Instinct Magazine Exclusive: One on One With Our Eternal Gay Icon Kathy Griffin
It was a pretty easy decision to choose who our next subject would be for our Gay Icon series, as she definitely exemplifies that phrase in more ways than one.
Kathy Griffin, to put it lightly, is a f***ing badass. She has been one of the gay community's most endearing and passionate supporters before it even became cool to hang with us. From her days in the early 80's where she would perform at local gay bars all the way to going through one of the most insane experiences anyone can imagine over the past year, Kathy has still had our back through and through.
This past year challenged Kathy in ways that millions of people will never truly understand, but her resilience has kept her head firmly above the water, and now, she's preparing to head back "home" in so many ways with the United States and Canada leg of her world tour called Laugh Your Head Off.
It's something that clearly has touched her in many ways, as her show at the world famous Carnegie Hall sold out in a day. Her response? "I'm in shock. For most of the past year I was convinced that my career was over...I have felt moments of despair that I can't describe in a tweet. Thank you from the bottom of my heart...I am so grateful." No... thank you Kathy, because we are still here for you. We'll always be here for you.
In the midst of all the chaos in Kathy's life, including preparations for her upcoming tour, she was nice enough to sit down with me and discuss her undying love and support for the gay community. She even threw in a hilarious joke about her best friend Joan Rivers, how she's loved the gay community ever since she was a kid, why we need to be as alert as possible right now with the current administration, and oh, so much more. Buckle up, because this will be a bumpy yet fun and incredible ride.
Thanks for taking time to talk with me Kathy, you actually caught me right at the end of one of my quickie Grindr sessions.
It’s funny you say that, and I know I’m going off topic already, but I must tell you this story. So, one time when I was 40 years old I was banging this new guy. When you’re a lady, sometimes you get too enthusiastic and you get pain in your no-no parts. So I was on tour in New York and I called Joan Rivers, and said “This is so embarrassing, I have an 8 o’clock curtain and my vagina is on fucking fire because I banged this guy four times last night and I’m so embarrassed to be calling you. Do you have an OBGYN recommendation where I can go get a freaking antibiotic? My vagina is killing me, I shouldn’t have fucked that guy so much!” Then there was a pause, and Joan goes like this, “Isn’t it fabulous?”, so you just reminded me of that, I had to share that with you.
Well, I haven’t had to call the doctor yet, however the day is young.
But I just thought that was such a wonderful attitude. To be still naughty at whatever age and say… “Isn’t that fabulous?” So, what’s going on, how can I help you? I want to get you excited about this tour.
I’m very excited about the tour. The reason why we reached out is because we are doing a series for Instinct Magazine called “Gay Icons”. People who are living of course…
Oh yeah, I saw the Belinda Carlisle one, it was great!
Thank you! You were one of the first people we thought of as we’ve been fans of yours for over twenty years now, and we know what a massive supporter you’ve been for the gay community overall.
The first question I want to ask you is at what point did you personally realize that you had a major gay following in the gay community?
I realized early on when I was doing open mic night. I was so desperate to get on stage when I moved to California, because I moved there from Chicago when I was 18, that I, and this is for real, I would drag my parents to come try to cheer me on. Sometimes, I would bomb for three or five minutes at a comedy club and the I realized very early on that whatever I was doing was a little off the beaten path. I wasn’t doing well in comedy clubs or traditional settings, and yet I would find a lot more freedom when I started doing gay clubs.
So, while I was, and honestly any kind of performance space that would have me, the funniest thing was, if there were gay clubs with open mic nights, I would do whatever they were having. Like, if it was song night, I would drag my parents down there, and I would do… you want to hear the songs I would do because I was so desperate for stage time?
