How Kathy Griffin Keeps Her Chin Up, and Her Head Attached

An altered version of the photo that changed Kathy Griffin's life is face of her world tour: Laugh Your Head Off.
Photo by Tyler Shields
An altered version of the photo that changed Kathy Griffin's life is face of her world tour: Laugh Your Head Off.

What’s the opposite of a magic carpet ripe? Rug burn?

“I can’t believe I’m alive, let’s cut the shit!” replies Kathy Griffin, the already prolific comedian that has only further minted her name in the annals of comedy history with an insanely controversial past 12 months. While more shrinking violets may shy from the scandal, Kathy has followed a different path: a world tour.

“You can tell from the poster that I’m leaning in to the photo and it’s very much the elephant in the room,” she says via phone. “While I kind of interweave the Trump story, because some of it really is scary and heavy, but I always mix it up with other pop culture crazy celebrity stuff. By the way did I mention who my neighbors were during this entire ordeal? Oh my God, you hit the jackpot! They just moved two months ago and I’m pissed because believe it or not I love it – my neighbors during this whole thing were Kim Kardashian-West and Kanye! And I don’t mean neighbors like down the block, I mean I would do shit like open the window and yell at them. And let me just say this, after what I’ve been through with the Trump people threatening to kill me everyday, and them wanting to decapitate me and put my decapitated head up my cunt and then shoot me in the cunt – sorry, I’m paraphrasing! — after a while it gets so extreme, you just have to laugh.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

You likely didn’t miss the headlines that forced the famed redheaded funny lady from the spotlights of Bravo and late night comedy to the headlights of the screeching mac truck of the Trump Administration and their champions on FOX News.  After a gory photo of the comedian holding a ketchup stained mask of the 45th President went viral with a caption referring to the recent Trump gaffe about Megyn Kelly, the fallout was swift and extreme. Team Trump were obviously eager to lambast the comic on cable news and bathe in their perceived moment of superiority, but it was her seeming allies that so quickly abandoned ship that likely stung the most. As CNN ousted her from her annual New Year’s Eve gig alongside Anderson Cooper, she also was disinvited from an event with (then) Senator Al Franken and her commercial relationship with alt-toilet Squatty Potty went caput. She canceled many tour dates and prayed for the storm to pass… 

Is that long nightmare over? Kathy’s answer is complicated. “The good news-bad news pie chart really is 50-50,” she replies. “I’m still the struggling Kathy that you’ve always known. (And yes, sometimes I talk about myself in the third person) I am thrilled to be able to tour in my own country again. I love going overseas; I did 15 countries, 23 cities.

"However it was not so fun being on the Interpol list, and being detained at every single airport. I’ll tell those stories as well, because that shouldn’t happen to an American. And so part of the mission of the tour is to let people know, look you can hate that picture all you want, no problem. But it’s not right that the Trump Woodchipper, that’s what I’ve been put through, it’s not right that they perpetuated this idea that [that photo] was illegal. I mean, they’ll pixilate a mask with ketchup as if it’s an actual head. So for the Trumpers to be saying shit like – and I know this is a really dark joke – but they’ll go: We Will Never Forget. Don’t mean to be an asshole, but they stole that from 9/11! At least be original for Christ sake! I’m not one of the 9/11 hijackers for fuck's sake. So when people say: are things better? I say 50/50 - ask me tomorrow!”

Griffin’s saga with the Trump Department of Justice serves as a frightening parable for those wishing to speak out in these troubling times. The Tyler Shield snapped mask photo led to multiple ongoing investigation from the FBI for conspiracy to assassinate the President, a historic abuse of resources that Griffin was quick to key in on.

“This is all unprecedented so love me or hate me baby, I’m now historic! It’s never happened in the history of this country that a sitting United States president has used the power of the Oval Office and his Twitter account (which frankly is the most powerful television marketing tool because it becomes breaking news every time he tweets) to take me down – at least I have a skill set. OK? I have two Emmys, I have a Grammy, sorry, but I’m in the Guinness Book of World Records because I’ve written and done more televised comedy specials than any comedian, male or female. So to think that [The Trump family] thought that they were gonna wipe that all away overnight – they underestimated Mrs. Kathy! (There again I’m talking about myself in third person… and married, which I’m not)”

In fact, the idea of steering clear of the first family seems far from Griffin’s mind. No, in fact – she’s doubled down on her Trump material, sprinkling in toothy jabs through out our call. “The first family, that fucking bunch,” she murmurs. “I don’t know the kid [Barron], but I know Ivanka – that stable genius. If you want to talk about nail polish for four hours, she’s your man! And I also know the awful sons - I call them Eddie Munster and Date Rape.”

