DIVA TALK: Chatting With Kathy Griffin of Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony

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Kathy Griffin
Kathy Griffin Photo by Mike Ruiz

KATHY GRIFFIN
Emmy-winning comedienne Kathy Griffin begins her limited engagement at the Belasco Theatre March 11 in her solo show Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony. The outspoken comic-actress will play ten performances at the Broadway venue through March 19. For those who are unfamiliar with Griffin's credits, I have reprinted her humorous Playbill bio below:

Kathy Griffin is thrilled to be performing at the storied and absolutely haunted Belasco Theatre, where she has already told legendary stage impresario David Belasco's ghost, in no uncertain terms, to "Suck it." Ms. Griffin is especially excited to be reprising the role of Kathy Griffin after spending four years as Kathie Lee Gifford in a touring company of Ms. Gifford’s one-woman musical jamboree, Jesus Is My Homeboy. Born in Madagascar, raised in Rangoon (that’s for you, Streisand-obsessed gays), Ms. Griffin made her stage debut at the age of nine in a Griffin family kitchen production of Boys in the Band, where Ms. Griffin played seven gay men simultaneously. Can you say foreshadowing? Broadway: Speed-the-Plow (with Jeremy Piven, Sushi Taster no. 4); Macbeth (Macbeth's wisecracking red-headed sidekick); Les Misérables (Jean Valjean's funny flame-haired henchwoman); The Iceman Cometh (Iceman's sharp-tongued best friend); Neil LaBute's I Hate You But I Won't Say It Till It Can Do the Most Damage (Dead Whore); Cats (Fierce-y Tattletail MacHairBall); Sweeney Todd (Pie Eater No. 3); Chicago (Mrs. Cellophane); Your Arms Too Short to Box With God: A Soaring Celebration in Song and Dance (God's Fight Promoter); Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark (Head Stuntwoman, fired). Off-Broadway: Mark Twain Tonight! (Understudy); Stamp (the sister production to Stomp, but about stamp collecting); How Do I Get to Broadway? Off-Off-Broadway: Live! Live! Girls! Girls! Sex! Sex! (still running). Television: the double-Emmy-winning "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List" (series regular); "Law & Order: SVU" (no, really, this isn't a Playbill joke, I'm like a real New York actor!); "Suddenly Susan" (not Brooke Shields); "Seinfeld" (not Julia Louis-Dreyfus); "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (not Larry David); "Glee" (another Emmy please); CNN "New Year's Eve With Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin" (Gloria Vanderbilt's best friend); more stand-up comedy specials than any other comedian EVER, including four in 2011 alone; "ER"; "The X-Files"; "The Simpsons"; "Ugly Betty"; "American Dad." Ms. Griffin has also hosted countless awards shows. Look, just type "comedy legend" into your search engine and her picture will come up, probably sixth or seventh. Talk show bannings: "Oprah," "The View," "Live with Regis & Kelly," "Ellen," "Maury Povich Baby Daddy Specials," "The 700 Club," "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Celebrity Feuds: Oprah, Ryan Seacrest, Bill O'Reilly, any and all Palins and Angela Lansbury (she knows what she did). Film: Pulp Fiction; Four Rooms; It's Pat; Gandhi (Gandhi's wacky girlfriend); Saving Private Ryan; Cold Mountain; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Can’t Stop the Music; Can’t Stop the Music 2: Turn It Up; Can't Stop the Music 3: Okay, Now That's Just Too Loud; The Remains of the Day; Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad White Woman; Black Swan; The King’s Speech; The Social Network. Awards: Ms. Griffin has received two Emmy awards, having been nominated seven times. She has also received three Grammy nominations, the GLAAD Vanguard Award, the Trevor Project’s Lifetime Honoree Award, the Human Rights Campaign's Ally for Equality Award, a 2007 GAYVN Award (aka gay porn), the key to Louisville and the 2011 Tony Award (fingers crossed!). Ms. Griffin is also the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Official Book Club Selection: "A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin." She lives in Los Angeles, but loves New York, and would like to thank her dogs PomPom Griffin and Larry Griffin-Arquette, as well as her loving fiancee Kelsey Grammar. However, Ms. Griffin's most cherished production is that of her four children: Apple, Moses, Willow and Jaden. Without their strength and love and support, she would not be able to continue to tell dick jokes for the best audience in the world (that's you, people!). She would also like to thank God, and remind everyone how closely she follows Biblical scripture: "Behold I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces." (Malachi 2:3)