A, I’m a terrible singer. So, my parents had to listen to me trying to be famous and think I was a triple threat. Imagine, I guess it would be the early 80’s- myself, this was at least one nose ago, my poor parents from Illinois, who would say, “Oh my god, these gays are very colorful, I like them!”, and then watching their daughter sing, wait for it, this was my song combo ... the Glen Campbell song “Wichita Lineman” …
Oh yea, big gay hit! And then, I would try to sing, this is so embarrassing, I don’t know if you even know this song. It’s a song Liza Minnelli sings, “But the World Goes ‘Round” and it’s from the film New York, New York. It’s so hard that Liza can barely sing it, and she’ll even admit that. I don’t know what came over me. I guess I thought I was some belter, so at some gay club I was like “AND THE WORLD GOES AROUND AND AROUND” and I could see these queens put their hands over their ears. And then I started telling jokes in between my horrible singing, and eventually I was able to do open mic nights where I was able to do comedy.
As far as my relationship with the community, honestly, it really does go back to grade school. Looking back, I just connected with that one gay kid in the class. We sat together, we were outcasts, and we would start every morning like in our day they would put four desks together, which was kind of smart actually because it would force kids to sit together, and well, I’ll just say this… that was my first gay.
I know I’m not supposed to say “my gays” anymore, but the reason why I like to say “my gays” is because I’ve been hanging out with gay guys so long that I remember when the word wasn’t gay, it began with an f, and then it went to homosexual, and then it went to gay, and then I started having a lot of gay friends saying “I want to be one of your gays”, and all that stuff. And when I say that to this day, and I now do a disclaimer in my show because everyone is so fucking sensitive, I always say I understand how it would come across as offensive when I would say “Where are my gays” and I had someone go “We’re not handbags, you don’t own us!” and I’m like “Calm down, girl.”
It’s just a way of saying, after decades and decades of doing shows where gay people might be coming to my show and they might be nervous frankly. If I was doing a show in Knoxville, and the gay guys that would show up would look around and see that one guy is with his wife from the office, it would worry me that I was outing people for just coming to my show. Anyway, I just had a connection with the community since I can remember.
And then in high school, it was that typical thing where nobody would ask me to homecoming or prom. So, I would get together with one of the boys who I was in some musical with, once again going back to the bad singing. I mean look, I was a Will & Grace’r since first grade and I always have been!
That’s fantastic. Going off that, do you have a particular moment with a fan who identifies as LGBT that stands out more than the rest?
Yeah, it means the world to me when someone says, “Watching your specials got me through a hard time.” It’s interesting to me, because several people have come up to me and say, “Watching your show helped me come out.” I think it’s fascinating, because honestly to me, I’m just doing comedy and I’m trying to get my little social messages out there when I can, and obviously I’ve done quite a hell of a job with that the past year.
But, that means a lot because obviously I identify with that. It reminds me of like, ok, we can work together because I just identify with disenfranchised people, and the LGBT community is so layered and there’s been so much progress made, yet there’s so much work to do. And I’m sure, like you, I’m optimistic about the community, and then I have days with this administration where I get very worried.
I think my relationship with the community is very genuine because I’m 57 and already have ridden several waves within it like testifying on the hill for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and one of the most touching moments I’ve ever had happened to be was when I was in a chow hall in Afghanistan.
I talked about this in one of my specials a while back. I would go sit in the chow hall sometimes, just to have a more casual environment with the troops instead of being on stage. And, it’s funny when I think about it, but I’m sitting there at the chow hall, and this one “gaymen”, and I’m going to call him “gaymen”, comes up to me and say “Diva! What are you doing here?” And, it was so funny because the guy to my left goes like this, “He’s gay.” And I was like, “Oh, I never would have known that.” So, half an hour later, it’s me, in a chow hall in Afghanistan, surrounded by eight gay guys and we’re just gossiping. We’re not talking about the war, and I thought, you know what, if I can provide them an hour of gay love and gay comedy for an hour in Afghanistan, then that’s fucking meaningful.
Do you feel as if the situation that happened with that infamous photo of you with the fake Trump head put you on a much different “D-List”, and how have you been able to get through that over the past year?
