Kathy Griffin Sees You!

The brazen, outspoken comedian and star of Bravo's Kathy talks about her commitment, passion and pride for the LGBT community

Interview by Randy Shulman
Photography by Mike Ruiz/Bravo
Published on June 7, 2012, 4:46am | Comments

One doesn't ask Kathy Griffin an opening question in an interview situation. She just starts.

And once off and running, Kathy Griffin doesn't stop. In fact, she barely takes a breath.

Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin

(Photo by Mike Ruiz/Bravo)

The fiercely outspoken, fiercely intelligent, all-around-fierce comedian has, for years, been a champion of the gay cause. Long before Lady Gaga was popping up at rallies in support of LGBT rights, Griffin was embedded in the trenches, stumping for DADT repeal and marriage equality in an impassioned, fever-pitched way that would put most campaigning politicians to shame.

The thing with Griffin is that her actions have never felt like "celebrity lip service" – the star who simply gets behind an issue to build an audience and sell tickets to shows. Griffin's sentiments have the stamp of 100 percent authenticity. They are powerfully, potently put, and as heartfelt as they come.

Part of Griffin's empathy for the LGBT community is self-attributed to her status as a Hollywood outsider, a theme explicitly explored on her award-winning, groundbreaking Bravo reality show, My Life on the D-List. Of course, Griffin is no longer on the so-called "D-List." She's as A-List as they come – maybe even A+ – a notion solidified by her latest Bravo endeavor, the weekly talk show Kathy, in which she doesn't just lure celebrity guests to her lair, but everyday, ordinary people. It's a bold move and yet fully in keeping with Griffin's own disdain for "celebrity artifice." Her lack of pretension endears Griffin to her fans, and her willingness to go above and beyond is extraordinary. She's all-too-happy, for instance, to honor a request to take a moment and record a personalized greeting for an ardent fan, doing so in an engaging, creatively off-the-cuff manner that displays her gifts for quick, improvisational comic thinking at their best. Most celebrities might scoff at such a request. Griffin gives it her all.

One can't fake what Kathy Griffin possesses – an extra-special whip of sass and crass, beneath which resides a giving, loving soul who is true to our cause. Kathy Griffin may not be homosexual in practice, but she's as gay as any of us. And even Griffin herself acknowledges it, doing so with what one can only term as full-on Pride.

METRO WEEKLY: I'd like to start with –

KATHY GRIFFIN: I'll tell you what I like. I like that a federal court ruled part of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. I'm just telling you. You have to understand: When I'm playing the Horseshoe Casino in Elizabeth, Ind., they don't give a fuck about this. So where am I playing in D.C., D.A.R.?

MW: I think –

GRIFFIN: Yeah, I am. I'm at Constitution Hall, Oct. 19. When I'm playing D.C., I can actually talk about the fact that in a state such as Massachusetts, where gays and lesbians can legally marry, the federal government cannot deny these couples the right to file a joint federal tax return, or to receive a survivor's benefit under the Social Security Act. Now let me tell you something. I travel all over, but I get excited when there's markets such as D.C. where I can actually talk about this.

MW: What do you talk about in other markets?

GRIFFIN: It depends. I am very market specific. When I'm in Chicago, I might make fun of Rahm Emanuel. When I'm in Los Angeles, it's probably more celebrity heavy – although my lovely D.C. friends like to say in jest that D.C. is Hollywood with ugly people. I have found that in D.C. the residents have just as much of a taste for Hollywood gossip as they do for making fun of Barney Frank, who I believe is a fake gay. I've never met a gay like Barney Frank in my life. So I believe that Barney Frank has been saying he's gay just to get votes all these years. I can't prove it, of course, it's just a theory of someone who's worked with the LGBT community and knows a lot of gay guys. But let me tell you, if you think I'm gonna be talking about Barney Frank anywhere but Boston or D.C., you are sorely mistaken.

Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin

MW: Why did our gay cause become so important to you? Was there a specific catalyst?

