Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List

Elaine Hanson Cardenas

Kathy Griffin's comedy routine challenges the A-list as a concept and effect, though the performance manifests Griffin's own drive for fame.

Kathy Griffin

Airtime: Wednesdays 10pm ET
Network: Bravo

Regular airtime: 3 August 2005 9pm ET (Bravo)

by Elaine Hanson Cardenas
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Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List is about being on the margins of stardom. The reality series, and the comedy special that introduces it, Kathy Griffin is... Not Nicole Kidman, deal with status and power in the entertainment industry, where being on the list, whatever it is, is all important.

The series offers yet another version of quasi-celebrity auto-ethnography, following Kathy around on her daily routines, at home, social functions, celebrity events, Botox injections, and meetings with her decorator, Mike, and her personal assistant, Jessica. Mostly, it chronicles the indignities she experiences as a result of being on the "D-List," that is, a lesser star. For example, at a book release party hosted by kaballah followers (which her husband calls "the worst event we've ever attended"), a stranger seizes her hand to dance, then flips her completely over. That, she says, would never happen to Nicole Kidman or Renée Zellweger. She seems genuinely angry, which seems a departure from her usual "comic" self-performance.

In another scene, Jeffrey, a stylist called in to help her dress for the Grammys, likens her to a bridesmaid. She has "the body of a Black woman," he says, adding that she's no "Uma Thurman or Charlize Theron." She bombs at a conservative fundraiser, where she's mistaken for Kathy Lee Gifford, and sprints for the red carpet at the Grammys after her driver gets lost, making her late.

Like other celebrity ethnographies, the series deglamorizes the job, focusing on the long hours, squabbles with vendors, and self-doubt. Moreover, it serves as an advertisement for Kathy Griffin -- no apparent joke. She says, "I spend half my time working to get my name out there," which the show is obviously accomplishing. Although Griffin appears offended at being named one of the "Worst Dressed" by Us magazine, she also notes that it's better than not being on any list. The irony here is that she seems to be trying so hard to get on the list she has previously mocked in her comedy routines.

Though this upset at being on the D-List might be understood as a comment on the hypocrisies of social class, the travails of acceptance and judgment, the series is, after all, about a celebrity. Griffin has an expensive home in the Hollywood Hills, a personal assistant, and an interior decorator. She's hosted the Grammy Awards Red Carpet and appeared on talk shows. She jokes that she's "slept her way to the middle," but appears here to want more. She wants to be on the A-list. At least this is the Griffin who makes her sardonic way through the reality series.

In contrast, Kathy Griffin is... Not Nicole Kidman is very funny. She mercilessly skewers Madonna, Barbra Streisand, and Oprah. She endears herself to the audience by making the uncharitable, politically incorrect observations we all think at times. "Oprah thinks she's Jesus," she says, then describes how Winfrey, on the set of Pioneer House, "goes from normal Oprah to ghetto Oprah in a second," saying, "I ain't gonna be no slave!" Noting Streisand's requirement that she be seated so that her "good side" is towards the camera, Griffin says, "It's sort of funny to me that Barbra thinks she has a good side." In an amusing recounting of the Oprah episode on which Streisand appeared, she describes them as "two titans, both strong Black women."

Griffin targets Clay Aiken and Ryan Seacrest with other sorts of "lifestyle" jokes, but she also hints at a relationship between Oprah and "her... [shrug, raised eyebrows] 'friend' Gayle." These jokes target stars' efforts to maintain the illusion of grandeur and superiority, and revealing them to be "like us."

Taken together, the special and the series are full of contradictions. The comedy routine challenges the A-list as a concept and effect, though the performance manifests Griffin's own drive for fame. The reality show -- which the title suggests will be tongue in cheek -- seems instead to be earnestly invested in the culture of celebrity. Perhaps this combination reflects the conflict many of us experience concerning stars; we recognize that we're being manipulated to buy images or products, but desire to have them all the same. Griffin expresses such contradiction when describing plastic surgery: only insecure people feel they need it, she says, and she makes fun of it, but she also admits that she's insecure, and so she has had surgery. We may mock people on the A-list for thinking they are better than us, but we still want to be on it.

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