Oh yeah, I mean the situation that happened to me, you know on May 30th when that picture was released, it’s actually historic. I’m really excited about these select shows coming up. And I’m not doing a whole tour, I don’t want people to think “Oh, I’ll keep waiting to buy tickets, she’ll come to my town,” no. I definitely am not in a place where I can go anywhere I want in America, still. Believe me, not by a long shot.
I think the way to get through it, I mean I went through it in the most awkward way, it was all out there, all the shit I took … but I think that’s the part that I enjoy turning into a comedic story, and that’s frankly why I’m really proud of my current show, because it’s actually a little different. Overseas, I did 15 countries and 23 cities, and my show ballooned to 3 hours, I don’t have an opener. It’s an evening WITH, honey, trust me.
There was probably a ten-minute section where I describe the actual interrogation by the feds, and you can hear a fucking pin drop. Hopefully I have waves and little jokes in there to make it funny, but I feel it’s Important to tell the story because what happened to me is historic, and never in the history of the United States, ever, has a sitting president used the power of unfortunately his Twitter, which has now become the most powerful television programming apparatus in history. Every time the guy tweets, it’s all over cable news, and sometimes they even break into network news. So, obviously, that was damaging, extremely damaging.
Then, he used the family to pile on, so he fans out the two horrible sons: Eric and Donald Jr. And then it was all over Fox and Daily Caller and all the alt-right shit, and then you know, two days later, the Department of Justice calls, and The White House and Jeff Sessions, and like I said for the first time in history, put an American citizen under a two-month investigation for conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States.
Trust me, none of the guys, like Johnny Depp or Snoop Dogg didn’t get in trouble, he’s not gonna take on them. I actually enjoyed telling that part of the story because I really do believe, especially when I’m speaking to gay audiences and people of color and anyone who is disenfranchised in any way, I really believe, trust me, this could happen to you. I’m nervous about the community in a way that I haven’t been in maybe 25 years. You know what I mean? We have so much work to do, so one of the things that I like doing about the show and one of the things I’m enjoying about the real-life activism that’s taking over, is I think we can all kind of work in tandem.
One of the ways I got through it was to become a lot more active, and one of the things I resented is that as the fallout of my Trump photo was rolling out, I call it the “wall of shit falling on me”, I just started thinking, you know I really feel this message needs to get out. I want people to know that whether you like that picture or not, there is nothing illegal about it.
And, no citizen should be under anything resembling a two-month investigation from, you know, the dog catcher much less Jeff Sessions, who, can I just say, like, I remember growing up as a kid in Illinois, and as a kid we used to joke about Jeff Sessions like, being a freaking Klan member. When he joined the Trump campaign, and the first time I saw Jeff Sessions at a rally, I swear to god, I turned to my boyfriend, and I go, “I’m going to be honest, I thought he was dead.” I feel like this administration is practically rising like taking people from the dead and putting them in the cabinet.
So, activism is really inspiring, and I think it’s a great time for the gay community to get together with everybody, you know what I mean. It’s everything from the Parkland kids to the #metoo and I think there’s a feeling of activism that’s turning into something positive.
And I always say this, and my female friends get mad at me sometimes, but I go “Ladies, we have to learn from the gays!” Women, and I’m just going to say this, and I know they are going to get mad at me, we are not good at sticking together and mobilizing and legislating and actually getting things done and the LGBT community does that. So, you know, women unfortunately, we get caught up in our own infighting, which is also one of my missions I want to work on, but the gay community I feel like historically, you know, long before Stonewall, when the chips are down, the gays know when its time to fucking get together and actually take action.
That’s another reason why I’ve stayed connected to the community. I don’t want to just sit around and bitch, I want to get up and do something. In addition to doing this comedy tour, which I’m loving, I would also love to do a speaking tour. One where I could just sit down with an LGBT studies professor and talk specifically about the Trump experience and the investigation and all this shit I’m still going through and walk people through that process. Because, as unique as it seemed for me, there are parts of what happened to me that are happening to verbally non-celebrities all over.