GRIFFIN: We found each other. We just found each other. I mean, truly, ever since I was a little kid – this is gonna sound cliché, but it's true, so fuck it – but when I was a little kid, I put on musicals in my garage, and sure enough it was the little gay boys who were the most likely to do it with me. As I grew up and started dating in high school, I didn't know that the guys I was dating would go on to become choreographers at Disney World. I am what you call a ''gay maker.'' I believe I can take a heterosexual man and turn him gay, at least at a formative age.

So we just found each other. In my live shows, part of the vibe is reaching out to the disenfranchised. I mean, I had a show called My Life on the D-List. Certainly what that show was about was being in the Hollywood community but still being an outsider. And you know, on my talk show Kathy, I have civilians on, and some celebrities, if they're willing to play – but believe me, you're not going to see Gwyneth Paltrow on my couch. Not that she's not invited, but she's just had it with my shit.

So I feel that's something the LGBT community and I have in common. There's a part of me that is always going to feel disenfranchised, and yet you have to laugh about it. And one thing I learned about working so much with the community – and by that I mean everything from visiting hospices to performing at the White Party or just doing shows where a lot of gay people come to see me – is they're great laughers. There's something about being part of an oppressed minority that makes you want to laugh more. I call them my ''unshockable gays.''

I heard on Twitter yesterday from a gay guy in the South who said something very touching. He said, ''It's very hard to be a gay man in the South and sometimes when I watch you on TV, it's the only thing that makes me laugh.'' And, not to be corny, but that's why I do it.

MW: You've been politically active and outspoken for years. You were doing things long before other celebrities.

GRIFFIN: I'm glad you say that. I appreciate it. Yeah, I've been in it for a while, and I'm gonna be in it forever. To this day, it is not uncommon for me to be doing a ''meet and greet'' before a show. And I'll have a straight guy come up to me and say, ''You know, I came to this show – my wife dragged me – and I don't think I've ever even met any gay people and it was a blast and I laughed really hard.'' To this day, there are people coming to a silly little Kathy Griffin show that think they've never met a gay person before. They'll say, ''Wow, this is a bunch of gay guys and they're sure in good shape. I've never met one.'' And I'm like, ''Well, I think you have. Maybe at your church.''

The ironic thing is with doing Kathy I'm getting all these straight guys on. I [recently had on] three hot Marines. And they're straight guys and they're cute and so they really do appeal to everybody. The straight guys want to be them. The girls want to fuck them, and so do the gays. So I'm building bridges. I'm building bridges between hot guys, the LGBT community and women everywhere. And isn't that what's important?

MW: Do you remember the first time somebody came out to you and how you reacted?

GRIFFIN: Absolutely. One of my first boyfriends, Tom Murphy, came out to me in high school. We'd actually dated and kissed a little bit. Obviously, he was in that place where he wasn't sure what was going on or he thought he would give heterosexuality a shot, I don't know. But when he came out, we still did all the same stuff, except kiss. We still hung out. We still had sleepovers. It was an innocent time. I mean for God's sake, I graduated high school in 1978, so it's not like he and I were sexually active!

The phrase that I feel resonates with people is quite simply to say, ''I see you.'' ''I see you.'' And I'm the expert. I'm onstage – I want people to fuckin' see me! And there's something about being in a culture where for whatever reason you're not allowed to be out in a crowd, or be who you are, and you're not seen. You may be bullied, you may be ignored, you may be barely tolerated, but everybody wants to be seen.

MW: One of the things that helps with visibility is celebrities who come out. We've seen that with Ellen and Neil Patrick Harris. We've seen it recently with Jim Parsons. How do we encourage more closeted gay celebrities to come out?

GRIFFIN: You don't encourage them. It is too fucking personal. They're gonna do it in their own time. People think I out people. And let me tell you, I do not. I mean, I used to tease Clay Aiken because he would do all these interviews about not finding the right girl, but I didn't out Clay Aiken. I'm not a fucking journalist. I tease Ryan Seacrest and say, ''Oh, she has pretty hair.'' I'm pretty sure Ryan's straight – I just think it's funny that he's so manscaped. But no, I'm a big believer in people coming out in their own time because I have fucking seen it myself. My good friend Lance Bass was forced out of the closet – forced out of the closet. This is a guy who was from the Deep South. His family turned on him for a while. It was extremely difficult.

