fan-favorite 96-year-old mom Maggie, both sides and everything in-between the political landscape are covered. So, really, her material has the potential to have something for everyone–at least anyone who appreciates a dirty joke.

2.  Kathy genuinely likes people and she is a fan of most of the celebrities whom she teases.

3.  Like all creative people, anything has the capacity for becoming material.  In her dealings with celebrities, non-famous people and even non-humans, she is looking for the best story.  It doesn’t have to be embarrassing or derogatory.  It just has to be interesting.

Kathy Griffin dishes to TheCelebrityCafe.com about what to look forward to in her current Celebrity Run-In comedy tour, some key elements of her new book Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index, a bit about her teaching days with the Groundlings comedy troupe, one of the nastiest celebrity encounters of her career, her new next door neighbors Kim and Kanye, what she likes to do for fun and more.

TheCelebrityCafe.com:  Okay, Kathy. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Kathy Griffin:  Of course, I’ve been looking forward to it, because — did you see what I tweeted you?

TCC:  I haven’t yet. I just was told that you sent one. I’ll look at it the moment we’re done with this call.

KG:  Well, I told you I promised to be funnier than the wellness expert.

TCC:  OK, good.

KG:  You know, nothing against Liz Josefsburg, but I promise to be more hilarious. [Note: Liz Josefberg is recent interview subject for TheCelebrityCafe.com]

TCC:  She was actually pretty nice to work with, too.

KG:  I know.

TCC:  I’m so excited though, to be speaking with you. I bought your book on Friday.

KG:  Oh, I’m so flattered. I had so much fun writing it. And some of those stories are like, gosh, some of them are 30 years old. And some of them are from a year and a half ago. The Woody Allen story just happened a year and a half ago. Can you believe he said that about Miley Cyrus?

TCC:  Actually, yes.

KG:  I know. But I don’t think he should have said it to me.

TCC:  No, no. I think you’re the perfect person to say it to. But one thing about him, I don’t think he cares what he says to anyone.

KG:  Oh, and I guarantee you he won’t have heard about this. But when he then follows it up with, “And now I have to watch my good friend Bill Cosby get railroaded.” I was like, “Alright, that’s in the book. That’s in the book.”  The reason to write the book was, now that I’ve been, as I like to say, in the game, for so long, two Emmy’s, Grammy’s, 23 specials, in the Guinness Book of World Records, written every word myself more than any stand up comedian, living or dead, male or female can you tell I have a little chip on my shoulder? But I thought, “What if I wrote a book about all the people that I’ve had odd encounters with – some funny, some touching – that aren’t in my act, or they’re not– that particular story’s not in my act?”

So I really had fun going back and thinking about these just little blurbs, like 750 words about everyone from Zac Efron to Sidney Poitier. And it was fun because I thought, “I think I have a story about Judge Judy that’s kind of fun and different, or I have a story about Jon Hamm that reveals a side of him maybe most people don’t see.”

Maybe people didn’t know that J. J. Abrams was my student when I was a Groundling improv teacher because he wanted to work on his writing skills. Just weird stuff. I mean people certainly like the part where I was spooned by none other than Suge Knight. That’s something I don’t think when you think, “Kathy Griffin,” you don’t think, “She probably got spooned by Suge Knight one time.”

TCC:  No, but with you, nothing much really surprises me. I’m actually delightfully pleased by not being so surprised of your cool antics.

KG:  Good. Good, I mean that is my life’s work. It is to wait for funny situations to come into my life, because I do feel I’m kind of a magnet for crazy, and if there isn’t enough crazy, I will insert myself in a situation that I feel has comedy potential. So yes, you are speaking to a shell of a person–I live to be a comedian. My best friends will bust me when during conversation they will say, “Are you talking to me now, or are you just trying to work out a bit?” To which I will say, “I’m kind of working on a bit, but that’s how it goes.” So it’s 24/7, baby. I’m like a doctor. I’m on call.

And what was fun was it’s also been fun seeing the reaction to people in the book. I’ve gotten love letters and thank you notes. I mean, first of all, I wrote in the book that I’ve heard from three different sources that Carrot Top has a giant, giant cock. Carrot Top loves me. I have been getting weekly love tweets from him. Josh Groban texted the funniest thing. He said something like Kathy Griffin is a certain type of witch who can cast a spell on me to be extra dirty around her. I personally think I made Josh Groban a little cooler [laughter].

TCC:  That “doesn’t suck itself” really couldn’t be a better line.