And so, I think we’re all kind of in this together now, which in a way is a bit positive because we talk about how divided we are, and the good part is things are so fucked up now, I actually think there’s a lot of good groups kind of coming together. So, I just want to give a little optimism that way as somebody who’s been doing this forever and literally knocking on doors with a clipboard saying, “Do you think gay people should be getting married?” and have people slamming the door in my face or invite me inside for coffee. I think it’s kind of encouraging that people are realizing now that activism isn’t just liking a picture on fucking Facebook, it’s everything. It’s everything out there, it’s talking, it’s petitions, it’s marching, it’s showing up in offices so that’s the part where I want gay people to feel optimistic because I can only imagine, and having played every city in America at this point, I very much know, I mean when I would do book signings and I mean I joke about this, because I always make a joke out of everything its my disease, but you know, I’m very familiar honey with doing these book signings in South Carolina and a gay guy comes up and says “Girl… I just love you and I love this book so much, I’m so glad you came to South Carolina,” pause, “This is my wife Dorleen,” pause. “Oh… you’re wife?” And, you know, the wife is like 500 pounds because he hasn’t touched her since their wedding night, but they love the lord.
And so, I’m just saying, like having done this for so long, I’m actually aware of when you go different places, and you talk to different people, you know, there’s still reasons that guys can’t come out in this country, and there’s still many, many pockets. What I always say to my friends in New York and LA, as I’m always like “Calm the fuck down, there’s a whole country out there.” People that can be out and proud is fucking amazing. But you have to also have empathy for all the gay folks or whatever letter you want to pick, that are sitting in their town or their job thinking “I don’t know if I can be out, I really don’t” That’s always something in the back of my mind. I’m sorry, that was a long, rambling answer, I have no idea how you are going to cut this together.
That’s ok, I’ll figure it out when I’m having my third lunch of the day because I like to eat.
Ha! I also believe that one of the reasons that the gay community and I kind of have a natural connection is, if you talk to somebody who has been a comedian as long as I have, there really are different kinds of audiences. There really are. I mean I’ve done corporate gigs and colleges and I’ve done Pridefests outside. I mean, frankly, my last performance before the Trump photo was at the New York AIDS Walk in Central Park. Carson Kressley introduced me, and I did a few minutes and then three days later that “wall of shit” fell on me.
By the way, I’ve done, get ready, twelve gay cruises. One of my dreams is that I would love to do a comedy special on a gay cruise. I think it’s just a window into the parts of the culture that I just happen to find fascinating, especially when they have theme parties like Gods and Monsters except every single gay is dressed like Walter White in assless chaps. That’s kind of always been my message is always trying to infuse things with humor, but then if I’m actually learning something along the way, I want to throw that in.
That’s why this whole Trump thing is kind of coming around in a way where people are finally understanding through this crazy news cycle like if they are even aware of my little Trump thing, it’s almost like if somebody would give me five minutes to explain it, and this is what I really enjoyed about doing the 23 shows overseas, I like that moment where people’s jaws are dropping. Because I want them to know, “yeah, this is how fucked up this administration is,” but especially how backwards they are. And as a woman I’m scared, and I’m talking to many of my gay friends who are scared in a way that they weren’t two years ago.
I always talk about my age, because I’m very proud of it, and I want to say, at 57 years old you guys, I’ve played one tour three years ago where I did 80 American cities. So, I really enjoy adjusting my material to where I’m going, and I can tell within the first five minutes if the audience is half gays, or a third gay, and I roll with it. And I can also tell when I’m in certain markets where I might have gays in the audience who aren’t able to be like “Woo, hey girl!” And so, I’m always trying to be sensitive to that too.
I wanted to ask you about your tour in the States and Canada. How does it feel for you to be “home” in so many ways?
You know, I’m just going to be honest, the thing is my little Trump story is still going on. The Hollywood Blacklist is kind of what I’m living now. I did the Bill Maher show last Friday, my first appearance on American television in over a year, which for me is a long time because I’m usually hocking something on some talk show or I’ve had three television series with my name in the title and now I can’t get a television job to save my life. I can’t even meet with people for a special. Keep in mind, I’ve done 20 televised specials, and three that were audio, one of which won a Grammy.