So before we want to out everybody that we fuckin' feel like outing because it's in our best interest, keep in mind it's a big world out there and there are people – you know, obviously journalists – that go to parts of the world where they will assassinate you the minute they think you're gay. And by the way, they will assassinate you in a different way than they would assassinate a heterosexual person. So you know what? It's a bigger issue. We don't all just live in major metropolitan cities and blue states. It's fuckin' rough out there. I meet vets backstage and even though ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' has been repealed, it's fuckin' rough. I met a guy last night and he was hurtin'. He was hurtin'. He was active military and ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' hasn't exactly sunk in with his buddies yet. It's gonna take time.

MW: What do you appreciate most about the LGBT community?

GRIFFIN: That they find each other and work together. They're smart and stick together and write legislation and pass bills and assemble and get things done. As a woman, I get frustrated because I feel that women don't have this down yet. Women can be divisive or feel competitive against one another and I feel that it's very much in a heterosexual man's interest to try to divide-and-conquer with women.

That's why it's interesting, because the female friends that I have that are very powerful women – Fonda, Marlo Thomas, Glo Steinem, women who are known to be activists, power chicks – are also extremely active in the LGBT community. We're kind of in this together, you know? And I think that's why so many gay men in particular are accepting of me, because they see me going too far and crossing the line and learning as I go. They know I'm not this polished comedian that has an hour-practiced routine that I do in every city. They know I don't know what the fuck I'm gonna say, and that I'm gonna say the wrong thing and the right thing and the offensive thing. I think that's why gay guys love Bette Midler, because she's over the top and outrageous and unpredictable. It's why they love Cher. They don't know if Cher's gonna leave her house or stay on Cher Island in Malibu. They don't know if she's gonna put rings on like a drag queen or just get very, very angry and political about something.

MW: It would be hard to argue that you're still on "The D-List." I'd say you've moved to the A-List. But what did that show teach you about being a true celebrity, about working within the system?

GRIFFIN: It taught me so much. First of all, it taught me that audiences are very in tune to what is bullshit and what isn't. When I started My Life on the D-List it was before Kardashians and all these reality TV shows. For the first two seasons of My Life on the D-List – I'm not kidding – they fuckin' followed me around and shot everything I did for nine months to make six fucking episodes. It was just a little two camera guys following me around in my house, on planes, off planes, in Iraq, performing at Pride events, etc., hoping I was going to say something funny. Then [taking] millions of hours of footage and cutting it down to six episodes. As it went on, I went, ''Okay, so let's see what we really want to say here.'' I learned that it's all about full disclosure – and I think that's another reason that the LGBT community and I get along: There's no bullshit. So on My Life on the D-List, believe me, honey, my divorce wasn't scripted. I didn't see that one fuckin' coming. My beloved father passed away. It taught me the show must go on.

The premise of that show was all about me being on the outside – I'm on the folding chair, while inside all the celebrities are sitting around on satin chairs collecting their Emmys and Grammys and Oscars. And then, as it went on, one thing that was really, really nice and gratifying for me is people started to get the joke. It's been really gratifying to see some of these Hollywood folks actually come around and go like, ''Oh, she's actually just kidding.'' You know, I run into the Kardashians – and I don't think they really hate me. I think they kinda are like, ''Yeah, she's gonna bust our balls, but she's not really hurting anybody. She's certainly not taking any of our money away or our empire.'' Ryan Seacrest freakin' calls me now and never says, ''Don't ever say this about me.'' So that's been a great thing for me – they're finally gettin' that it's a fucking joke.

MW: Speaking of comedy in general, we've had very strong female comics over the years, and certainly you pay homage to them – Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller. Yet there seems to be a significant surge of women in comedy, especially women who refuse to play it safe. I think you're one of the pioneers of that school.

