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There was one question that struck cold fear with the women featured in this issue of The Hollywood Reporter. No, it wasn’t about politics or religion (topics that industry types actually freely discuss). It was the simple question of asking one’s age. Editors at this publication traditionally have gathered this fact for its annual Next Generation and Top 50 Showrunners packages, and every profile and cover story that runs in THR contains this information. In a piece discussing careers, and impressive rises to power, age is pertinent to contextualizing achievement. Still, many of the powerhouses featured in this issue refused to provide this information, some saying their careers would be irreversibly harmed if their ages were made public. How could some of the most successful women in the world feel so vulnerable? Ageism is not unique to Hollywood, and the answers go far beyond anything that could simply be discussed here. But it did seem like a moment when the always-candid Kathy Griffin — who has embraced her D-list status and evolving looks (nips, tucks and all) — could make clear that a confident woman is more powerful than any number.
First, you have to know: Los Angeles has never been easy for me.
I moved here in the late 1970s from Oak Park, Ill., where — well, you might be shocked to learn this — I didn’t achieve fame and fortune overnight. It was only after a decade or so of banging guys I met at the Carl’s Jr. on Santa Monica and La Brea (none of whom, by the way, turned out to be casting directors) that I finally got my network debut on an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
By then I was about 30, and while hardly old, I wasn’t a 20-year-old ingenue. And don’t think that wasn’t made clear to me in auditions across town. There was always someone younger, with perkier tits. Every f–ing time.
The fact that Hollywood is tougher on older women is hardly new. In all my years in this town, I’ve never heard a director or producer say, “You know, she’s great, except she’s not quite old enough.” There’s always a tendency to go with someone younger, because they’re perceived to be sexier and, of course, sex sells. Look at the covers of weekly magazines: Their stock-in-trade is chronicling the love lives and mug shots of twentysomething starlets. That is the world we live in, that is what generates buzz. That’s what generates money.
And I guess a lot of women just feel like if they reveal their age, they’re going to be viewed as past their prime or unsexy or some bullshit like that. And, hey, on a certain level that’s understandable. No one wants to get old, no one wants to be put out to pasture. But, Jesus Christ, how f–ing bleak is the situation that I, Kathy Griffin, Queen of Dick Jokes, have to step in and basically write some sort of f–ed-up Hallmark card to the women of Hollywood?! Ladies, this is not a drill!
I always needed to be able to look at myself in the mirror, but I’ve never lied about my age to get work. There was no way I was going to lowball how old I am to curry favor with some studio executive. A horny doughnut fryer? Maybe. But not an executive. But I get it. L.A. is a town obsessed with youth, or at least the appearance of youth. That’s why I spend a lot of time in New York. I feel like in New York, being 51 isn’t even an issue. In fact, you’re kind of treated better there if you’re older and wiser. Los Angeles is vicious by comparison. And, frankly, I’m way too busy slathering myself in Suzanne Somers hormone creams (seriously, Google that shit, it’s amazing) to lie about my age.
It’s possible that my being a comic has alleviated some of the pressure to stay young. I remember when I was on the NBC sitcom Suddenly Susan with Brooke Shields back in the 1990s. She would sometimes be kind of cranky when I would get funnier lines than she did. (And, by the way, I write about this in my best-seller Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin.) I basically I told her, “You’re Brooke Shields, you’re always going to be the prettiest girl in the room. Can you just calm the f– down and let me have my jokes?”
So, yes, being a comic allows me to go to an event and not feel insecure about my age, because I know that I have a skill set that can’t be fudged by the flavor-of-the-month next to me on the step-and-repeat. Talent equals confidence.
But the ageism situation in Hollywood overall is only getting worse for everyone. At this rate, women are going to be considered over-the-hill if they’re not a fetus. Instead of stars’ names appearing above the title, there will just be sonograms. The Hollywood notion of youth-as-beauty is never going to change.