So, believe it or not, I’m still dealing with the fallout because I get on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter, and I’m thinking “OK, maybe things will turn around, maybe my own industry will have my back, and I still don’t have a gig, babe.” So, I can put myself on the road, but that’s not something I need permission to do. Luckily, thank god, I’ve at least built a tour business that’s been so long, and my fans know that if they saw me a year ago or five years ago or ten years ago… they are getting a brand new two hours. I am nothing else if not prolific, but on the other hand, I don’t want to go on The View!
I don’t need or deserve a beatdown from the fucking View right now. I have been through something that TV hosts can’t fucking imagine. So, I think that’s one of the reasons why the Bill Maher appearance actually ended up being so positive for me, because I was only able to explain one tiny, tiny part of it. Even Bill, when I was talking to him that night on the phone, like he started crying. I’m like, “Bill, are you crying?”, and he’s like “This is horrible, Kathy. I didn’t know, I thought you just took a picture that Trump tweeted”, and I’m like “No Bill, it’s still going on.” So, for me it’s a big deal to be able to hit the road, but trust me honey, I am only going to friendly cities where I’m not going to get shot on stage and, you know, I’m dipping my toes back in because it’s been really, really radical and really extreme. It’s been fucking nuts. And I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.
In fact, if I could have my dream show, you know what I would do? I would have a show like that Leah Remini show, that scientology one? Oh, I love it! I would love to do a show where like season one, I do my story, and it’s almost like the D-List where it’s like, whatever, ten episodes of all the crazy shit I’m going through. But then, the following season, I get to find other people that have suffered this kind of crazy, out of the blue, “Trumpian” oppression, obviously gay folks, etc. And kind of help them or expose their story so maybe they can get help.
And of course, I would like to do another special, and another series… I want to do it all. I have much more comedy in me, but I do just want to say, if I could ask you to just put one thing in this article, it would be to all those who have supported me, and let me tell you, I have no qualms saying about this. It was absolutely the gay community, by far, and I’m just going to say it: women… not so much. My own industry, not at all. The “power gays” in my industry… nobody listed a finger. But the actual community was there from minute one. The minute someone sent me a video, like a week after the picture, of gays in Fire Island all dressed up as me with homemade Trump heads, some out of pumpkins, I just was like “God damnit, the drag queens are on the frontlines again!”
Of course, that’s another reason that on this tour, you know, I’m not just going anywhere, I want to go where the gay folks who have been reaching out to me via social media or whatever and have been saying “Please come here.” So, trust me, I have done a shit ton of analytics, like I’ve never done this before. I have a company do all my analytics, and I’m only going to go where people want to hear the story. And it’s like the country is divided, and right now, and I don’t have to tell you this, people either love me or hate me.
So, in conclusion, how does it feel to be called a true gay icon, not only by our publication but from our community? And will you wear this badge of honor as a crown of sorts for this accomplishment?
Well, I don’t mean to be rude, but can I at least get a fucking T-shirt? Can you just have one made up?
I’ll definitely talk to my people and get back to you on that.
Thank you! By the way, I would love it if you could actually send Instinct Magazine t-shirts. I would loudly and proudly wear them all over, I’m serious.
We would love that too, trust me!
Oh honey, listen, this old bird knows what she’s doing. I’ll wear it, and then walk down a street where maybe there happen to be paparazzi. That’s my thing, that’s my thing. But you didn’t hear that from me.
First, I wouldn’t call myself a gay icon, because you know my mom, she would say “Don’t be so god damn high and mighty! I’ll tell you when you’re an icon: when you’re dead, god damnit!” And so, just so you know, Maggie still keeps me grounded. But of course, I couldn’t be more honored because like I said this is our community. I just feel like it’s truly an honor, and I also feel like reenergized within the community because, like I said, we’re not starting over but this is one of those phases where we’re fucking getting reenergized. Whatever was that moment in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s and 90’s, we’re there again. I don’t want to say we are going back to grids, but you know what honey, we might.