GRIFFIN: I was raised in the Margaret Cho-Janeane Garofalo school. I mean those girls were successful, and I learned so much from them. But let me make two points: No. 1, it's about fucking time. No. 2, the ratio is still like fuckin' 20 to one! Call your local comedy club and ask for the Saturday lineup and I guarantee you it's gonna be eight men and one woman. So it is fantastic that we're making strides – like the gay community, there's progress – but we're not there yet.

MW: I want to come back to politics for a moment. Did you ever think that you would see a sitting president endorse gay marriage? And how did you feel about that?

GRIFFIN: Oh, God, it is huge. First of all, let me just say this about the president: I love him. I'll make fun of him – which, by the way, if you even made a joke about "W," people would think you were un-American – but I don't think people understand the significance of this president. And you know what? This is what I have to say to the LGBT community: It's a big fuckin' country out there and it ain't all Haight-Ashbury and it ain't all Chelsea and it's not all Weho, and these things take time. I get angry at my fellow Democrats and I get angry at my gays when they're actually mad at this president because he's not going fast enough for them. And I just want to say, after spending some time in Washington, working to help repeal ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'' having done my little mini-tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's not all the culture of chicks who live in Hollywood like me. It's not all the culture of LGBT. It's not all the culture of rich people or poor people. This stuff takes time. And I had to learn that because even as early as five years ago, I was bitching and moaning that this stuff's gotta go faster and I'm not gonna stand for it. Yes, it has to go faster – and it is – but for God's sake, do not turn your back on this president because he's not going fast enough for you, so that you can enjoy President Romney, who's not going to do anything for you.

Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin

(Photo by Mike Ruiz/Bravo)

There's never been a sitting president who has even seen the LGBT community like this. Never. It's huge. It's fucking huge.

So I get mad at my young gays that don't know what Stonewall is. I get mad at my young girls that don't know who Gloria Steinem is. And I get mad at my own Democrats or centrists or liberal-leaning people that are acting like, ''I don't know if I'm gonna vote for the president. What's the point?'' Really? Well, get ready for President Romney and Vice President Bachmann.

MW: You're going to be the cover of our Pride issue. So I want to ask, what makes Kathy Griffin proud?

GRIFFIN: What makes me proud of the LGBT community is – as I stated earlier – the way this community has come together. I joke about adding the "QIA." I don't care how many fuckin' letters you guys have. The point is you're coming together. You're working together.

I have gone to countless community centers where they're reaching out to gay youth. I find that people are coming out younger and younger – and that is significant. That's very different from when I started my career and was meeting guys who were married with three kids sobbing, ''What am I going to do? What am I gonna do?" I think the way you guys keep working together, keep strategizing, is what I'm so proud of.

I'm so proud of this community for being smart, getting together, mobilizing, putting yourselves on the 24-hour news cycle, getting pundits out there, being diverse. You've got your Andrew Sullivan, and then you've got your – you know, me – I'm on the other end of the political spectrum from Andrew. But I think it's great.

And every year it gets better. Every year – oh, God, I just quoted the ''It Gets Better'' campaign, which is great!

You have Harvey Weinstein writing me a letter, who I don't even fuckin' know, saying, ''Please help with this movie, Bully. I know this is your community. I know that you have no stake in this movie at all but please help me reach your people.''

MW: So how do you feel about being considered part of our community, being one of us?

GRIFFIN: Proud! Proud! Proud! Where would I be without my gays, my unshockable gays? You fuckers will laugh at anything. That is why gay audiences are the best. Because what the fuck am I gonna say onstage that's more shocking than anything you've heard in your real life? And let me tell you, behind closed doors when my gays come over, it's fucking ''go'' time. It is politically incorrect, it is raw, it is all wrong and we laugh our fucking asses off. Because you gotta laugh. You gotta laugh, no matter what. Whether it's appropriate or inappropriate, you gotta laugh. It's the universal gay language. Well, that, and Lady Gaga.

Kathy Griffin will appear in D.C. at D.A.R. Constitution Hall Friday, Oct. 19. Tickets go on sale Friday, June 15. Call 1-800-745-3000 or visit livenation.com.

Her new talk show, Kathy, airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Bravo. Visit kathygriffin.net.

Check out these videos of Kathy Griffin's D.C. rally to repeal ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' in 2010.

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