Griffin at the opening night of Colin Quinn Long Story Short.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Earlier this week I had a ten-minute chat (yes, it was timed down to the last second!) with Griffin, which follows:

Question: Who wrote that great bio?
Griffin: I am so proud of that bio. I wrote it, and it's because when I go to shows, I have to say — no disrespect to your world — but you have to admit, some of those bios are so f*ckin' full of sh*t and so self-righteous, and my favorite is when they thank their cat and sh*t. And so, when I started thinking about it, I thought, "I really want to do a spoof of one of those bios," and I hope people will get it and think it's funny, and so, I'm glad you liked it. Very glad.

Question: I laughed out loud when I was reading it.
Griffin: Good! Do you think Kelsey Grammer will be laughing out loud? [Laughs.] "My fiancée?" Question: Are you a theatre fan? Do you go to a lot of theatre?
Griffin: I don't go to as much as I would like to because I'm on the road all the time, but of course. I mean, look, I'm a gay man on the inside. Of course, I like theatre. I wanted to be Gypsy Rose Lee when I was six. Does that paint a fair picture? [Laughs]. I'm not saying my view of theatre is on target. It's a little skewed, but I love all the classics and, of course, I love the great female characters, and that experience of being at a great production, there's nothing like it. As you know, being at bad ones blows, and being at the good ones is sort of life-changing and great.

Girffin outside the Belasco theatre.
photo by Krissie Fullerton

Question: Did you do any theatre as a kid? When did you start performing?
Griffin: For me, it was more like sketches and stand-up and all that other stuff. First of all, it's still a little embarrassing, but I'll come clean about the story of being six and making my family watch "The Kathy Griffin Show" in the den of our house in Forest Park, IL, where, ironically — and I really should have been sued for some sort of a licensing infringement — because my theme song was the same theme song as "The Tonight Show." So, I'll be honest, I kinda stole it from Doc Severinsen. But yeah, [I] always wanted to do it, and as a kid had all the classic soundtrack albums. [I] wanted to be Barbra Streisand and then found out I couldn't. Someone already had the job, and then, just normal school plays and stuff.

I'm from Chicago, so I was a big Second City person, and I was too young to be in Second City when I lived there. And so, when I moved to Los Angeles, I just said, "Well, they must have something like it," and that's how I got involved in the Groundlings. And, I was involved with the Groundlings for eight freaking years, and then I was a teacher there, and that was my day job to pay the bills. And then, I kind of went about it, as my mother would say, "ass-backwards." I was actually acting first, and then I kind of discovered stand-up, and then, once I started doing stand-up, because my style isn't one-liners and jokes, I actually didn't perform in clubs and didn't really want to. So, then, coming from small theatre, I then would just rent out the Groundlings [theatre] or a similar small theatre and do stand-up shows. The show was called "Hot Topic Talk," and the audience knew at the beginning, "Hey, this isn't one-liners. This is stories. Get ready!" And then, I did that for a while, and then, when I was on "Suddenly Susan," what was funny was I was able to finally start headlining at comedy clubs, and yet, I had to figure out a way to make my kind of storytelling style work in a club environment, where maybe the guy before me was literally doing "knock knock" jokes and maybe the guy after me was doing props. So, I then started doing more and more stand-up, and I have always preferred to do stand-up in the theatre. I mean, there's nothing like it. Much as I love Caroline's and the clubs are great, when I started doing shows at Town Hall and Nokia and Carnegie [Hall] and [Madison Square Garden] – the New York audiences are smart and they're outrageous and they're sort of un-shockable. And so, when it came around to, "Okay, time to go do New York again," then, in fact, my stand-up agent said, "What do you think about doing New York in a little bit different way?" So, it's not my idea. He came up with the Broadway idea. So, that gets me to the Belasco! Yes, it's haunted, I know!