KG:  That’s right. And also, I just had fun writing that story, because you don’t think that Groban is the type of guy that would drop a dirty joke, but when he said, “Honey, this dick isn’t going to suck itself,” I was like, “That’s hilarious.” Now, it’s not enough for my act. In other words, I couldn’t have made a 15-minute story for my tour, but there were just a lot of things that were these, like I said, I call them small bites. You write a lot about food. It was funny. I was talking to my chef friends, Nancy Silverton and Jonathan Gold. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? And I was like, “Yes, I’m writing a book that’s basically small bites.” And they were like, “But you can’t cook.” And I said, “Well, I can skewer a celebrity.” And that’s what I did. Some of them. There’s also some love letters. There’s love letters too, but there’s a little skewering. I’m not going to lie.

TCC:  Oh, I’ve been listening to it. It’s a little bit of everything.

KG:  Did you get the Audible book, the audiobook?

TCC:  I did. I got the Audible because I thought it would be like seeing one of your shows.

KG:  Oh, I love it. Okay, so about halfway through, I got bored and started improvising.

TCC:  Oh, okay [laughter].

KG:  I mean, I’m not saying it’s a different book, but I’m just saying I just started kind of adding a few lines here and there. And I felt like I was sort of doing a show.

TCC:  Well, it’s nice hearing you laugh sometimes and snicker when you’re doing the jokes. So it’s great.

KG:  I’m flattered because the Audible book is actually outselling the download and the physical book.

TCC:  Well, you’re already a member of a small group of the female comedy Grammy award winners. Do you think you, Whoopi Goldberg and Lily Tomlin will ever get together and do a show?

KG:  We have talked about it. I would love to do that. I mean, mostly when we talk about it, we talk about, “Can you believe there’s still only three?” I mean, we’re going to throw in Elaine May because she won for Nichols and May also. But I feel like Mike Nichols kind of got the love more.

TCC:  Well, I still wish Joan Rivers was with us. I still have a postcard of her and Robin Williams on my refrigerator.

KG:  Oh, yeah. It’s funny. On our very last dinner together, Joan and I talked about Robin, and he had passed away so recently. And obviously, little did I know I was talking to Joan for the last time because you never think that. But yeah, Joan and I would get together and talk shop and talk about other comics mix and who she worked with that she liked, and who had I worked with and stuff.

So, I miss her every day and Robin Williams was someone I was just so fortunate to know.  He was encouraging to me. At a time when I was just starting to get to meet really big, famous comics like Robin, he was the first one of the really through the stratosphere comedians that I didn’t know, have any history with, who just was automatically nice and supportive. He actually, the first time he ever saw me do a set, it was actually funny because I was doing — I think I might have put this in the book, but I was doing the HBO comics benefit with Whoopi and Billy — Comic Relief, yes. And I had a horrible set. Horrible. Like I mean it was the kind of set where no one wanted to talk to me afterwards, that’s how bad it was. And he came up to me, and he was so sweet, and he was helpful, and it’s kind of a rare thing. So, yeah, I lived for all that. I live for all the rare moments.

And in the book, I really try to pick weird stuff, like what’s it like to see Jared Leto in the middle of a park [laughter]? He’s not always walking around with his Oscar. And I was very proud of my Lily Tomlin story, where I basically snookered her into being my wingman to make fun of Leonardo DiCaprio [laughter], in a loving way. He’s a very important actor and activist, but that night I couldn’t resist. And I also take pride in writing the story about Harry Styles and Tom Hanks and Candle Jenner, and yes I call her “Candle” and then seeing on the news yesterday, because this is really important breaking news, that Kendall Jenner and Harry Styles happened to see each other at the same concert even though they’re exes. And I was just watching that at home thinking, darn it, I was there, man. I was there when they dated that three times and I feel therefore I was part of history, important history. Harry Styles’ girlfriends [laughter].

TCC:  Now what is a celebrity encounter of yours that was surprisingly horrid?

KG:  Horrid?

TCC:  Yeah, awful.

KG:  Oh boy, there’s so many. The most famous one I’ve had is when the late, great Whitney Houston — I was hosting the Billboard Music Awards, she was going to go on next, I was backstage, I was going to obviously do the next intro after her song, and she came up to me with one of her bodyguards and literally shook her finger right in my face and just kept saying, “Don’t you talk about me! Don’t you talk about me!” And she was very sweaty and I was a little scared for a second, and then of course I went out on stage and it was a live show, so I told that whole story.