This administration really, really frightens me about LGBT rights, so I think it’s good that we all get in the mindset of sticking together, not letting them divide us, and knowing that at any moment we may have to do something big, medium or small.
I think the exciting thing is we are in a real moment of activism and I am thrilled to be there, and I will participate in any way you guys want me to.
After the interview was over, I had the chance to tell Kathy that she is not only one of the community's biggest gay icons, but one of mine personally and I shared a story on how she helped this gay guy get through a really tough time.
I have to tell you quickly before this interview ends, because I wanted to tell you this beforehand, that I just want to thank you personally for what you’ve done in your career. Because in 2004, I lost my mother to cancer, and a lot of your specials and your shows was a major distraction and a good distraction for me after that. So, I know you are going through a lot right now, but I just wanted to tell you that personally because you were a very big help for me in those years and still are to this day as a way to just laugh and realize that there are funnier things and not to take things too seriously in life, so just wanted to tell you that.
Just, a quick question, because I’m doing an informal survey, when your mom passed away, do you feel like humor was an important thing to get you through it?
Yes, humor and things that were a really good distraction for me to make me realize that life was worth going on. Because, for a while there, I questioned it, a lot, especially being gay and having the whole “faith” issue that we have as gay people, but your humor helped me just normalize things for myself and not have her death on my mind 24/7 all day long. So, I just want to thank you for that.
I think the way you use the word “normalize” is really, really smart. And, if you don’t mind, I’m going to steal that from you, but I’ll give you credit. I’ll say, “I got this from Ryan at Instinct Magazine,” by the way, just so you know I’m very big on that. You got me really excited, because as you know that word “normalize” is one of those words almost like “free speech” where “free speech” is supposed to mean, frankly, what I do. But now the alt-right wants free speech to be like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopolous and all that shit. So, that’s part of their game.
Same with the word “normalizing,” I think what you’ve inspired me about, and what’s so cool is, you are correct. I think if I can do anything, it’s to “normalize” things in the gay community to, like I said, decades of cities where I cannot tell you, not so much now obviously but earlier in my career but still sometimes now, I cannot tell you how often a guy comes up to me at a show and says “I’m not able to be out, but I was so happy to be myself tonight.” And, if there is anything I would be proud of, it would be “normalizing” gay whatever, anything. Anything from a joke I made, like I had gay Super Bowl, and I love doing #gaysuperbowl and Snapchatting it and stuff like that, and that’s what I’ve always enjoyed doing.
So, that’s the highest compliment is to say that I “normalize” the community. Like, Jane Lynch gave me the highest compliment one time, she said “Kathy Griffin was hanging out with the gays before it was cool.” And I was like, “Well, it’s always cool.” But I think you are right, normalizing simply the normal existence of the community is something that this country has really struggled with. And I think it’s important to take that word back to the meaning it should have which is gay life should be normalized… because it’s normal!
So, I think it’s important we make that distinction as opposed to when we bitch about journalists normalizing the president’s craziness. I’m actually going to bring that up the next time I perform. Normalizing means acceptance, embracing, and that’s what it’s supposed to be, and there’s a good way to do it, which is the way we do with the gay community and the way we are working on it with women and minorities and #metoo’s, and then there’s this other “normalization” which is kind of a little different. So, I think that you really hit the nail on the head, because the more the world can “normalize” the gay community, the more we are all going to be united and that’s always been one of my goals.
I’m proud that my show has straight couples and gay couples and “Will & Grace”-ers and married couples where the girl dragged the husband and at the end of the show the husband will come up to me and say, “You know I never met a gay person before I came to your show,” to which I’ll respond with “Really, do you go to church?”
For more information on Kathy's upcoming tour dates, including how to purchase tickets, please text KATHY to 345345.