24 Jun Funny Women: An Interview With Kathy Griffin
A two time Grammy and Emmy Award winning comedian, Kathy has taped numerous stand-up shows for HBO, and recorded sixteen specials. Originally trained at the Lee Strasberg Institute, and a member of the improv group The Groudlings, she received recognition in television in the late 1990′s for her supporting role in the sitcom Suddenly Susan…
Kathy Griffin is a hilarious, hardworking and provocative woman. I was thrilled (and had trouble not laughing as we talked) to be able to ask her about her work, freedom of speech and women in humor and Hollywood, about which she is very opinionated! A two time Grammy and Emmy Award winning comedian, Kathy has taped numerous stand-up shows for HBO, and recorded sixteen specials. Originally trained at the Lee Strasberg Institute, and a member of the improv group The Groudlings, she received recognition in television in the late 1990′s for her supporting role in the sitcom Suddenly Susan. Griffin then got her own reality show (2005-2010), Kathy Griffin: My Life On The D List, which became a ratings hit. Kathy is an active supporter of LGBT rights, and has performed for the troops abroad. After being nominated for six years in a row for the Grammy for Best Comedy Album, she finally won in 2014, becoming only the third woman to win the category (the others being Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg).
LD: Thanks so much for speaking with me, Kathy. So you are on tour, and just did a sold out show at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, is that right?
KG: I did! And I’m doing an 80 city tour, called “Like A Boss.” I had to name the tour, because several people reminded me that when you have toured so much, as I have, people might not understand that in each new city, it’s going to be brand new material. Its something I pride myself on. I go up there and give them two hours of new material in each city.
LD: That’s sounds exhausting!
KG: Ten years ago, everyone said, touring is going to go away, everyone is going to watch everything on their computers and phones. And they were wrong. No one’s ever going to watch the Super Bowl on the phone and they’re not going to want to watch a stand-up comic on their phone. It’s not a video of a kitten! My shows are unbridled, unfiltered, with nobody looking over my shoulder telling me what I can’t say.
LD: It’s true, people like to laugh together.
KG: Absolutely! But, I’m going to warn you, I’m looking forward to a couple of walk-outs. You never know, you could have a couple who think they are stumbling into a production of Mamma Mia…and twenty minutes into me railing about the Palins, or giving my personal update on Caitlyn Jenner…you know, they could get up and leave.
LD: That’s what you must expect if you push the limits.
KG: Absolutely. And that’s how you learn. If you take Caitlin Jenner, who is more in the zeitgeist than anyone, what I like doing is: I try talking about Caitlyn with heart and humor in one city, and maybe the audience is a little uncomfortable at first, but in each city, I learn how to talk about Caitlyn in a way that is respectful yet funny. By the way, do you remember when Caitlyn Jenner sat down for her first interview with Diane Sawyer, she said it’s really important that we keep a sense of humor about this?
LD: That’s great.
KG: It’s a great quote, and it’s important that everyone remembers that about Caitlyn and about everything. I have to be honest. My preference is to do the material I believe in and wrote myself. And that’s one of the reasons I’m doing 80 cities, each with new content. I take responsibility for everything comes out of my own mouth.
LD: Often, your humor means something, and if you don’t write it yourself, it’s just jokes.
KG: I use my experience in my routines, that’s why I like to write my own material.
LD: There’s all this talk about the limits of free speech lately—are there limits? In the US, we have free speech–and it would be great to have it everywhere– but is there any instance where we should hold back in any way?
KG: No. There can’t be. I’ve been banned from talk shows, fired from jobs—and sometimes the same shows that fired me then rehire me! There is a curve that happens, that when you go across the line, you take a hit from it. But what I’ve learned is it kinda comes around. I’ve done 23 stand-up Comedy specials, more than any other comedian, man or woman. And I did that as a female, because I can’t stand the fact that women are not given the same opportunities, obviously also in late night television. Since I can’t book myself, I can do more television comedy stand up specials than anyone in history. I specifically did it to make a point as a female. Women are 51% of the population, and we’re not on late night network! We are relegated on daytime.
LD: Why is that?
KG: I’ll go one further. Why has it been since 1988 that there is a woman on late night network? It’s one thing if this were a new phenomenon, but it’s not. I grew up watching The Johnny Carson Show, and I saw my dear departed mentor Joan Rivers get that opportunity in 1988. I absolutely thought as a young girl, oh, it’s going to be equal now! So to me, it’s even more shocking. So it’s not only why, but why so long?! I can’t answer that question, I don’t program television. Television is by far still the most watched medium. I think it’s a glaring gaping hole. As a viewer, I want to be represented. And that’s why I work with the LGTB community because I think they are frankly so much better and more effective with a loud voice and demanding to be represented. Women need to do that more. We’re now the only group not represented in network nightly.
LD: It’s crazy.
KG: It is crazy, and it’s the untold story. Everyone’s afraid of it. I’m living it, I’m not afraid of it. I have a lot of jokes to tell, but in the meantime things need to change quickly.
LD: But isn’t it changing in some way? I’ve seen some improvement from the days of Christopher Hitchens and Jerry Lewis who said flat-out women aren’t funny. Its more acceptable for women to be funny, even feminist humor is now in the mainstream, don’t you think?
KG: I think it’s changing a little. But I do get the question, “there’s no sexism in comedy anymore, right, because…” and then they’ll name three women comics. We’re 51% of the population! The important thing is, I need to go out there and do 80 cities. And that’s why I call it “Like A Boss.” I don’t have a writers room, a network, a studio, no executives championing me. I believe when you are a woman of a certain age, that’s the deal. I had so many conversations with my late great friend Joan Rivers, who told me: don’t get it twisted. When you’re a woman, you just have to work twice as hard and jump twice as high. If not ten times. And you accept that and have fun doing it. But as far as equality goes, we’re not even close. I’m aware I’ve got to work harder. The way I like to stand apart is that I try to avoid saying what any comic can say. As women we have to be different, right?
Kathy Griffin is an alumna of The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute®. Learn more about the programs and classes available here. Apply here.