Kathy Griffin says she hopes to make her U.S. comeback by laughing about the disturbing photograph that got her in hot water with the feds and almost killed her career. But she also has this warning amid the jokes: “If it happened to me, it can happen to you.”
Griffin is embarking this summer on a North American tour that kicks off a year after she was widely condemned for posing for a picture in which she gripped a bloodied rendering of President Donald Trump’s head. Ten months on, she is unbowed.
“I’m the same girl I’ve always been — just a hardworking, obnoxious, red-haired comedy girl. The whole time I’ve been consistent in just trying to make you laugh,” she told The Associated Press. “Am I shocking sometimes? For sure. Do I go too far? I hope so. That’s my job.”
The “Suddenly Susan” and “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” star lost income, received death threats, was denounced by Trump, landed on an Interpol criminal list and was afraid to leave her home. She said she was under investigation by the Department of Justice for two months.
“It shouldn’t happen to an American citizen,” she said. Griffin said she understands if people don’t like the photo, but it is protected speech. “If there’s one amendment I’m familiar with it’s the First Amendment. I know it back and forth and it’s how I make my living.”
The comedian’s life changed radically last May when the image came out: “I really never thought that photo would take off at all. Like I’ve been doing ‘shocking’ things my whole career.” She called the fallout “faux-outrage.”
She said there were a few missteps, including a hastily put-together apology video followed by a “disastrous” news conference with attorney Lisa Bloom in which she called Trump a “bully” and only worsened the still-spiraling disaster.
“My social media was so flooded that I really thought, ‘OK, I am the most reviled person in the world right now,’” she said. “It’s been a long time to sort of process that and figure out what’s real and what isn’t.” She added: “I really do believe if it happened to me it can happen to you.”
During those dark days, Griffin said many colleagues like Anderson Cooper turned away but one celebrity reached out — Jim Carrey, someone she didn’t know well. He advised her to find the comedy in her absurd situation.
“It was really meaningful to me that he called,” she said. “Jim’s advice was right on, which is, ‘Lean into this topic and you’ll find the comedy.’ And luckily I found a lot of comedy while hibernating.”
Some funny stuff inadvertently came from her mom, who said she was watching TV with the sound off and believed her daughter had joined ISIS. “I don’t think they’re recruiting 57-year-old Irish-American comedians,” Griffin cracked. “I don’t think I would do very well in the training camps. I’ve seen those videos.”
Unable to tour in the United States, Griffin went overseas, performing in 23 cities in 15 countries. This summer she plans to tour in Mexico, Canada and the United States, including stops in San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Chicago and a sold-out gig at Carnegie Hall in New York. The tour name alone is defiant — The Laugh Your Head Off World Tour.
“I’m trying to sort of get people to forgive me and get people to come back to me or give me a chance. And it’s interesting. It’s really like I’m starting all over again,” she said.
Griffin, who said many people still send her Bibles, acknowledges there are some places in America where she will never be welcomed again and that some TV shows won’t ever invite her back. “I still haven’t won over the entire cast of ‘The View,’” she joked.
The initial revulsion and aggressive reaction to the photos have softened lately, especially in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements spotlighting sexism and misogyny in the entertainment industry. But Griffin said those movements haven’t reached out to her and she hasn’t felt included.
“I know I’ve been a silence breaker long before that phrase and I’m proud of that,” she said. “I’m cheering those women on and I’m with them, whether they know it or not.”
She compared her experience to that of Eartha Kitt, who was blacklisted after raising concerns about the Vietnam War. Some have suggested Griffin’s situation was similar to that of the Dixie Chicks, who denounced the Iraq war, but she doesn’t buy that.
“They had the entire entertainment community wrap their arms around them, put them on the cover of Time, put them on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. And my situation was the opposite. I had everyone turning on me.”
One of the ways Griffin has released stress has been as the new owner of two rescue puppies — Elliot and Olivia, named after the lead characters on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
“I figured after this ordeal I should have real New York detectives living in my house,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll just lay down and I’ll watch my extremely progressive news and I’ll just put one puppy here and one puppy here and I feel their heartbeats and, I know it sounds corny, it works wonders.”