So, just so you know, even when I should know better when a celebrity is very angry with me, I still can’t resist. If there’s a microphone nearby, I’m going to have to share this special moment with the audience [laughter]. So, that’s my philosophy. So even when many celebrities have been upset or they want a pass, they think oh, well, now that we’re kind of chummy.

I don’t know if you know that I moved from the house on My Life on the D List and I’m actually living next door as we speak to Kim and Kanye [laughter]. I know. I moved in next door to my act. So, I had a conversation with Kim and I said, “Look, we have to have some kind of a deal. You just have to let me make fun of you and then in return, I will make you laugh privately whenever you feel like it.” And she said, “Okay.”

TCC:  That’s an interesting deal.

KG:  That was my version of a cup of sugar [laughter]. But the other thing you have to realize is, I really think the reason she said okay was, really, what does she care about my fucking jokes. Like she’s over there. I think they’re over there. I can’t hear it. But I think they’re fringing money again. Every so often I’ll just hear them fringing money late into the night [laughter]. And, you know, then they saw their lip kits and I’m just bitter. I’m just bitter. Why didn’t my mother tell me they would make a lip kit and fuck Ray J? Why?

Because Maggie will always have good advice for you. But that wasn’t quite on the radar at the time.

TCC:  What’s going on with her these days?

KG:  You know what, Maggie made a mistake. I will tell you exactly what’s going on. In fact, I actually wish I hadn’t just told you a Kardashian story because unfortunately Maggie had a good one. I went over there Thursday, and she told me, and she was a little tipsy. She told me that after much thought, ‘I think Khloe really is the most beautiful Kardashian, Kathleen.’ So I, of course, immediately had to text Kim Kardashian and Kris Jenner together and say, “Hey, guys. I got some bad news.” my mom is a little drunk and she’s just made an announcement, “Khloe’s the most beautiful Kardashian.” And then Kris wrote, “I thought she thought I was.” And then Kim wrote, “I thought I had it all.” So I had to write back. I said, “I know, it stinks.” But even the Kardashians, they can’t talk Maggie out of her feelings. She’s got strong thoughts in every show and that’s why I had to include Maggie in the book of course, because even in the book people always want a new and different Maggie story, because the stuff that comes out her mouth, it’s so perfect I just kind of have to write it down or recite it or remember it.

TCC:  Oh yeah. I mean her forgetting her teeth is one of my favorite bits. But I love when she did the stretching to go meet Bill O’Reilly. That was amazing.

KG:  Well here’s what you don’t know. I actually have a picture shrouded in shame, because when I was on Glee, Bill O’Reilly visited the set, and I always bring my mom everywhere with me when I’m working so it will be fun. So she’s watching a taping of Glee, and then I had to introduce my mother to Bill O’Reilly, and take a picture with them. And I have a fear that that picture will surface and I will never sell a ticket again, or a book.

TCC:  I think people know how you stand on it, but also they know how Maggie stands, so it would probably make both your fans happy actually.

KG:  Well exactly. I mean I couldn’t deprive her from a moment with her “boyfriend.” So, of course, I had to put a Maggie story in there and it was just fun. Like Ariana Grande loved it. She loved her section. I haven’t run into Brian Austin Green since he gave me that hickey, but hopefully he has a good sense of humor. And someone like David Letterman, I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. But it’s fun. Like it’s just really weird. I’ll be running into these very famous people, and sometimes I’ll say, “You know you’re in my new book.” And they always have a look of horror. Sorry. My old-timey phone is actually running out of batteries. Are you hearing that beep?

TCC:  I’m not hearing a beep, but you cut out a little bit.

KG:  That’s what it is. I think it’s telling me I’m running out of batteries.

TCC:  I’ll try and wrap up soon. I just have a few more questions for you if you don’t mind.

KG:  No. Sorry. Go ahead.

TCC:  Okay. So what are some rules when it comes to what to include in your routine? Because it seems like not much is off limits. But I haven’t heard you make fun of the children of celebrities if they’re not in the industry.

KG:  Oh, no. I believe fully in making fun of children. I believe very strongly that you should never make fun of an embryo or your ovaries. I am a big believer on breaking those rules. It’s a case-by-case basis. But the thing is, there’s so many ways to make a joke about something that is sort of maybe verboten or something. But, no, I’m probably not going to be focusing on Baron Trump because the Donald Trumps are maybe a little too easy. But on the other hand, the fact that I’ve met Donald Trump so many times is still popular with audiences. In other words, they very much enjoy hearing about my Donald Trump run-ins because, apparently now, he won and he’s precedent of the United States.

