[18 June 2008]
Kathy Griffin is pulling your leg. More accurately, she’s pulling Britney Spears’ leg, but Britney may not get the joke. Griffin satirizes celebrities and the trappings of fame—mercilessly. The fourth season premiere of her Bravo reality series, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, had her once again trying to be as controversial as possible. The results are hilarious—and the very mixed reactions to her reveal how well “Hollywood” takes the heat.
As Griffin gleefully recounted, she’s been banned from numerous shows and networks. She’s a pariah in some entertainment industry circles because she makes offensive jokes. (The one about Dakota Fanning being in rehab infamously got her kicked off E!‘s red carpet coverage of the Oscars.) She brushes off any controversy, saying she jokes because she loves (she also claims to have “a First Amendment lawyer on retainer”). She doesn’t really love Britney, but she does retain a sort of puppy dog fascination with some celebs and wants industry acceptance—which she sometimes gets, but is more often denied.
Griffin goes for shock humor, yes, but what offends some listeners most is that she trashes Hollywood’s sacred cows. In this season’s premiere, she said one of her goals is to “mess with the media,” just as the premise of her reality show is to reveal the tedium of the glorified celebrity world. Brilliantly using the media to make fun of the media, she jokes about being D-List and trying to make the A-List (“Eva Longoria wouldn’t have to wear a hand-me-down dress to this awards show!”). But if she makes herself the target of many jokes, she takes her most incisive aim the A-List itself, the vain and vapid celebrity world, and all the money, perks, and media fawning that prop it up.
She introduced the latest episode by saying, “I’m Kathy Griffin, the foul-mouthed comedian who doesn’t take shit from anyone,” then ran a clip of her Emmys speech from last year, when D-List won best Reality Program and she slammed the ritual of thanking Jesus during such speeches. Clutching her trophy, she impishly yelled out, “No one had less to do with this award than Jesus. Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now!” The episode also included a clip from her Larry King interview about the controversy, where he held up a newspaper headline that read, “Christian Entertainers Say ‘Enough is Enough!’” In voiceover Griffin noted, “Some of the Jesus people weren’t laughing” and “I love it.” When her elderly Catholic mother, offended by the Jesus joke, told her to apologize, Griffin said, “I don’t apologize, mother, that’s why I’m special.”
What seems to amuse her the most is that the A-listers keep inviting her behind the velvet rope and then appear shocked when she trashes them. On being asked to host the Bravo A-List Awards show, Kathy laughed, “Could you believe those dumb fucks at Bravo let me host this show? Okay, so here’s the plan: I’m going to say offensive things until I get fired.”
Griffin’s humor does have real consequences, however, like getting herself and others fired. Her new act includes jabs at usual suspects like Paula Abdul and Britney (“We raised her and now we have to fix her”), but also Oprah. When she was asked to present at the Producer’s Guild Awards, the producer of the broadcast came by Griffin’s house to make sure she won’t say anything that will get him fired. She asked him, “Are there any topics that are verboten?”, he answered, “Jesus.” She tested other options, from 60 Minutes being stale to Extreme Makeover Home Edition trying to get the charity vote. When she asked if she could make fun of Oprah and “her boyfriend Gayle,” the producer replied, “I have a lot of relationships on the line here,” then made her promise not to get him fired. A cut to Griffin’s direct address, joking, “Is Oprah the new scientology, where people are actually so afraid of her they think they could lose their livelihoods?” At the show, she included Oprah jokes, then later, on hearing a cork pop while she was still at the podium, she dove to the floor and yelled, “Never make a joke about Oprah.”
Griffin is never better than when she points up Hollywood’s self-congratulatory culture. When asked to co-host CNN’s New Year’s Eve live show with Anderson Cooper, Griffin asserted, “This is big for me. I am banned from a lot of shows and networks. And apparently, CNN knows I am a newsman. And this is the first step toward getting my Pulitzer Prize, for my hard-hitting take on 2007. And Britney’s crotch. And how it affects the Middle East.”
Likewise, after the Producer’s Guild Awards show, she pointed out the utter lunacy of awarding a special achievement recognition to American Idol producer Simon Fuller for, as she says, “reinventing Star Search.” Luckily for all the satirists out there, Griffin was tasked with presenting Fuller with that award, and she made sure he didn’t get away without taking a few hits: “What’s the deal with Paula? She’s so fucked up!”
For the rest of her reality show, Griffin offers passable “reality,” inviting viewers into her family storylines that reveal her vulnerability. Turns out she can dish it out but not take it, becoming deeply hurt when others strike back, as when Jay Leno made fun of her looks while she was on his show. Griffin called him on his bad gender politics, underlining the degree to which she is busting out of some gender role expectations for women comics with her unapologetic wit. Still, when she attacks someone’s image, forgetting there is a person somewhere underneath, she won’t apologize.
Previews of the coming season showed Griffin helping her mother Maggie come to terms with her father’s death (chronicled on last season’s episodes with a trip to Ireland honoring his memory). Now Maggie’s moved in with her and will be on the road with her as well. Griffin’s assistants (Jessica, Jessica’s assistant Tiffany, and Tour Manager Tom) will be contributing as well, getting drunk at the CNN fest (by doing a shot every time Griffin called Cooper “Andy”), and providing her with an in-house audience.
Whereas earlier seasons captured Griffin’s painful break-up with ex-husband Matt Moline, now she has a new boyfriend, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. A graphic describes him as “Nerdy Billionaire,” and Griffin jokes that her mom better not blow it meeting him for the first time, “because if I have to choose between a billionaire and my mother, I’m gonna have to be honest and say money talks and Maggie walks.” They’re an odd couple: Woz doesn’t watch TV or keep track of Griffin’s targets. (Off the show, they’ve split, and Woz has married someone else.) Here, he hacked her iPhone for her, inspiring her to call him “a throbbing brain with a tie.” He can score rather massive put-downs too. Accompanying her to the Producer’s Guild awards, she notes, “Bill Gates never does this,” and he replies that Gates must be at home “playing bridge with Warren Buffet” or maybe “yelling at his assistant to fix his PC.”
The new season’s storylines include Griffin going to Australian Mardi Gras with Lance Bass, shopping with Cyndi Lauper, and on a gay cruise to Bora Bora. She’ll make a CD to try to get a Grammy nomination. Most outrageously, she’ll travel to Mexico to open her own school so she can “be like Oprah.” At such moments, it’s plain the satire isn’t so much aimed at Oprah as at the media industry that looks for new idols at every turn.