- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 7, 2016

Kathy Griffin is afraid of offending no one. The comedian and actress has, purposely or otherwise, stepped on the toes of the Catholic Church, the Kardashians, Anderson Cooper, Donald Trump and just about everyone else in her stand-up routines. While once accepting an award, she even chose to mock other recipients’ penchant for thanking the divine in their speeches, saying the award was “her god.”

The Chicagoland native apologizes for none of it, nor for the fact that her offensiveness comes partly from genetics.

Miss Griffin’s mother, Maggie, “really is this person who taught me to be uncensored,” she told The Washington Times of her now-95-year-old parent. “Even though she’s mad at me for being vulgar and going too far and burning bridges all over Hollywood, I learned from the master.”

Miss Griffin will bring her caustic comedy to EagleBank Arena on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, Thursday evening. It’s but one stop on her current 80-city tour, which the performer has dubbed “Like a Boss.” It’s an ambitious schedule for any comic — one that her comedian colleagues have labeled as perhaps a bit exhausting.

“I’m what’s call a ‘grinder,’” Miss Griffin says of her ambitious travelogue. “You have to be a boss to play everywhere from the Kennedy Center to Hershey, Pennsylvania, to Clearwater, Florida, the home of Scientology,” she said.

Many of her colleagues in the stand-up biz — among them Bill Maher and Jerry Seinfeld — proudly declare they will no longer play college campuses due to what they view as a collegiate atmosphere that is too politically correct and too easily offended. However, Miss Griffin, despite her penchant for offensive humor, shrugs off the notion of staying away from campuses — and then points to an advantage those other comics have that she herself does not.

“Good for those guys with their gazillions of dollars and their middle-aged white male privilege that no 55-year-old female comedian such as myself has ever experienced,” she said, briskly summing up the state of a business in which gender parity in earning and exposure remains far afield. “I love these guys that already have a series and they’ve got endless network support, so good for Bill and Jerry.

“But I’ve got to support my 95-year-old alcoholic mother, and she is not cheap,” she added, turning the pain of an often-sexist industry into yet another joke that is equal parts pain and wry observation.

And so to George Mason and other American universities will she continue to descend, leaving no sacred cow unslaughtered.

“I played a college one time and they had a … sign outside that said ‘the comedian may use certain words that will trigger you,’” Miss Griffin recalled. “I’m considering calling the next [tour] ‘Trigger Warning,’ because everything I say is going to trigger someone.

“I feel strongly that’s my job, and I’m not going to stop until I get a walkout.”

Celebrity roaster

Miss Griffin refined her act for years in L.A.’s notoriously competitive stand-up circuit, telling jokes night after night in such venues as The Ice House, The Laugh Factory and The Comedy Store, while studying improv with The Groundlings, a veritable breeding ground and feeder for “Saturday Night Live” and other funny shows.

Success was slow and far from constant.

“The most important thing about standup is you better love it, because your’e going to bomb more than you’re going to succeed,” she said of the L.A. proving grounds, where fellow comedians are notoriously stingy with laughter should “industry” be in the house. “You’re not going to make any money, at least not for a really long time.”

Miss Griffin’s self-professed appellation of herself as a “grinder” goes to the maxim that practice makes perfect, but “making it” is never assured in her chosen virtuosity. In fact, she describes her constant draw to the microphone as akin to an addict seeking the balm of laughter.

“You have to have an innate feeling that you cannot keep yourself away from the microphone, and that is a disorder that I suffer from,” she said. “I always say I have a stand-up comedy disorder; I cannot keep myself from hitting the mic.”

While sharpening her routine night after night, she gradually snagged small parts on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Dream On” and “E.R.” She was seen extremely briefly in “Pulp Fiction” in 1994 as a kindly witness who volunteers to go to court on behalf of Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) after seeing him hit by a car driven by Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis). (Miss Griffin is rumored to have briefly dated the film’s director, Quentin Tarantino.) She was even a regular on the Brooke Shields sitcom “Suddenly Susan.”

While stardom before the camera remained largely elusive, it was behind the Tinseltown curtains where Miss Griffin found her forte as a backstage tattle-tale, spinning encounters with Hollywood royalty into comedy gold.

“When I have these run-ins with these various celebrities, or when I see Bruno Mars do something crazy, it’s like I almost picture myself stripping off the ball gown, putting on my pants and T-shirt and running to the microphone,” she said. “You’re not just going to hear a garden-variety joke about the Kardashians; I bring the personal run-ins, the personal touch.

