“When I started doing stand-up, I used to lovingly refer to myself on stage as a ‘fag hag,'” says Kathy Griffin. “I have a million gay friends who use it — it doesn’t offend me coming from a gay person. But I wouldn’t use that term today. Everything is evolving. And I love, as a comic, evolving with it.”
The latest evolution on the Emmy- and Grammy-winning comic’s radar is the sudden deluge of transgender visibility in popular culture, specifically Caitlyn Jenner — though at the time of our interview she had not revealed her name and transition.
“Bruce Jenner said something interesting [during the Diane Sawyer interview] — that the trans issue is basically where the gay issue was in Bruce’s mind 40 years ago,” she says. “The transgender issue is spanking new to many people. It’s not new to you or me, but it’s one of those topics that, as a comic, is really perfect because you get to do genuine social commentary as well as make jokes.
“I love those tipping point moments,” she continues. “Where you go, ‘Ohhh, I don’t know if I can make a joke about this yet’ and then boom — it’s on the radar enough so that it’s fair game.”
Still, Griffin concedes she has to tread cautiously so as not to offend.
“Comedy doesn’t really mean you go out, say a bunch of mean shit and say goodnight,” she says. “Comedy is all about context. I’m not afraid of any topic. So, for example, if I’m going to talk about the Bruce Jenner interview, that doesn’t mean that I’m making fun of the trans movement or people who are transitioning — and by the way,” Griffin switches track, as she often does, in what can only be described as the conversational equivalent of a speeding freight train, “it is not at all lost on me that Bruce Jenner is able to transition in a way that 99 percent of that community is not. I mean, Bruce Jenner has all the money and the bells and whistles and support anyone could ever hope for. But let’s face it, the majority of that community of people are not well-known and don’t have enough money for the surgery.”
As is often the case with Griffin, all roads lead back to politics. “I’m a political junkie in that I’m fascinated by all things political,” she says, before launching into a political tirade about the topic du jour.
“One thing amusing about the Diane Sawyer interview was when Bruce Jenner proudly said that she is a Republican. I’m watching at home thinking, ‘Girl, you don’t know what you’re in for. You don’t know how this party feels about you. You clearly don’t follow politics at all.’ And it was really funny when Diane Sawyer said, ‘Really? You’re going to sit down with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner?’ I’m watching this interview, screaming, ‘Bruce Jenner doesn’t know who Mitch McConnell is! Bruce Jenner doesn’t know who John Boehner is!’ I wanted Diane Sawyer to ask, ‘And by the way, which state does Mitch McConnell represent? What is his title?” Because I’m pretty sure Bruce Jenner would have said, ‘Oh, I didn’t really think of that.'”
Griffin is fretting over the upcoming election, which she feels “is going to be a dog fight…. Let’s cut the shit. People are not ready. I’ll be honest, I think that the issues that we’ve had having an African-American President are gonna be nothing compared to a female President.” Still, she’s pulling for a Hillary victory. “I wish that Hillary was more to the left, but we have to be adult about this. She’s not going to be able to win if she goes as far left as we want. And that’s just the real deal.”
Part of the problem, Griffin feels, is the way in which the world is getting its news. “Twitter is a silly thing, a lark — it shouldn’t be a news source. News should be newspapers or magazines, whether you get it on-line or the old-timey paper. This election is going to be a challenge for the Democrats reminding people of what is real news and what is propaganda.
“I just want you to know while the community has its struggles, none of them are as difficult as the struggle I have with my mom trying to get her to channel from Fox News to my beloved CNN or MSNBC,” she says, bringing up a favorite topic, her 95-year-old mother, Maggie. “But you know what’s weird? I’ve tricked my mom — and my mom now loves The Rachel Maddow Show. What I do is go over to her retirement village and turn on Rachel Maddow. My mom just loves Rachel Maddow’s personality and delivery — and my mom thinks that Rachel Maddow is on Fox. So that’s a win. Because you know what? Ninety-five-year-old people vote. So I’m working on my mom like your community is working on the Supreme Court because dammit, old people never met a voting booth they didn’t like.”
From there, the topic rapidly shifts to sexism and feminism. Griffin, who was only the third female comic to win a Grammy for best comedy album (Whoopi Goldberg and Lily Tomlin are the other two), is frank about the topic.
“It’s an uphill climb,” she says. “It’s a grind. Sexism in comedy is still alive and well and thriving. The network executives and the buyers are still men. I have meetings where I show up in high heels and a cocktail dress looking as well as I can and my male counterparts show up with their beer guts and their hairy backs and nobody says anything about it. We have a long way to go and so my my weapon of choice is an uzi of comedy. That’s why I named my tour ‘Like a Boss.’ I’m no longer an employee. I’m the boss now. The buck stops with me. I’ll take that mantle.
“The feminist movement is one step forward, two steps back and I’m good and bitter about it,” she continues. “There’s so much blame to go around — it’s everything from the Kardashians to the Real Housewives to the way women are depicted to the fact that there still hasn’t been a female in nightly, network, late night since my beloved Joan Rivers in 1988.
“I’m just saying that as women we have many, many miles left on this road. And my little contribution is to just get out there, tell my stories and my jokes. But what I find very gratifying is that invariably at every show a heterosexual man will very innocently say to me, ‘You know, I wasn’t going to come to your show cause normally I don’t think chicks are funny, but man, you had me laughing hard.’ To which I say — and this never goes well — ‘Thank you, but would you go up to an African-American person and say, Normally, I think black people are lazy and shiftless but you seem to work hard? And then it just gets awkward. But dammit, I’ve made my statement!”
Kathy Griffin brings her tour, “Like a Boss” to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Saturday, June 20 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $49-$99. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.
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