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Kathy Griffin’s new film, a hybrid documentary and comedy special called Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story, made its New York debut on Thursday at the opening night of the inaugural 51Fest, celebrating female creatives.
After the screening of the film — which follows Griffin’s road to rehabilitating her career after making headlines in 2017 for a photoshoot stunt that depicted President Donald Trump’s bloodied head, before showing her fiery and politically charged stand-up act — the comedian participated in a conversation with journalist Tina Brown, speaking more in-depth about the scandal. But before taking the stage at Chelsea’s SVA Theatre, Griffin reveled in the view of hundreds who came out to the premiere and greeted her with a standing ovation.
The deafening applause prompted Brown to ask, “Is this really going to turn around your career, now again [and] just banish the whole cancel culture?”
A candid Griffin immediately jumped in. “No!” she answered, adding that she still doesn’t even have an agent or any prospective TV or movie deals after the Trump debacle, despite the glowing reviews that met her self-funded film when it first showed in March at Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest festival. “Shocking! Especially because I have two Emmys and a Grammy, Tina.”
When Brown brought up Griffin’s total earnings throughout her decades-long career — $75 million, said the 58-year-old comic — Griffin acknowledged that her pariah status in Hollywood remains more than two years after she took the Trump photo, which she once apologized for but now defiantly embraces. “[Agents] are still saying they don’t want to represent you,” said Brown, to which Griffin quipped, “I know. But they took the 10 percent the whole time.”
In the wake of the Trump scandal, Griffin was deserted by famous friends — including Anderson Cooper — along with longtime business associates, including agents and publicists. She was even fired from her longstanding gig as Cooper’s co-host for CNN’s New Year’s Live, only to be replaced by her Bravo boss-turned-nemesis, Andy Cohen. Additionally, the former My Life on the D-List star became the subject of two federal investigations, ultimately having to defend herself under oath against speculation that she was conspiring to assassinate the president.
Rather than let the weight of the scandal crush her, though, Griffin fought back by creating a new stand-up act centered on the setbacks she faced for the Trump photo — which she performed for audiences all over the globe as part of her self-generated Laugh Your Head Off world tour, captured in her doc — all while cementing herself as a fierce advocate for First Amendment rights.
“Like me or not, be offended by the photo or not. I do want people to understand the balance of the First Amendment and the difference between yelling ‘fire’ in a theater, because people get trampled and killed, which is a violation of the First Amendment,” she told Brown. “What I did, or if you do something similar, is absolutely not. So, it was interesting to learn that because it’s my commodity. And anyone else in the arts, it’s their commodity.”
She later added, “I know this sounds ridiculous, but I feel I prevailed over the president of the United States. I really do. And it wasn’t by being classy.”
Given Griffin’s public spar with Trump, Brown asked the comedian what advice she might give to the Democratic presidential candidate who will eventually take on the onetime Apprentice host in the 2020 election.
“It’s really easy. I’ve actually figured it out after all this time. And you know I’ve known him for a long time on and off. And he is a typical bully in that when you step up to him, he backs down like the bitch he is,” Griffin said. “And the last time I saw him in person, he actually hired me to roast him as part of an Apprentice challenge. And as I was walking toward him, he was like, ‘Uh-oh, here she comes. I’m scared of her! Don’t be too tough on the hair.’ And I’m like, ‘Your nest will be fine.’ And, so, you just have to step up to him.”
Griffin then said that she would like to see a woman take over the Oval Office, calling out female candidates Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — and explained why she isn’t necessarily rooting for the openly gay South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, regardless of her longstanding support of the LGBTQ community.
“Buttigieg wouldn’t take a photo with me. I was at South by Southwest with this film and his husband came up to me and as I lovingly say, ‘one of my gays,’ and we got along great. And then I meet the mayor and I said, ‘Hello, and congratulations on everything. You’re so bright, you learn so quickly,’ and all this other stuff. And then the husband said, ‘Oh, take a picture.’ And he got nervous, and I said, ‘It’s OK. I understand,'” she recounted. “So, there are a lot of elected officials, to this day, some of them I get it. I go, ‘It’s OK. I don’t want to put my shit on you.'”
Griffin, however, added, “But with him, I thought, ‘Well, honey, if you’re running for president, you can’t be afraid of me.’ And then I saw [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and she put her arms around me and said, ‘I’m not afraid of you! You’re a riot!’ That’s what we need to do. We need to be fearless and have a sense of humor.”
Griffin was also asked about how the comedic landscape has changed for women in today’s #MeToo and Time’s Up era. According to Griffin, it hasn’t. “I’ve been in comedy so long. I’ve seen all their dicks, I have. I have seen all their dicks. I know who’s going to be #MeToo’ed next. I can tell you their names and they do it with impunity. And you know what the problem is? The guys still circle the wagons,” she said, before pivoting her thoughts to Leslie Moonves, who left his post as CEO and chairman of CBS last year after numerous sexual misconduct allegations were leveled against him.
“The reason I confronted Leslie Moonves is I’ve known him since he was fucking getting coffee at Warner Bros. — and he doesn’t have a skill set either. So, I think we have to cancel back,” she said. “What the fuck is Julie [Chen] doing sticking with him? She doesn’t need the money. She’s, like, not talking to me. She’s still mad at me. And I’m canceled from The Talk and she’s not even on The Talk anymore!”
Of course, Brown also questioned Griffin about the status of her friendship with Cooper. “Who? Why?” Griffin said. “I got a black eye. You want me to go back to him? He didn’t call [after the Trump scandal].” Asked if Cooper had seen A Hell of a Story yet, Griffin said, “I don’t care.”
Still, she isn’t above dishing on their fallout in her stand-up act. “It doesn’t give me joy that Anderson is not my friend anymore,” she elaborated. “But I know that if people paid money and got a babysitter and paid for dinner, they paid to see the real fucking deal.”
Continued Griffin, “So that’s why I don’t hold back. I’m grateful that, through this experience, I’m able to fold a different level of topics into my act, and I have sort of become a political comedian. I’ve been a political junkie my whole life … The thing that I’m really grateful for is I’ve always been happy to make fun of the Kardashians or the Housewives, but [the Trump] experience allowed me to put more meat on the bone of my comedy and that’s something I’m really enjoying.”
Toward the end of her talk with Brown, Griffin recalled a trip to London with her late friend and idol, Joan Rivers, during which they spent time with Rivers’ “good friends” Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. Said Griffin, “[Prince Charles] said, ‘If it weren’t for comedians and journalists, who would keep us honest?’ And I’ve always thought about that. And I really believe that.”
Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story will play in U.S. theaters on July 31, for a one-night special event.
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