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This story first appeared in the August 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
I must admit I was very proud of myself on Emmy nominations morning this year because I completely f–ing forgot they were happening. I’d taken the red-eye for a one-night performance at a casino in Ontario, Canada, and woke up at some really crazy hour. I saw all the messages on my BlackBerry, so naturally I assumed someone in my family was dead. But they said, “Congratulations, you got nominated!” and I honestly wasn’t sure what it was for. Hosting VH1 Divas Live? My new talk show, Kathy? But when I found out I’d been nominated for outstanding variety special for my stand-up show Kathy Griffin: Tired Hooker, I was so excited! (A chick beating out a bunch of f–ing dudes for a nomination doesn’t happen often in the movie world.) Once again, the Emmys warmed my heart.
My love affair with TV’s biggest night began when I was a kid growing up in the 1970s in Oak Park, Ill., and I watched the broadcast with my mom. We loved TV — Mary Tyler Moore, Laverne & Shirley, watching Chad Everett every Friday on Medical Center. (My mom was convinced by the end of each episode that she had whatever was that week’s featured disease.)
So the first time I was nominated in 2006 for my Bravo reality series My Life on the D-List and then won the next year, I was like, “Wait a minute — this is the industry that’s shunned me for so long and now decided, ‘She pisses us off, but we have to give it to her’?”
That’s when I realized the Emmys were about much more than stars in pretty dresses. It’s history being made every single year! And you can’t experience this magic in a day-after blog recap or in a clip on YouTube. I know it’s so easy now to pick up your iPhone and see the winners tally — my 33-year-old boyfriend watches everything on his phone, and I’m like: “No no no! Make some popcorn! Invite a couple friends over.” You really have to f–ing watch the entire show to get the whole experience.
You also can’t underestimate the power of a spontaneous moment. Take last year, when all the lead comedy actress contenders coordinated that whole holding-hands, beauty-pageant moment — the boys wouldn’t have had the imagination to do that in a million years. It was one of the coolest moments ever during an awards show. And they were all genuinely happy for Melissa McCarthy when she won. It was about supporting each other first — not their dresses.
It’s also crucial to watch the Emmys because you walk away from the broadcast every year wanting to watch at least five new shows. You can’t help it! For example, I’d never seen Rescue Me, but the show kept getting nominated, and after a few years I was like, “I better start watching this show.” And you must actually watch the ceremony for this information. In fact, I’m watching Breaking Bad now because I saw Bryan Cranston win his first Emmy in 2008. I was like: “Who’s that guy? Oh my God, it’s the frickin’ Malcolm in the Middle dad!” (I’d assumed he had cancer because of his bald head, but at a party afterward, he assured me he felt fine.) Nobody was really watching Breaking Bad at that point, but the Emmys told us we should be.
The Emmys telecast also offers an incredible opportunity to school viewers in showbiz legends. I got to present an award once with Don Rickles, and I walked out holding Don’s hand and yelled at the audience to stand up. The first person I see standing up, completely alone, is Jimmy Kimmel. I could tell people were like: “Oh, it’s near the end of the show. We’ve already stood for this person and that person.” And I’m like: “It’s Don Rickles. Get the f– on your feet, Hollywood. Show some f–ing respect!” Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d be doing that, and anyone watching the show that night, I hope, enjoyed a sweet — and funny — tribute to one of the medium’s great talents.
And that’s another thing: You have to watch the whole show so you don’t miss those incredible surprises at the end of the broadcast. Hello, Kyle Chandler winning last year for the final season of Friday Night Lights? That was so cool! I remember talking to him afterward at the HBO party — he had a dazed and confused look in his eyes — and I was like, “Well, took you long enough to win, jeez.”
For me, the thrill of an underdog like Kyle — or me — winning is what makes the Emmys broadcast a must-see. If I beat the other people in my category (Tony Bennett, Betty White, the Kennedy Center Honors and Mel Brooks & Dick Cavett), it would be nearly unprecedented for a one-woman show to win in that category. If the Kennedy Center Honors wins for the 1,000th time, I’m gonna be bitter and will demand that an actual Kennedy — Caroline, are you listening? — show up to claim the prize.
At the very least, I’m around 40 years younger than everyone else nominated in the variety special category this year, so I feel like the hot new teenager in the race. Maybe I’ll wear a bikini. That would definitely be an Emmy moment viewers wouldn’t — or couldn’t — ever forget.
Emmy winner Kathy Griffin is the host of Bravo’s late-night talk show Kathy.
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