In less than 20 seconds, Kathy Griffin has already hijacked our phone interview.
The comedian accuses me of cat-fishing her, lightheartedly mocks my Twitter bio, and slams President Donald Trump for being a “fucking lunatic.”
“Now, are you in Chicago?” she says, abruptly changing gears again.
I explain that while, yes, I live in Chicago, Upworthy — which is part of GOOD Media — is technically based in Los Angeles.
There’s a brief pause.
“Randy, this sounds like a gay scam,” she quips to someone in the room with her. (At this point, I can’t keep a straight face.) “My boyfriend, Randy, used to work for the L.A. Times. He’s on to your bullshit, Robbie.”
Griffin — who’s spending the morning promoting her new “Laugh Your Head Off” comedy tour (pun very much intended) — sounds unfazed by the 10-month-old crisis that nearly destroyed her career, landed her at the center of a Secret Service investigation, and flagged her name on the Interpol list (a system devised to track criminals internationally).
After all of it, she’s still the same quick, foul-mouthed, angry but big-hearted Griffin — except more eager than ever to hit the standup stage once again.
Some didn’t think Griffin could possibly work in the U.S. after her Trump photo debacle, the comedian tells me.
And maybe they would have been right — if we were living in a different era with another president in the Oval Office.
But in 2018, millions of Americans, repulsed by Trump’s behavior in Washington, appear hungry for a comeback from the comedian. In 2018, Griffin — filling seats in some of America’s most iconic venues — appears to be hotter than ever.
“They didn’t think I could sell Carnegie [Hall] — then it sold in a day,” she notes of her new tour, just as surprised as anyone. “I didn’t know if anybody would buy a ticket.”
Can you blame her for wondering? Even some of the most ardent Griffin fans were turned off by her gruesome stunt last spring.
On May 30, 2017, TMZ shared the graphic, now infamous image taken by photographer Tyler Shields of an expressionless Griffin holding a mask of the president dripping in fake blood, the wisps of his orange hair matted and red. Even in a deeply divided America, the depiction quickly unified the right and left with a singular take: The image was vile.
That’s when the “wall of shit” ran over her, Griffin says. “That’s really what it was,” she emphasizes. “A wall of shit fell on me May 30. And then the wall got bigger and heavier and filled with more shit.”
Chelsea Clinton tweeted it’s “never funny to joke about killing a president.” Anderson Cooper — a dear friend of Griffin’s who’d play the giggly straight man reacting to her absurdity during their popular New Year’s Eve specials on CNN — said he was “appalled.” Their friendship — and Griffin’s contract with the cable news network — ended in the days that followed.
First Lady Melania Trump publicly questioned Griffin’s “mental health.” The president (and his adult sons) took shots at the comedian, claiming his youngest child, Barron, was “having a hard time” with the image.
“I’ve been told for a year, ‘it’s over, go away, you’re a bad American, you’re a member of ISIS’ — all this crazy shit,” Griffin says, still irked by the uproar.
She apologized the same day the photo went public — but it was too late.
A slew of venues hurriedly canceled her upcoming performances, costing her over $1 million in income, she told New York magazine. Bobby Edwards, the CEO of Squatty Potty, said he was “shocked and disappointed” to see the image before swiftly dropping Griffin from an endorsement deal with his company.
The photo fallout, however, bled into much more serious matters: The Department of Justice spent months parsing through Griffin’s personal life to see if she was a real threat to the president.
“I was detained at every single airport, which is frightening,” Griffin told Bill Maher in early March. “There were times when they took my devices. They can do that. You might think we all have our rights, but when you’re in that moment, you’re really at the mercy of one or two people in that room.”
The comedian — once a card-carrying member of the D-list — was blacklisted. And she’s still feeling the heat. “I’ve had every kind of death threat you can imagine, to this day.”
Her fan mail — or hate mail — backs her up.
Just hours after our chat, the comedian shared a letter from a livid Trump supporter on her Instagram page: “You have your cranium wedged so far up your rectum that you can no longer receive oxygen and have become brain dead,” it read.
Being a woman “absolutely” played a big role in the relentless criticism that’s hounded her for nearly a year, she says.
I’m the one who brought up her gender for playing a part, and she’s quick to thank me. “I also think it’s because of my age. They know I don’t have a network backing me up or a studio or a movie franchise. So in a way, I was an easy target.” But “the woman thing is first and foremost.”
Other male entertainers, she notes, have said or done similarly shocking things since Trump took office. But “[Trump’s] too much of a pussy to go after Snoop Dogg, or Johnny Depp, or Morrissey.”
The rapper‘s “Make America Crip Again” album cover depicted Trump’s corpse wearing a toe tag. Morrissey claimed he would kill Trump “for the safety of humanity,” and actor Johnny Depp also publicly pondered the idea of assassination. A recent (and very NSFW) music video by Marilyn Manson reveals a decapitated man in a suit who looks an awful lot like the president.
None of those artists have received a fraction of the blowback Griffin’s endured, she says.
“I’ve known this guy off and on for 20 years [and] ultimately, he’s a bully,” Griffin says of the president — a bully who especially delights in targeting women.
Many who’ve closely followed the president’s career say he has a vindictive personality. But Trump — who remains engulfed in over a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct — seems to be especially vicious to the women who’ve fallen into his crosshairs.
Often, he resorts to gendered attacks to belittle them.
“She doesn’t have the looks,” he said of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. “She doesn’t have the stamina.”
“If you take a look at her, she’s a slob,” he once jabbed at Rosie O’Donnell before mocking her “fat, ugly face.”
“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes,” he taunted then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly. “Blood coming out of her wherever.”
Griffin — with her hair now trimmed especially short and dyed fiery red (she buzzed it off in solidarity with her sister, who died of cancer last September) — won’t be intimidated.
She’s thrived off combative comedy for decades, and dismisses any notion that “the idiot [she’d] run into” at various TV events commands any sort of newfound respect since the 2016 election. “I really know this fool,” she teases, promising me her new tour is filled with fresh Trump anecdotes.
Is she divisive? Of course. But love her or hate her, Griffin’s ferocious spirit is an admirable one.
Her crude humor and celebrity takedowns have gotten her banned from various talk shows and red carpets throughout the years. She told Jesus to “suck it,” at the 2007 Emmys after winning an award for her reality series, “My Life on the D-List.”
“This award is my God now!” she bellowed into the mic on stage, sending shockwaves through American living rooms.
The 57-year-old doesn’t play nice. Throughout our call, I laugh at her belligerent yet charming assertions — never quite sure if she was laughing at or with me. (I think it was the latter?) But she believes women need to stand up for themselves and be true to who they are, and that now — more than ever — is a particularly bad time to simmer down just to keep the peace.
“It’s shirts and skins, my friend, you’ve got to pick a team,” she tells me emphatically. “You’re either on the side of this administration or you’re working against it, but you can’t be on the sidelines this time. Not with this nut job.”