Later, she riffs on FLOTUS’ new mantra, the ever hashtag-able #BeBest. “Are you Being Best right now? You heard me, are you being best? Melania said yesterday to be best! Fucking Be Best, bro! I just want to say in a loving way because, it might sounds morbid, but be honest, it's funny: I actually read some of my worst death threats [in the show]. I had my boyfriend go through them and I asked if there are any so horrible, they’re actually laugh out loud funny? And he was like OH YES. So I’m just gonna insinuate that many Trump followers are not so big into the grammar... however I think #BeBest is the Be Bestest one I’ve ever heard. Like we can talk about ‘Just Say No’ all you want, but Be Best is gonna stand on its own. If I was gonna do a show tonight, I would open with that. I would be like are you guys being your bestest tonight? Can you be bester? I would really like to hear Melania go into detail on how we should be best. Is it like a noun or a verb now? Because she’s hot, do I just have to take it? Because guys want to bang her?”

And finally, Griffin breaks down her current line of thought on the Commander in Chief himself. “The idea that we have this ACCIDENTAL President - that is not only a pop culture figure, but coming off the rails mentally and physically and kinda proudly by the way - but I’ve known this idiot off-and-on for 20 years! The idea that I would run into him when I was promoting my little bravo My Life on the D-List and he was promoting The Apprentice and let me tell ya, this idiot would show up at the opening of envelope! My show was called My Life on the D-List, but he really was! When he started The Apprentice, remember, he was broke and no one really took him seriously. I always just thought he was a stupid realtor. But the idea that he was harboring these thoughts about BOTH sides of Nazism. Let me just go on the record and say: I didn’t know about that part! And while I was never friends with him, I would say most Americans probably thought he was harmless.

"Then when the campaign started, you saw how many Americans agreed with his fucked-up policies, so during the campaign I was actually having a lot of fun thinking he was gonna lose so badly I could do anything! Then when he “won”  - er, I have to put that in air-quotes, like “Judge” Jeanine from FOX News who had Rudy Giuliani on last week, which was kinda heaven. Scary, but heaven!  So you can see how my mind works. I look at some of the stuff, and its very serious and I’ve been personally touched by his fucking nonsense but believe it or not, there’s a lot of comedy.”

So obviously, for fans of Griffin’s hallmark style of barbs, her savage takedowns show no signs of dulling. Yet as much as this new hour-plus may serve as comfort food for those who’ve missed her, it’s also different in a way. It appears more eyes may be on her this time. “Honestly, I kinda have to do this show because so many crazy things happened. It went from being frightening, and I’m honest about that - in fact there is a section of the show where I actually take the audience inside the interrogation. Like I’ve never done that, my shows are always me screaming about the housewives - but I got some real meat on the bone this time, baby! I’ve never been so proud of my material, seriously. It’s unique, if nothing else!”

“Obviously I’m very divided by the photo,” Griffin reveals in retrospect. “Besides what the president did personally, [it] created an environment where I can no longer just blanket the city of Houston with press saying Kathy Griffin: Laugh Your Head Off Tour - come see her! Because half of Houston might think I’m a hero, and half might think in fucking al-Qaida, for all I know! Believe it or not, the way I’ve been selling out these shows and I just sold out Carnegie Hall in less than 24 hours, (don’t mean to rub your face in it) - But [certain fans] want to support you and want to hear the story, and all the behind-the-scenes dirt and so honestly that’s how I’m selling tickets and I’m playing venues I haven’t played in years.

"The irony is the photo that almost took me down is the photo that’s letting me truly tour the world for the first time. I got to sell out the London Paladium and the Sydney Opera House and I’m playing Radio City Music Hall the night before I play Carnegie because the Carnegie demand was so high! A year ago, no, I couldn’t have ever predicted that I will have been under an investigation that I’m finally exonerated from and I’ll be on the INTERPOL list that I’m still on! And yes, I expect to be detained when I go to Canada because I was detained at every single of the 15 countries I went to overseas. Still don’t know why, and that’s just my life now.”

