BWW Interview: Kathy Griffin at Carnegie Hall, Every Laugh is a Feminist Statement
Even if she didn't describe herself as a militant feminist, as one of America's best known stand-up comics, every achievement Kathy Griffin makes, like her November 12th solo gig at Carnegie Hall, is unavoidably making a statement.
"To be a woman, taking that stage alone, with just your mouth and a microphone, it is a feminist statement."
In a country with a comedy legacy whose upper echelon includes the beloved Lucille Ball and the living icon Carol Burnett, there is still among many - okay, among many straight men - a prejudice against giving an opinionated woman an opportunity alone in the spotlight to perform her own material.
"I can't tell you the things that executives had said to my face. To this day, 'Well, we're not considering females for that position at this time,' or, 'You are so funny. My wife loves you. It's killing me you're not pretty. You are a riot.'"
Still, Griffin has managed to climb her way to the top, winning two Emmys, a Grammy and inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records for writing and starring in 20 televised stand-up specials, more than any comedian in history. She proudly plays small clubs, but also packs houses like Carnegie and the Sydney Opera House.
"I just played the Kennedy Center. Sold out, which, by the way, means nothing in Hollywood. They're like, 'The Kennedy Center?' What city is that in?'"
The name of her current tour, LIKE A BOSS, is certainly a declaration of her career autonomy.
"I'm doing 80 cities. I'm doing Carnegie Hall and the next night I'm going to be humbled as I headline The Horseshoe Casino in Elizabeth, Indiana. And it pays more than Carnegie! The following night I have a double, 7pm and 9pm shows, in Clinton Township, Michigan. I'm like Donald Trump. I go to the real America. But I performed in Iraq and Afghanistan and I don't think Donald Trump has even visited there."
Stand-up wasn't her first career choice. Young Kathy Griffin originally set out to do serious drama, but, "I was told by my acting teachers at the Lee Strasberg Academy, in a very gentle and loving way, 'You should really get into comedy.'"
It was during a stint with the Los Angeles improv troupe, The Groundlings, that cast-mate Lisa Kudrow noted to Griffin that she was funnier when working alone.
As a child of the 1960s and 70s, the great groundbreaking women stand-up comics Griffin would see on television, women like Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller and Totie Fields, often used self-depreciating jokes at the expense of their looks, but when nearing 50 Griffin started making appearances in a bikini and got laughs while promoting a body-positive message.
"If I'm going to put on a bikini, it's ironic, because the funny thing is I truly never put on a bikini until I was around 48. I put one on as a joke for my television show and I only put it on because I didn't have time to think when someone said, 'You know what would be funny? If you're walking through a really fancy schmancy Hollywood hotel pool area with Paris Hilton in a bikini,' and I was like, 'Why not?"
"And then I was in the magazines with everyone saying, 'Kathy Griffin has a banging body.' So I was like, 'Okay, I'm going to wear a bikini now.'"
'It started as a joke and then I thought, 'I'm going to be in my bikini with my cellulite and my pale skin because, why not?' I'm not going to Instagram my ass anytime soon, but if I Instagram myself in a bikini, which will be highly photoshopped, just know I'm doing it with a wink and a smile."
While she made a brief Broadway appearance in the 2011 limited run, KATHY GRIFFIN WANTS A TONY, she's not counting out the possibility of another stage appearance in a legitimate play.
"I am still looking for my great film or stage role. If you look at the history of stand-up comics, all of the great ones have had their one iconic role."
But for now she's looking forward to the familiar comfort of making her third Carnegie Hall appearance.
"At 54, after doing stand-up comedy for decades, I cannot tell you how great it is to take that stage at Carnegie and be able to relax and say, 'I know what to do here.'"
"I so appreciate how in that hallowed ground they let me tell my vulgar and offensive material. I love shining a light on controversial subjects. I'm going to figure out a way to make the battle against Planned Parenthood funny. I don't know how, but I learned that the way to communicate with people is always humor first."