Question: Even though it was your agent's idea this time, was Broadway ever a goal of yours?
Griffin: Always. Always! Not only a goal and a dream but … when my dad was really, really ill, right around the end, right before he passed away, I'm not kidding, the last word he ever wrote — because after a while, he couldn't talk, and he could just write on a clipboard. And so, I had just booked Carnegie, and so, I said, "Dad, you're not going to believe this. I'm gonna literally play Carnegie Hall," like the joke, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" And he wrote down on the clipboard … "Broadway?" Like, "I'm making a joke. What's next, Broadway?" And it was a joke at the time. We were like, "Oh, yeah, right." And so, for it to happen, of course, it's a dream. Absolutely.

Griffin meets with fans outside the Belasco theatre.
photo by Krissie Fullerton

Question: What is your process in writing your comedy? Do you sit at a computer? Do you carry a tape recorder?
Griffin: You know what? It's so ever-changing for me, and I really am going to make each show a little bit different, truly. Not that I expect repeat audiences, it's just that the stuff that I talk about in my act is so ever-changing, I can't write my act – and let's say I wrote the act a month ago or I toured with it out of New York or whatever. It wouldn't make sense to come do it, because I talk about Charlie Sheen, but I talk about what Charlie Sheen did today. I'm not going to make a joke about Charlie Sheen from ten years ago. I was laughing — my friends are [saying], "How are previews going?" I said, "How could I have previews if I don't know if Lindsay Lohan's in jail yet?" The way I prepare is 24-hour news cycles, it's all the crazy shows on TV, it's attending things where, who knows what celebrity I'm gonna have a bizarre run-in with? It's going to award shows where maybe I'm nominated or maybe I'm presenting and then, who knows what celebrity I'm gonna see there? Any kind of bad behavior is always welcome. And then, of course, I have Sarah Palin making comments about me, so thank goodness I didn't write the show, because who knew she was going to drop this gift on me, like a golden egg? And so, now I get to have fun with that and talk about that.

Question: I know the show is called Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony.
Griffin: Yeah, I know. Can you make that happen? Question: The only problem is, they got rid of the Special Theatrical Event category a few years ago, which would have been perfect for your show.
Griffin: What about Best Dressed?

Question: They do sometimes give Special Tony Awards to people for "adding luster to the season." So, maybe if you add enough luster…
Griffin: I swear to God, I'm gonna bring luster, and is there a "Most Negative" category? Because I really feel that positivity is over-rated, and so, if you want some swearing and negativity, come see me. I think that they are almost going to be forced to add a category, or, you know what? They might just call it "The Kathy." "This year, getting the Kathy…"

Question: Would you consider hosting the Tonys?
Griffin: I would be thrilled to host the Tonys. … I swear to you, if I ever did have that privilege, I wouldn't swear. I don't get those gigs sometimes because I know they really think I honestly can't control myself. But, you know, this year [at] New Year's Eve with Anderson Cooper, I didn't swear. I knew I wasn't going to swear. I would actually … be a good host for the Tonys because I would certainly have them laughing but I wouldn't be scary. I will say, though, that if you come see my show, that's gonna be f*ckin' scary and I'm absolutely gonna swear and offend everybody.

Question: Who do you find funny?
Griffin: I'm such a comedy fan. I love everyone from my own contemporaries, meaning the people I started out with — Janeane Garofalo and Margaret Cho and Sarah Silverman — and I love Whitney Cummings and Chelsea Handler. And, I adore the people who paved the way, of course — Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. My favorite kind of comedian is someone that really lets it all out there. If you want to hear jokes about airline peanuts, go see somebody else, but I really love the people that you feel like you kind of got to know them. You feel like you maybe were shocked one minute and laughing the next. People that are just raw and out there, that's who I like.

[Tickets are priced $61.50-$121.50 with premium seats available for $196.50 and $226.50; visit Telecharge.com. Belasco Theatre is located in Manhattan at 111 West 44th Street.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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