Cruising With Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin interview Caitlyn Kardashian
Photo: Courtesy of Carnival Live

There's a first for everything. When we meet Kathy Griffin on board a Carnival Breeze cruise ship, the comedian is quick to remind everybody that this is her first straight cruise. "I've been on 10 gay cruises, and if you think you know how to party, you don't" she says, "so I hope the audience doesn't let me down."

She's looking svelte and youthful in her black Michael Kors dress, wearing six-inch stiletto pumps, and a studded skull necklace.

It's also my first cruise (gay or straight) and the first time I get to meet Griffin, who's not exactly a household name in my home country, France. So I had to do my homework. Griffin may be the cooky co-host who's been tyrannizing Anderson Cooper every New Year's Eve for the past nine years, but she's also in a league of her own.

She's half an EGOT: She has two Emmy awards, and she's one of the only three female comedians to have won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album, an honor shared by Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg. Her 23 comedy standup TV specials earned her a mention in the Guinness Book of Records. In sum, she's a bigger deal than you may think. She had three lines in Pulp Fiction, starred in Eminem's video "The Real Slim Shady," and, of course, in two episodes of Seinfeld ("That's how the straight guys know me," she says), in addition to her hit reality-TV show, My Life on the D List.

She also has a killer body (she does a thousand sit ups every day) and she's been a supporter of the LGBTQ community for decades, testifying before the Senate to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

In her latest standup tour, Like a Boss, Griffin pokes fun at a new generation of celebrities, from the Kardashian clan to One Direction's Harry Styles, without neglecting her favorite material, such as her own alcoholic mom, Donald Trump's stupidity, or the latent racism in the American South. She also talks about her friendship with Cher, and reveals Liza Minelli's darkest beauty secret. There's just no holding back with Griffin, who's stepping up as the spiritual heiress of her departed friend and mentor, Joan Rivers. Like Rivers, Griffin is determined to keep PC culture at bay, and nobody is safe.

Not even me. Before I sit down, Griffin feels the need to show me that she's looked me up, and she's down to practice her French:

Kathy Griffin: Bonjour, ça va?

Out: Vous parlez français?

KG: J’essaye. Parlez lentement s’il vous plaît.

I knew that you probably knew more about me than I know about you. Because you’re not that famous in France…

KG: How dare you! I am the darling of France.

I will make you famous. I’m working on that right now.

KG: Please! I love France. But I’m not a fan of Marine Le Pen. Sorry, I don’t mean to make enemies right off the bat, but… she scares me.

She’s good material for a show.

KG: But what’s scary about her is that she’s smarter than Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. And so my fear about the French is that she’s articulate and she’s smart, but her ideas are similar to Palin and Trump… Anyway, we’re here on a Carnival cruise. Sorry, I’m a political junky, so…

And apparently you also identify as a gay man?

KG: Yes, I am a gay man. I’ve known since I was seven. I didn’t know how to tell the other kids at school, but I just knew. Yeah, I really do feel like a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. Now, I’m not going to transition like Caitlyn… but I do support her. Are you watching I Am Cait?

No. I’ve only seen excerpts.

KG: You are missing out! Let me just cut to the chase: Of course I support Caitlyn and her journey, but as someone who’s worked in the LGBTQAI2 community for many decades, most of the people that I know who are transitioning, or dealing with transition, are not like multi-millionaires who have full-time hair and make up squads and Versace bags. So what’s humorous about the series, and the reason that, thank God, I can make fun of her --because I make fun of everybody-- is because, as we’re watching a show that’s supposed to be an important statement about people who transition, she’s really kind of an airhead.

She’s a little clueless…

KG: She is a little clueless, yeah. And that is the part that is funny, because they bring in all these experts, like Professor Jenny Boylan, who’s a professor at Columbia University, so smart, and who’s really walked the walk -- she decided to stay married to a woman. She’s just very knowledgeable. There’s one scene in I Am Cait where Jenny Boylan says to Cailtyn “I feel like I’m losing brain cells just talking to you.”

So are you going to make fun of Caitlyn in your show?

KG: A little bit.

Do you call Cait a friend?

KG: I actually saw her at the Clive Davies pre-Grammy party, because I have a Grammy for Best Comedy Album so I get to go to that party. When they showed Caitlyn in the audience, she was with Candis Cayne, who’s lovely, I really, really like her. She’s been in the struggle for years. Candis has really lived it. Caitlyn was sitting next to Chris Rock, and it was just funny when the camera looked on them… So, I don’t know, maybe they’re Hollywood’s hottest new couple: Chris Rock and Caitlyn Jenner.

I think the worst about her is that she accepted to wear that horrible Yeezy Season 3 collection…

KG: I think that's what the problem is. In the original interview with Diane Sawyer, when Bruce was Bruce, Diane Sawyer asked Bruce 'Are you going to be a Jenner or a Kardashian?' and Bruce was very indignant and said 'I’m a Jenner!' Well, now that we’ve met Caitlyn, I think she’s turning into a Kardashian. She’s very into the leopard print and the mumus. She’s kind of dressing just like Kris and Khloe and Kylie.

I think she’s having fun with her femininity...

KG: That’s right. She’s actually having more fun than Kylie, which is a problem. Because Kylie shouldn’t be Caitlyn’s role model. Kylie shouldn’t be anyone’s role model. She’s got enough trouble with that Tyga…

Back to you: You’re quite the award collector. You’re proud to be on your way to get that EGOT (Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony)...

KG: Yep, trying. (She’s already won two Emmys and a Grammy.)

One thing you haven’t done yet is direct a movie.