But cut the shit, guys! Youth doesn’t have the market on beauty locked up. Don’t tell me Jane Fonda isn’t still stunningly gorgeous. And by the way, not only can you still bounce a quarter off her ass (which I am absolutely willing to do in public; hell, I got a public Pap smear to raise awareness about cervical cancer), Jane is one of our greatest living actresses. She’s Jane F–ing Fonda. Don’t tell me she’s only castable as the grandmother. That’s insane! (Remember Something’s Gotta Give, in which Diane Keaton played a sexy older gal who’s desired by Jack Nicholson and Keanu Reeves? The movie was not only believable, but also a big hit, so don’t tell me that older women can’t make studios money.)
It’s even really bad now for women behind the camera. Many worry about their careers being impacted by their age. And it’s a damn shame. They’re every bit as talented as their male counterparts, and I guarantee those guys aren’t worried about their ages, what with their Viagra and regular seats at the Body Shop on Sunset Boulevard.
What are women to do? The industry is what it is. Unless there’s a wholesale change in mentality at the corporate and studio level, then I don’t see this issue going away.
But it’s not about “staying youthful” anymore. Yes, you can go to a plastic surgeon and have your eyebrows pulled back to the top of your head, but that isn’t necessarily youthful. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never stressed over how age impacts my appearance. I’ve been very open about having plastic surgery, or “dental work” as it’s known in certain Beverly Hills circles.
As many of us know, plastic surgery doesn’t change your age. You can’t just be only about the nips and tucks. I go hiking every day. I go swimming every day. I rock out to Rihanna in my car. None of that is going to turn back time, but it makes me feel alive and vibrant, and there’s something to be said for that.
Of course, it’s not as if I’m all optimistic about things, either. Trust me, I’m plenty cynical when it comes to the men in Hollywood and what they want from women. If only I had a nickel for every 50-year-old guy whom I’ve seen at a party with a 22-year-old girlfriend. I mean, the Hollywood cliché really is true. It’s all about money, fake tits and midlife crises. But it shouldn’t be so pervasive that women are afraid to reveal their ages! While I understand the temptation to shave off a few years, I wish women didn’t feel boxed into a corner. It’s one thing to playfully not admit your age, but to feel as though your livelihood and happiness hinge on keeping it a secret, well, that’s a dire situation.
So what’s my secret to aging gracefully? I just don’t give a shit. I’m 51, and if you don’t like it, then suck my dick. I’m also lucky to be friends with a lot of successful “older” women, from Cher to Jane Fonda to Joan Rivers to Suzanne Somers to Gloria Steinem to Marlo Thomas to Gloria Vanderbilt. I’m truly inspired by the examples they set. And, really, it’s as simple as letting your talent speak for itself. Those gals are entirely comfortable with who they are and what they’ve achieved. And I just try to live my life in that tradition.
People don’t seek me out on TV or at my live stand-up shows because they like the way I look or not (even though I do have a bangin’ bikini bod). They seek me out because I make them laugh and want my unique take on pop culture and current events. I firmly believe that, if anything, my age and life experience are assets. So Ryan Seacrest can throw money and airtime at all the Kardashians and half-Kardashians he can find, and that’s fine. I’m just saying that at 51, I can outwork and outperform all of them, combined. And hell, Fonda can run laps around those bitches in her sleep.
My advice to all of you? Own that shit! Stand tall and proud and fight for what you deserve. Talent transcends age. And if you don’t believe me, I have three words for you: Meryl. F–ing. Streep. She’s as hot as ever! And don’t say, “She’s the exception because she’s Meryl Streep.” The fact is, she’s a 62-year-old woman who’s outstanding at her job. It’s that simple.
I just did a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall in New York City. I’m in the best physical shape of my life, and I’m getting laid on a regular basis by a younger guy. So don’t tell me that getting older has to be a funeral dirge. And, by the way, if it makes you feel better to go to the “dentist” in Beverly Hills, then go to the dentist in Beverly Hills. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel good.
But, ladies, don’t ever forget: You’ve won. You have the power. Take it out for a spin and see how it handles. Also, we have to support each other. That’s all there is to it. I don’t care if we have to have secret meetings while we’re getting bikini waxed, I’m all in. So, take note, fellas (if there are any actually reading). There’s a new Hollywood mafia in town, and our ankles are in the air.
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