“I will be very cognizant of the fact that I’m at a college,” she said of her gig at George Mason, “and of course I’m going to talk about Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber. I’ll give you the backstage dirt on what really happened on New Year’s Eve with Anderson [Cooper] and Ryan Seacrest.”

Miss Griffin has had an ongoing, good-natured feud with the CNN anchor, with whom she has broadcast the Times Square changing of the calendar in New York several times. She even colored his temples with red and blue paint live on the air, and seems to get pleasure out of seeking ever more shocking ways to rib the host.

“I am on a mission to get Anderson Cooper fired every year because he’s so damn perfect [with] his silver fox perfectness and his Vanderbilt pedigree,” she said of her collaborator. “I was raised on the mean streets of suburban Chicago, so I’m no Vanderbilt. I just live to have fun with people like that.”

A-list D-lister

In 2004 Miss Griffin taped a comedy special for Bravo, which she dubbed “The D-List,” slyly and self-effacingly implying that her ranking on the Hollywood stepladder was so low she didn’t even belong among the low-level C-list status of faces that might warrant a “hey, it’s that guy” recognition from audiences. The comedy special did so well that Bravo pitched her on doing a reality show about her attempts to climb the grades from relative obscurity.

Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” ran for six seasons, with Miss Griffin sharing screen time with Hollywood pals both old and new. The program won a Primetime Emmy before being canceled in 2010.

While the show indeed brought Miss Griffin new fans and bumped her up a few levels on the Hollywood hierarchy, she says she still maintains such a busy appearance calendar out of necessity, not vanity.

“If you want to do standup, especially if you’re a woman, nothing’s changed,” she said. “It’s as sexist as it was in the days of ‘Mad Men,’ and I mean season 1. You just have to love it. And as long as you love it, you’re going to have the time of your life.

“But if you’re on the fence … you picked the hardest way to become famous.”

For all of her avowed cynicism, Miss Griffin bears a remarkably sunny disposition, often laughing at her own pessimism and her penchant for turning audience members into the cringing embarrassed. She cheerily jests about about her “alcoholic mother” as well as the fact that her boyfriend is 18 years her junior — all of it still inflected with vowels lifted thanks to her Chicago upbringing.

(Miss Griffin is also a tenacious researcher. During an interview, she let this Washington Times reporter know she had recently read several of his pieces and also inquired if this writer was perhaps a little bit under the influence during the recent East Coast snowstorm, inquiring, “When you were so wasted during #snowpocalypse … you posted twice your bottle of Wild Turkey.” Asked if she is in the habit of researching inquiring journalists, she said, “I do it for every show and every interview.”)

Perhaps her lengthy climb to the top of the D-list has added to her penchant for not holding back in her act, whether it’s an unwholesome jest about Caitlynn Jenner or ribbing Donald Trump, whom she has known for decades — although she says she is “not proud of it.”

“I mean Donald Trump says something insane every day, and I know him,” she said of the presidential aspirant, a veritable gift to comedians that keeps on giving, much like the slot machines in his casinos.

“The good news is I’m an equal opportunity offender,” Miss Griffin said, “so when people say ‘Do you have a line?’ my answer is ‘not really.’ I move the line and then I cross it.”

It all comes back to family. Miss Griffin credits her mother’s unabashedness for her own willingness to not hold back onstage.

“She costs a fortune, but I don’t really get anything out of it expect that I love her and she says unbelievably outrageous things. And she’s upset with me that I didn’t become a dental hygienist, which was her dream,” she said. “She’s 95 years old, knows everything about the Karsdashians, she drinks whatever she wants, she eats burritos from 7-Eleven — she’s living the dream. And I pay for all of it.

(Miss Griffin’s father, John, a regular fixture on her TV show, died in 2007.)

Away from the mic, Miss Griffin is trying her hand at writing. She is working on a book, “Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Index A to Z,” detailing her various celebrity encounters. The tome is slated for a December release.

Stand-up comedy is “the last bastion of where you can stand onstage with nothing but a microphone uncensored,” she said. “You can’t get fired, and you can really just let it rip.”

“If you’re someone who gets triggered easily be inappropriate humor, don’t come to my show,” Miss Griffin sums up matter-of-factly of her act. “If you’re someone that wants to laugh really hard and also feel a little bit guilty afterward, come on down. Come knowing that I’m going to talk about everyone.”

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