KG: I need to direct a film! Here’s my story, in all honesty: There’s just a tremendous amount of sexism and ageism in comedy, and in television and films. I very much admire what Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Lena Dunham are able to do. That just was never my story. Amy Schumer has been hanging out with Jennifer Lawrence, and that’s how you get movies made. You know, in my day, I was never to court a hot young starlet and get that thing going. But I'll get right into someone’s face and be like 'Hi Lee Daniels, I need you to write me my Precious!' So many comedians have had a breakout role that was unexpected, I would just love that opportunity.

So if you had to make your own movie, who would be the lead?

KG: Fonda.

To play you?

KG: I wrote Jane Fonda an email because I read somewhere that she said she was jealous of Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence’s friendship, so I wrote Jane Fonda and I said 'What are you nuts? Keep your mouth shut, that’s supposed to be us! We’re going to be the new Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer, and guess what, you get to be Jennifer Fucking Lawrence, all I have to do is be Amy Schumer, and I’m already hilarious.' So I saw her that night and we laughed about it.

So she’s up for it?

KG: Oh, she’s up for it, yeah. I mean, she loves working with Lily Tomlin. But yeah, I would love to direct. My act is based on my own personal experiences, I’m going to talk about my own personal run in with Donald Trump, with Sean Penn, with the Kardashians… So I would make a story about the one that isn’t being told: Ageism is a real thing. If you look at other 55 year-old male comedians that have my list of awards and accomplishments, they’re in a much different landscape that I’m in. When my good friend Joan Rivers passed away at 81, Joan was the only person doing what she did at her age. Now, I’m the only 55-year-old doing what I’m doing.

Kathy Griffin Carnival Live

What’s your spirit animal?

KG: I have a dog, and her name is innocent, it’s Pompom, but she’s really like a ninja assassin. She’s also missing some teeth, which I feel I’m about a week away from. She has one ear that’s permanently floppy and one that’s up, and she doesn’t sleep and neither do I, so she’s always on alert, but she also messes with people. That’s probably my spirit animal: I try to be cute and fluffy, but I might bite you.

Are you offended when people call you a cougar?

KG: No. My boyfriend is 38, we've been going on five years. I'm a cougar, or a puma. 

How do you find the strength to stay politically incorrect?

KG: I love that question! And thank you for asking, because it’s really different for comedians. I just feel really strongly that comedians are in a way the last bastion of people that need to be politically incorrect. If you were to give me an assignment that said: 'Ok, you have to do two hours of material and everything has to be politically correct,' I would have to leave.

I was actually able to meet Prince Charles one time, and I was nervous meeting him of course, and my friend introduced us, she said 'This is Kathy Griffin, she’s an American comedian and she’s very outrageous,' and Prince Charles pulled me in and he said 'Well who would keep us honest if it weren’t for newspeople and comedians?' I was like, that’s right! I’m gonna try to do that because the Prince of Wales told me.

Do you still call us 'my gays'?

KG: Well now there’s a controversy about people not liking the phrase 'My gays,' but people have to understand that gay men have been coming up to me for decades asking 'Can I be one of your gays? I wanna be one of your gays!' So I’m conflicted. Now, I just make a joke and say 'Hello my LGBTQIA2s!'

I don’t even know what the last two are…

KG: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Questioning, Intersex, Allies, 2 Spirits… And there’s going to be more letters coming, so get ready! But I also think that older gay men tend to think that the phrase 'My gays' is ok because they remember a time when the F word was used around, so I think for a lot of guys to come up to me and say 'I wanna be one of your gays,' they may be harkening back to a time when other words that weren’t so nice were used for gay people.

Do you remember the first gay man that you met in your life?

KG: Of course! There was a kid in my first grade class, now that I look back he clearly had all the signs, we magically became best friends. That’s another thing: I’d like to know if being gay is genetic, or if I turn people gay. Because I think it’s about 50/50. I am a gay magnet, happily.

I also went to the prom with a nice gentleman named Tom Murphy who now has been married to his husband for 25 years and is a choreographer at Disneyworld. Now, I don’t mean to just… but look, when you’re a choreographer for Disneyworld, you’re gay! I’m going to be honest. We can dance around it, but that’s the story. And I’m actually closer now to Tom Murphy than anyone else I dated who was straight.

It’s amazing that you kept in touch with him.

KG: I officiated his wedding! I forgave him for not wanting to have full on intercourse. This is going to shock you, but we did the ceremony in Key West.

Joan Rivers actually officiated a gay wedding a few days before she passed away…

KG: Aww. I mean, look. She was there for the community long before it was cool. She was such a good friend to me and I miss her every single day. And we would often talk about how you’re on tour, one day you’re on a boat, one day you’re at Carnegie Hall, the next day you’re in Tunica, Mississippi… That’s the great thing about touring. I don’t know what tonight’s audience is going to be like, but I’m ready for anything.

Well, I hope you don’t hold back.

KG: No! No, no, no, no, no. It takes more than the sea.

Who’s the worst celebrity?

KG: I used to say it’s Demi Lovato, or as I call her, Debbie, because it drives her crazy. I don’t think she’s very friendly. But then those Lovatics (Demi's fans) turned on me and they threatened my life, so then the FBI came to my house, as well as the LAPD. Because these Lovatics are very serious about trying to kill me! So I’m going to keep saying it. I think Debbie will get over my jokes very quickly, as Ryan Seacrest and Oprah Winfrey have. Or not.

Finally, what does Anderson Cooper smell like?

KG: He smells like kittens and rainbows. And he knows it.

Kathy Griffin's tour, Like a Boss, continues through July 1st. To book your tickets, go to KathyGriffin.net

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