“But there is a section of the show that when I did it overseas, you could hear a pin drop,” she continues. “Because its fucking scary! [The Trumps] coming down on me, and making me like the poster child of ISIS on Fox News and shit. It’s a dog whistle. And the whole idea that this has a little bit of a message, meaning that the idea that the right wing tried to spin to where it looks like I broke the law and [correcting that] is important to me. I want to go town to town and go: Dammit, Houston! If your 13-year-old tweeted that same photo, they shouldn’t have to be under a two month federal investigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal fees and basically live hunkered down in their house and can’t get work in their own country!

"As if that’s not bad enough –to actually have the DOJ call two days later and say we’re putting you under a federal investigation, two federal agencies the Secret Service and A-USA because we’re considering charging you with conspiracy to assassinate the president of the United States. That’s never happened! Never happened! It’s insane.”

As evidenced by the sold out shows across the globe, her fans have forgiven her (or very likely, never found the photo boycott-worthy in the first place) – but Griffin’s appearances on camera remain very light. Outside of a break-out appearance as pollster Kellyanne Conway on Comedy Central’s The President Show starring alongside Trump impersonator Anthony Atamanuik – Griffin hasn’t been paid to appear in late night since May of last year. “That was the first and last [paid appearance] by the way, I hope more are coming. It remains a struggle – a woman called me a traitor in a restaurant two fucking weeks ago. I was like, really Miss? Put your wine down.”

And for the record, the old showbiz adage of loving those you do impressions of? Not the case with Kathy. “I do not love Kellyanne Conway, and I’ll tell you, when I went to the White House Correspondents Dinner, I got in a bunch of fights. I saw her and I thought it might be a funny picture, but then I thought: I genuinely loathe her. I know that’s terrible, but I do. And I don’t want to be a bad feminist. But I loathe her and I think I loathe Sarah Huckabee Sanders for being liars, but also being part and partial to policies that really hurt everyday Americans.

"We’ve got 800 children that are in ICE detention centers under like those foil blankets  - have you seen those photos? What the fuck! So part of my comedian side says: OK, I should get a picture with her, but my human side says: FUCK THAT BITCH. But you know who I got a picture with? Stormy Daniels’ Attorney Michael Avantatti. And you should know that I’m friends with Stormy now, and I contributed to her legal defense fund - I’m serious. So Stormy is gonna come to one of my shows, all my gay guy friends are in love with Michael Avantatti so I knew if I posted that picture my Instagram would light up with OH MY GOD, BRING HOME DADDY. The gay boys love a nice clean shaven man - so like, that’s funny.”

At the end of the day, Kathy Griffin is 50/50. She’s grateful to the fans that signed up for her mailing list (“I’m so old timey, it just occurred to me four months ago  - but Granny Griffin finally learned!”) but she’s less than thrilled about the cold shoulder she’s received from certain portions of the entertainment industry (like Stephen Colbert’s Late Show and RuPaul, both who got called out in her recent Twitter rant). “I don’t like when people say that I got Dixie Chick-ed. Because I got Dixie Dick-ed! Because the Dixie Chicks had the entire entertainment community wrap their arms around them and they were on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and Time. I had everybody turning on me – left, right, and center!”

To even Kathy’s surprise, she expects Houston to turn out in a major way while tickets for one-night-only August 20 affair last. “I’m gonna be honest: I was afraid to come to Houston. I thought: Oh God! Can Houston handle me? I found out that Houston was actually one of the cities where I had the most requests to come perform. I cannot wait to play Jones Hall, it’s so gorgeous. I think there’s gonna be more cursing in Jones Hall than when the Symphony is there… or Stomp.”

The New York Times called Griffin “the Lenny Bruce of her generation”, and while she takes that as a compliment – she wants to impress that her show won’t mirror the late comic’s darker, transcript-reading days. “You’re not gonna hear a two hour lecture, although I have been known to go three hours,” she adds, cheekily. ‘It’s gonna be the usual hilarity and it is gonna be very real, but my job is to make your laugh. But I gotta say, that [Lenny Bruce quote] is a great line and I’ll have to hang on to that one.”

Kathy Griffin will perform at Jones Hall at 615 Louisiana on Monday, August 20. Tickets are on sale now, and range from $77 to $689. For information call 832-487-7041 or visit