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Kathy Griffin, back from the backlash

by Sari Staver

Kathy Griffin: "I was toxic. Nobody wanted me." Photo: Courtesy the subject
Kathy Griffin: "I was toxic. Nobody wanted me." Photo: Courtesy the subject  

Kathy Griffin is killing it at the box office again, after a yearlong boycott by the entertainment industry after the celebrity gossip website TMZ leaked a picture of Griffin with a fake severed head of Donald Trump. Griffin's photo went viral, and in the midst of a 50-city tour, venue after venue started cancelling. At the same time, friends and colleagues stopped returning her calls.

But when Griffin announced her new world tour "Laugh Your Head Off," chronicling her year-long exile, dozens of prestigious venues - including Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall in New York - signed up immediately. Next week, Griffin kicks off the tour here when she performs two shows at the Masonic, 1111 California, on June 14 & 15. The first show sold out quickly, but as of press time, limited tickets were still available for the latter show.

In a recent telephone interview with Griffin, the two-time Emmy and Grammy award-winning comedian sounded like she was at the top of her game, while soberly confessing that she spent an often-depressing year, which included death threats and a government investigation.

The interview began with a Griffin one-liner. After a quick hello, Griffin took charge, asking me if I was male, female or transgender. "I just want to be sure to get your pronouns right," she said dryly.

Griffin's tone was upbeat, but she turned serious when she spoke of the "horrible period" right after the picture was published. "I was convinced I was never going to work again," she said. Friends in the gay community were among those who rejected Griffin, she said, including CNN reporter Anderson Cooper and Bravo's Andy Cohen.

"They threw me under the bus," said Griffin, who has received many awards from the gay community, including one this month from the city of West Hollywood, after Griffin raised more than $5 million for HIV services and LGBT causes. But reaction to the picture brought more than just criticism, said Griffin.

"My lawyer told me that the Secret Service and the Department of Justice were investigating me," she said. "Wait! What happened to free speech and the first amendment?

"I was getting death threats all the time," said Griffin. "The left seemed to embrace many of the Trump critics, but they most definitely turned their back on me. I was toxic. Nobody wanted me."

Hoping the backlash would end quickly, Griffin got a "sinking feeling" that things weren't going her way after CNN cancelled her annual New Years Eve gig, "which I so loved doing. It felt like I had lost about 90% of my friends."

Support came from unexpected people, including comedian Jim Carrey, "who I hardly knew." Carrey encouraged her to use the experience as material for a new show, advice Griffin took to heart. "I hunkered down in my house and started writing immediately. I didn't have very much else to do anyway."

A few weeks later, Griffin said she called her agent with the idea that she might be welcome in venues abroad. "I wondered what cities might welcome me," she said. Much to her surprise, Griffin's agent put together a world tour that included stops in Europe, Australia, and Iceland. "Everywhere I went, there was tremendous curiosity about Trump. We sold out at the London Palladium."

Last year's tour turned out to be a "rough draft" of the new show she is launching. "It might sound twisted, but I even read the audience the death threats I had received," she said. "I've been doing stand-up so long that I automatically filter everything that happens to me through the prism of comedy."

Griffin believes the backlash against her would not have been as harsh had it happened "post-Weinstein," referring to the news that the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of assaulting dozens of women.

Given the enthusiastic early ticket sales, Griffin says she is certain the upcoming tour will be a "huge success." Along with the disappointment that so many people turned their backs on her, "Now I realize most comedians would give their right arm to have material like this," she said. "I'm thinking of this tour as a 'Fuck you' to the Trumps."

Tickets available for Kathy Griffin's June 15 performance ($49.50-$60) at https://www1.ticketmaster.com/event/1C00547EB628A575#efeat4212.

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