TCC:  It seems like that did happen.

KG:  Did you get the joke?

TCC:  Yes.

KC:  He’s precedent.

TCC: Precedent, I got that.

KG:  All right. Oh boy. But the word is precedent, not President.

TCC:  No, I understand. I got it.

KG:  Because of his tweet [laughter], which may be Baron-typed.

TCC:  Oh no.

KG:  See how I bring it all around? I think my phone is literally giving out. I’m laughing because this hasn’t happened since the ’80s because it’s my landline, but I think I have to either charge it our call you back. What do you want to do?

TCC:  Which would you want to do? Because I’d love to ask you a few more questions if you don’t mind.

KG:  Okay. Randy says I have to go at two. So go as fast as you can. Sorry.

TCC:  Okay. So, okay. So you seem always very busy. What do you like to do for fun?

KG:  This is going to disappoint you. I just, I love working because I’m doing 50 cities this year on the “Celebrity Run-Ins” tour. I’m doing book signings which are a blast. And when you tour this much and you’re doing 50 cities, it’s really fun. So my work and play are very much intertwined. And also, the things that I consider to be fun are really corny. Like what I consider to be fun is working on my act all the time. I read Washington Post every day and New York Times and LA times, and Politico, and Mother Jones, and all that. And then, I watch a lot of bad, crazy TV. Because it’s way more fun to make — it’s better to make fun of the Duggars, than The Crown. And it’s also fun to point out the differences between the two shows. So, for fun I watch a lot of silly television. I certainly immerse myself in as many crazy Hollywood events as I can because you never know where you can pick up material. So, there’s not like a big divide between work and fun because – I know it’s corny – I love this more than anything on the planet. I love doing [stand-up]. I love making people laugh no matter how. Whether it’s a commercial, or a TV show, or a reality show, or a talk show, or a special, or a book. However I can make people laugh, that’s what I want to do.

TCC:  Do you still feel like you’re on the D-list? I mean, you’re doing so well for yourself.

KG:  I am what I call, a “list jumper.” I feel that I have A-list moments. Like when I was writing the book, I wrote about having the great Sidney Poitier over for dinner. That’s something I never thought would happen. Thanksgiving I got to give Gloria Steinem a ride home after dinner, which was amazing. And yet, at one of my book signings someone thanked me, and they said, “Thanks, Reba.” [laughter] They were at my book signing. They were waiting in line and they thought I was Reba the whole time. And I just signed it, “Love you, Reba.” What are you going to do?

TCC:  Well, is there anything you’d like to add?

KG:  Yes. If you come see me on the road you’re going to see all different material from the book. Because after 23 specials, and touring this long, I want people to know if you come see me on the road you won’t see the same show if you saw me six years ago, six weeks ago, or 16 years ago. There’s so much crazy stuff going on that I’m calling the tour, “The Celebrity Run-ins Tour” because I want people to keep the book at the top of mind. But it’s all new material. So, you’re not going to just see me reading the book. It’s all totally new, it’s very improvisational. So the book and the tour really work well together.

TCC:  Wonderful. Well again, Kathy, thank you so much. I’m so excited. I think you made my year. This is great.

KG:  Oh, my God. You’re a doll. Well, you’ve got to come see me when I’m coming to a town near you.

TCC:  I will. I’ll either see you in New York, LA or Sacramento, depending on where I am.

KG:  I love it. Check the website, babe. I’m coming everywhere.

TCC:  I will make sure to see you, and I’ll tweet you when I’m there. Maybe we can say, “Hello.”

KG:  Okay. Thanks, Michelle.

TCC:  Thank you. Good luck to you.

KG:  Thank you. Bye.

Find out when Kathy Griffin will be in a city near you here and you can order a copy of Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index here.

Author’s note:  On the day the interview was set up, I bought Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index on Audible.  I began listening to it right away.  I finished it in a few days. It is about a nine-hour recording. What a delightful experience!  Listening to it is a great way to go.  It is especially touching to hear her laugh for some anecdotes, as well as hear her choke up when speaking of friends we have all lost such a Joan Rivers.  Sometimes her bold actions or words make you think, “I can’t believe she said/did that,” but you end the book wanting her to take you by the hand and lead you on one of her un-pc adventures.  Something I took away from it is that you do not have to always agree with her in order to enjoy her, and like the interview, I did not want it to end. Check it out here.

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.