I’ll open this review by saying I was present for both of Kathy Griffin’s Los Angeles stops on her Laugh Your Head Off World Tour. Months ago, only one LA show was announced—July 19 at the Dolby Theater. Due to high demand, a second show was booked much later for the following night.
Griffin performed for 171 minutes on Thursday, pausing only a few times to sip water; I was so blown away that as soon as she finished her bows I got on my phone to round up a friend to join me for night two.
I’ve been a fan of Griffin’s ever since the nascence of Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List. Perhaps not coincidentally, the reality program—and her huge rise in pop culture as a Hollywood outsider on the inside—happened right around the time I was realizing I was gay, the mid-aughts. I read her memoir, Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin, months after I moved to Los Angeles and started attending classes at the The Groundlings. I credit it with a chunk of the limited stability I had in my first year out here. It’s a dynamite memoir; I’m tempted to call it a must-read for anyone who makes the leap to L.A. to chase a dream.
Long before such a thing was trendy in the mainstream, Griffin’s relationship with her gay fans has felt symbiotic, genuine and unforced. At Friday’s show she expressed her displeasure at being called the more P.C. “Fruit Fly” over “Fag Hag” by younger audiences— to thunderous applause (“I’ve been fighting for your rights since before you were born! I’m a hag!”). She also had more than a little fun, calling us “gaymen” pronounced like Neil Gaiman’s last name, and the “LGBTQI12345 community.”
The Laugh Your Head Off Tour is, in no uncertain terms, a comeback. Just over a year ago, Griffin made international headlines for posing with a picture holding a Donald Trump mask covered in ketchup. TMZ posted it to their homepage, and then the firestorm commenced.
As the Grammy winner and two-time Emmy-winner explains in detail in her new act, nearly everyone turned their backs on her (even longtime pal Anderson Cooper). She lost all of her endorsements (even Squatty Potty!), and all of her U.S. tour dates were canceled.
One point Griffin brought hammered down on both nights: you’re entitled to think whatever you want about that photo, but she did not break the law.
An aside: Children are in cages now, guys. Are any of us still upset about Kathy Griffin's prop comedy?
Nevertheless, the federal government investigated her for two month, for conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States. She was on the No Fly List and Interpol’s list—like terrorist. She also received death threats— along with her family, including her sister who was dying of cancer at the time. There’s even more to it.
She isn't sorry for the photo. The loose structure of the show is this: Griffin details the day that photo came out, then the astonishing, protracted fallout, and it all leads up to her account of the interrogation that could have ended with her being taken away in cuffs.
Griffin was at the very top of her game on Thursday: full of energy, yet organized; she never once let her thoughts get ahead of her. By the time she got to the interrogation, about 160 minutes into her show, you could hear a pin drop in the 3,000-seat theater. This comedy show has hand-wringing suspense; I was ultimately exhilarated.
Friday’s show, though wonderful, wasn’t as pristine. The first night was sold out (on night two the theater was about two-thirds booked), and the audience was more respectful and enthusiastic. There was significant variation in material night-to-night and both nights Griffin lamented she’d only covered “one tenth” of her act (the Dolby Theater has a strict 11 pm curfew).
The Laugh Your Head Off is so good that I really don’t want to spoil much of what’s in it. Until the inevitable TV special comes to light, it just doesn’t seem fair. I will say that this is Griffin at her most “unhinged,” as she says herself. We’ve always loved her for her not giving a f*ck, but the world is different—the wool is being continuously yanked from our eyes— and boy does she really not give a f*ck. She named names, and not just the famous ones. Griffin gives out full names of publicists and even her neighbors as she rips them to shreds.
Weaved throughout the intense main narrative are some softer bits. She makes plenty of time for the celebrity juice she’s best known for. A bit about her Bel Air neighbor Kanye West having a nervous breakdown in his backyard that ranks among the funniest anecdotes she’s ever told. Howlingly, grab-the-person-next-to-you hilarious stuff.
Also, there’s this gold nugget:
“So, Roseanne Barr… I did Nazi that coming.
I did Nazi it coming.
Roseanne Barr is a Nazi.
They’re not all jokes, folks!”
Perhaps the spiciest, most exotic tea that was spilled at Griffin’s L.A. show was when she went after Ellen DeGeneres, on Thursday. She started by stating that in person, DeGeneres is—gasp—nothing like the impossibly, unflappably upbeat non-human she plays on her daytime TV show. Griffin detailed a heated fight she had with DeGeneres over the phone after Joan Rivers passed away (Griffin wanted DeGeneres to do a tribute to Rivers, but the daytime host didn’t want to be associated with Rivers’ “mean” humor). Griffin also called DeGeneres an "untalented hack.”
Post-Weinstein, non-disclosure agreements mean a whole lot less. We’re going to start hearing all kinds of shocking things about everybody. Face it: Griffin’s style of humor suits the times we’re living in. She can, and should, go after everybody.
That’s all I’m going to spoil, though. I want you to fully experience this thing the way I did.
The Laugh Your Head Off Tour is the most exhaustingly funny and satisfying comedy show I have ever seen. And it is so much more than a comedy show. What she’s doing here is unlike anything she—or any comedian for that matter—has ever even attempted.
In 2005, Kathy Griffin was a Hollywood outsider on the inside, spraying us with tea about, say, Sharon Stone’s bizarre antics at an amfAR fundraiser, or drunk people at Brooke Shields’ wedding. In 2018, as the foundation of our democracy is being rocked and our rights are at risk, this comedian who specializes in dick and pussy jokes has terrifying, sobering and mordantly funny insider scoop about our corrupt, bullying government, all the way to the top.
The world is changing. Kathy Griffin is telling the truth.
Tour Dates: KathyGriffin