By MIKE CHAIKEN
You’ve seen Kathy Griffin hosting events such as the Daytime Emmys. She matched wits with Jerry Seinfeld in the classic sitcom, “Seinfeld.” She’s demonstrated her dramatic acting chops with guest roles on “Law and Order.” She had her own reality series, BravoTV’s “My Life on the D List.” She gave the drag queens a once over earlier this month as a guest judge on LogoTV’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” And she stepped into the considerable shoes left behind by the late Joan Rivers as host of E!’s“Fashion Police.”
On Friday, Kathy returns to her first love, stand-up comedy, when she steps on to the stage at The Palace Theatre in Waterbury on March 13.
We caught up with Kathy via email during a week where she was taking care of her mother, who was under the weather, and then found herself not feeling too well either. We spoke to her about her family, her stand-up roots, and what audiences can expect when she arrives in Connecticut.
Observer: First of all, how is your mother doing? When I saw your tweet about her in the hospital, it got me to thinking about how family shapes our personality. And I was wondering where did you get your sense of humor growing up. Was it something that you picked up from the family or despite the family? How so?
Kathy: Thank you so much for asking. When my mom sobers up from her box of wine I will let her know you are concerned. (emoticon wink) Luckily, she merely went into the hospital because she had a serious asthma attack and bronchitis. We here at Team Griffin, of which Maggie is an integral part as our longtime stenographer, realize she is a key member of the team whether she is blacked out after a bottle of Courvoisier or not. I truly did get my sense of humor from my mother and father. While my entire family is funny, my mom and dad were my biggest influence as they were polar opposites in many ways. My mom is an unapologetic Fox News watcher. I am not. My father was a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. Just watching them fight over it provided me with years of entertainment and a free education.
O: At what point did you start doing something akin to stand-up and what was it that you liked that it clicked in your head…. hmmmm, I’m pretty good at this, maybe I should do this for a living?
K: The year was 1965. The country was in turmoil. Times were changing. And the most important and pivotal event during the 1960s was that I had turned 5 years old and had started doing the “Kathy Griffin Show” in our family kitchen in Forest Park, Ill. Ironically, it had the same theme song as “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.” To this day, I have not been sued for stealing it. What can I tell you? I was the obnoxious kid who was forced to attend a parochial grammar school (that means Catholic school) and constantly getting in trouble from the nuns for talking too much and trying to make the other kids laugh at all costs. You may think it’s odd to know what exactly your calling is at 5 years old. But I did. And that is the only thing I have ever had in common with a nun.
O: Were there any particular comedians that you saw that helped you realize, yes, I can do this? What did you like about their approach and how did it shape your style of stand-up?
K: The women of course. In particular, I loved the sidekicks on sitcoms. I always wanted to be Ethel instead of Lucy. Rhoda instead of Mary. Elaine instead of Jerry. To this day, I’ve always thought the sidekicks get all the best jokes. And the pretty girls just basically have to stand on the sidelines and watch us kick ass. And yes…by using the term pretty girls…I’m including Jerry Seinfeld. The way it shaped my style of standup is it started my “not-really giving an ‘F’ attitude.” I am in fact a sidekick in the sitcom of life. That is why I love doing what I do so much. I can watch Gwyneth Paltrow go through her ridiculous stardom, hit the stage live in Waterbury, and stand with the audience being her sidekick. Remember, the sidekick is also the one that likes to stick it to the star…only if they have it coming (emoticon wink).
O: Going back to the family, what was their reaction when the young Kathy Griffin said she was going to do stand-up? How do they feel about it now?
K: My mother is still in denial that I am stand-up comic. I have ruined her dream of becoming a dental hygienist and marrying a nice young stable Jewish dentist. I am neither Jewish nor particularly young. I apologize to my mother for becoming a dirty, filthy member of “show folk” every day. It really pisses her off that my actual boyfriend is 18 years younger than I am and that we are quite happy. He is NOT a dentist. However, he does attend my dental visits with me and holds my hand. Screw you, Mom…as you can see, I’m still quite a rebel.
O: What do you like about that feeling about being on stage, either in a club or a theater, microphone in hand, lights up, and it’s just you there talking to the audience?
K: I’m glad you made the distinction. Doing stand-up on a theater stage is completely different than working at a club. My style of stand-up is less one liners and more story oriented. However, I must be honest if you are attending my show at the Palace, you are not seeing a typical theatrical experience. While I have done my own Broadway run, I have two Emmy awards and a Grammy…don’t get it twisted you theater snobs…on March 13 you will be attending an evening of vulgarity and negativity. Please do not get me mixed up with any other tickets you may have for “The Lion King” or “STOMP.”
O: You have had plenty of opportunities in the entertainment business… from hosting gigs to dramatic roles such as the ones on “Law and Order.” But, like a lot of performers coming from the stand-up universe, you keep going back to live performance. What is it about performing live comedy that feels like a “creative” home for you?
K: It is the ultimate platform for comedic freedom and total lack of censorship. I am happy to play that card from the bottom of the deck. Meaning, if you think what I say on TV sometimes crosses the line or goes overboard…you are in for quite the treat. I am much “worse” in my live shows. I truly believe that the people who have purchased tickets to see me at The Palace deserve a fresh new experience of no holds barred opinion driven humor that they cannot get even if they have seen every single one of my 23 stand-up comedy specials. Luckily, the political and pop culture world that we are fascinated by keeps delivering me so much material I cannot wait to hit the stage and spew out some new and probably not very well-rehearsed ridiculousness. I only ask that you keep an open mind as mine is quite closed and judgmental.
O: For this particular tour that comes to Connecticut, what topics are driving the laughs? Why these particular topics?
K: I assume Martha Stewart will be in the front room with either Diddy or Busta Rhymes. I assume that everyone there will have several degrees and secretly cannot afford their ticket as they are drowning in student loan debt. I would like to remind you that while Waterbury is not Stamford, I have recently visited Stamford to attend a taping of the “Maury Povich Show” and will spend a considerable amount of time screaming at the Waterbury audience to be proud to be in the same state as Maury Povich and to stand by him or answer to me directly.
O: And beyond the tour, what’s next on Kathy Griffin’s itinerary.
K: Well I’m the new host of “Fashion Police” and luckily for me, there has been absolutely no scandal surrounding the show in any way and we are probably going to end up following “The 700 Club” or, perhaps, taping LIVE from the Vatican.
Kathy Griffin performs at The Palace Theater, 100 East Main St., Waterbury on Friday, March 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $48 to $78. For tickets, go to PalaceTheaterCT.com or call (203) 346-2000.