Kathy Griffin got pretty quiet last year in the weeks and months following that time her life was upended and her career nearly derailed by a now-infamous photo of the comedian holding a Donald Trump mask covered in fake blood.
But she’s ba-ack, with her first U.S. comedy tour since the controversy, and she’s not so quiet anymore. In fact, when the 57-year-old “My Life on the D-List” star gets on the phone for an Observer interview, she almost immediately starts yelling into it — and she’s not being bashful about one of her primary motivations for calling.
“Help me sell tickets, (expletive)!” she shouts. “I’m going to Charlotte! I’m going to Trump country! Don’t you understand? It’s revolutionary! Knock whoever’s off the front page, (expletive) — Kathy Griffin’s coming to town with the ‘Laugh Your Head Off Tour’!”
It was a brassy, sassy start to an unconventional interview about the tour she’s bringing to Charlotte’s Belk Theater on Aug. 3 — if one could even call it an interview.
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Over the course of more than 20 minutes, Griffin seemed to barely take a breath, ranting tirelessly about Trump, members of his family, members of his cabinet, his press secretary, and even the promoter of her tour and her agent (both of whom she said asked her to tone down the tour and the marketing for it, which she did not); she talked over a reporter’s attempts to ask questions multiple times, and at one point, she said, “Sorry about your questions, but I’ve gotten so used to the same questions, just take what I give ya.”
She basically did, by phone, what very well could have served as the short version of her new standup show. Her very, very long new standup show. But before getting into that, let’s get you fully caught up:
The short version of her life over the past 407 days starts with that fake-decapitation photo, a stunt Griffin said she intended as a satiric, darkly comic twist on Trump’s 2015 comments about then-Fox News Channel anchor Megyn Kelly — “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
Not only did pretty much everyone think it was unfunny, but most thought it was appalling.
Even many of the president’s more vocal critics expressed strong disapproval. She said she lost friends over it. Within days, she said, she’d also lost her job hosting CNN’s New Year’s Eve show from Times Square and endorsement deals and received death threats; her lawyers told the New York Times that the Secret Service had put her under investigation; and she took to Twitter to claim that Trump was engaging in “abuse of power” to try to ruin her life.
But this past spring, Griffin went back on the offensive. She retracted the apologies. She laid into Trump with as much vitriol as ever. And then she booked this new tour, marketing for which lampoons the controversy by using a photo of the comedian holding a globe instead of a bloody Trump mask and the winking title “Laugh Your Head Off.”
“When that picture came out, everyone turned on me — left, right and center,” she said. “So this is not a Dixie Chicks situation where the arts community and the left wing wrapped a flag around me and said, ‘We’ll protect you.’ No one f---ing protected me. To this day. So I’m going to Charlotte with heavy security.”
Griffin, who won two Emmys for her Bravo reality show “My Life on the D-List” and a Grammy for best comedy album in 2014, also comes here at perhaps the height of her popularity. On The Hollywood Reporter’s most recent “Top Comedians” social media chart, Griffin ranks No. 4; she was No. 1 the previous two weeks.
Though plenty of tickets are available for her Belk Theater show, several dates — including a June performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall — have sold out; Forbes estimates that she could pocket $4 million for this tour.
Of that Carnegie Hall show, The Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Much like Richard Pryor, who became a truly great comedian when he mined his own deeply troubled life for material, Griffin has stepped up her game. In her current show, she still resorts to her long-standing obsession with celebrities, delivering rambling, less than hilarious anecdotes about such figures as Stevie Nicks and her neighbors Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. But she now displays some gravitas along with her snark. Becoming an unlikely figurehead of the resistance seems to be a role that suits her.”
Though there are indeed “My Life on the D-List”-ish portions of her performance, the heart of the show is the story of the photo and the aftermath — its “twists and turns and surprises,” she said. “It’s also an ever-growing story. Oh, and I like to give fair warnings to my beloved audience. The show has now ballooned to 2 1/2 to 3 hours — so make sure you go to the bathroom, or wear your colostomy bag.”
“I can’t help it,” she continued. “I have a story that’s like a once-in-a-lifetime story, and then I kind of want to keep adding to it, because (expletive) keeps happening. Like, I was invited to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and I got into three fights there. I mean, there’s another 20 minutes right there.”
Griffin then began another rant, taking potshots at Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, First Lady Melania Trump, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and recently pardoned Oregon cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, before stopping herself.
“I shouldn’t be saying any of these things to a Southern newspaper. I take it all back. I love NASCAR!”
Then she launched into a tirade about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that was so profane that we can’t repeat it.
But if you want to hear that and oh-so-much more from Griffin, you know where to find her on Aug. 3.
Kathy Griffin’s ‘Laugh Your Head Off’ World Tour
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3.
Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.
Details: 704-448-2772; www.blumenthalarts.org.