Inspired: Kathy Griffin is drawn to the outrageous
As Kathy Griffin gears up for the April 19 premiere of her first talk show, "Kathy," on Bravo (where she launched reality show "My Life on the D-List" and ongoing comedy specials), she talks about her show and hosts she has loved ... and her mother's obsession with this newspaper.
KG: I love how you answer your phone as if you’re the freaking switchboard operator! Yvonne, you have to say, "Hello, this is Yvonne. May I help you?”
YV: But I can’t screen my phone calls that way.
Oh. Are you getting a lot of robo calls from the Rick Santorum campaign?
Yes, but I’m an operative for the Rick Santorum campaign. I’m all about the pink bowling balls. I’m sure you’re hearing the latest rumblings about the Santorum drama, right? Isn’t that insane? Here’s the deal. Let’s cut the crap. Did we really doubt that Santorum, behind closed doors, maybe doesn’t bandy around the N-word? Like, come on. If freaking Marlo from “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” is saying the N-word, there’s not a lot of doubt in my mind that Santorum and that freaking crowd isn't maybe throwing it in at a local picnic now and again. This election year is a bonanza for me.
With stuff like this in the news cycle, are you just super antsy for your show to debut so you can comment on it all?
I could tape it today. The Bravo people are so nervous and they’re freaking putting caution tape on my mouth in pictures and … and I’m like, "Really? Let’s tape it now … . I’m ready." I’ve got Kim Kardashian. I have Kourtney [Kardashian] being Photoshopped for the bathing suit line. My mom is yelling at me because she wants me to never make fun of a Kardashian again.
Or Bill O’Reilly.
Well, that’s her boyfriend. She calls him her boyfriend. By the way, you should know that my mom just called in sick today so I'm thinking of letting her go. And I told her we were going to get Doris Roberts to take her place. Look, this ain’t “My Life on the D-List” anymore. We run a tight ship. If we have to make some changes, we’ll do what we have to do.
You sound like Kim Zolciak letting Sweetie go. But I guess you want a crew like Bethenny Frankel working for you, right?
My mom is bigger than all the “Housewives” combined. My mother is, once again, mandated — MANDATED — by the network to be in every episode. They don’t even have the good grace to say things like, "You know, Kathy, you’re one of our stars. We think of you as an iconic cornerstone of the network. And if your mom could help you out, that would be great.” No. They’re like, "Hey, so your mom will be on it every week, you know that right? We’re not … around with that.” I’m like, “Yes, yes. Don’t worry.”
Absolutely. Oh my god, “Maggie Ever After,” where we just follow her into her 100s. This is how sick it is: they’ve actually mandated that Maggie be in the final act of the show because they’re afraid to lose viewers. So they know if people know that Maggie is in the last five minutes, no one will change the channel.
Did you entice her by saying liquor could be involved — Andy [Cohen] gets to incorporate alcohol with “Watch What Happens Live.” And we know Maggie loves her wine.
OK. Can I tell you what she’s doing? By the way, I know this is for the dot-com, but my mom has such an encyclopedic knowledge of the L.A. Times.
You have no idea. By the way, congratulations on your demographic being 91-year-old alcoholics. She reads the paper cover to cover every day. She has a crush on Steve Lopez. She wants to meet Mary McNamara. For real. Encyclopedic knowledge. Let me tell you something. She is completely for the paywall. She loves The Times so much, she thinks people should pay $10 a day for it. She’s all about the paywall. The part she was the most afraid of was when you guys consolidated the four sections to make the Saturday section. She was like -- I’m channeling her -- "For Christ’s sake, don’t cut one word of the Health section.” Old people love that … . They want to hear about the latest diseases they might have. They want to hear of the latest prescriptions they could be getting. So my mom wants a little less news, a little more health.
The game that she’s playing — we have these little mock run-throughs at the office. She’s trying to play this game, acting like she doesn’t drink that much wine. I’m furious with her because the minute we stop rehearsing, she and Tiffany — I see them passing back and forth a glass of wine; in the middle of the workplace! That is not appropriate. It’s just really funny. We might turn on the FlipCam and start filming Maggie drinking wine and not necessarily tell her.
It’s a very loose and chatty show. It’s so loose the network feels like they need to promote it by having photos of me with caution tape around my mouth. The most important thing to me is to keep it as fluid as possible -- the whole show. Look, this is a completely new venture to me. It’s pretty far from the “D-List” so I have to get my C-legs, I have to learn this with everyone else. I was a little bit afraid of having a set that was too anything. They showed me some set ideas that were an exact re-creation of my house. Then they showed me ones that were an exact re-creation of a formal panel. And me behind a desk. I was like, "Yikes." I said, “Look, this is what I think. From years and years of doing live shows, the consensus seems to be, I love it when people say, "I didn’t feel like I was even at a show."
I want them to feel like they were at lunch with a girlfriend and she was saying all the things I was afraid to say. I like it when people laugh and almost put their hand over their mouth like they weren’t supposed to laugh. I want it to feel like we’re all just hanging out. The set right now is a little bit residential. It’s a little bit talk show. But it’s also none of those things exactly. It’s chatty. One of the things that sort of organically happened was, if I have a question during the run-throughs we do at the office, I’ll turn and ask someone in the office and they’ll pipe in. We’re even thinking of putting microphones on three random people in the audience so if I ask a question and look at that person, they can actually pipe in. It’s not Phil Donahue running into the audience with a microphone, but we don’t know what the … it’s going to be.
Will it at least be bigger than the set of ‘Watch What happens Live’? That thing is supposedly super tiny.
It will be physically bigger. What’s great is "Watch What Happens Live" does a great job at having the "Housewives" on and they really take you inside and you get to see Gretchen sit there with Andy and address the horrible things she said to Alex and all that stuff. One of things I love is Bravo told me, "You know, you don’t need to be a Bravo commercial." I’m allowed to reference other channels and other shows. 'Cause I said, "Let me tell you something. The same people that watch the ‘Housewives’ also watch ’60 Minutes’ and they also watch ‘My Strange Addiction.’"
Wait just a minute. Can we briefly discuss that last show?
Uh, love dolls. LOVE DOLLS. And the lady who drinks urine and uses it as a perfume? Brilliant, right? So, yeah, they’ve been very good about that and they said, "You don’t ever have to have on a 'Housewife’ if you don’t want to. You can talk about the stuff that you really think viewers are talking about." That is what’s great about the Bravo audience because believe it or not — they’ve done focus groups — apparently the Bravo viewer is like a sort of intelligent, upscale person who loves train wrecks. That’s me. I have a big, fancy house but I love watching … fight all day long. It’s cool. 'Cause since I started there — I mean, I started there when it was “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and grainy black-and-white films and “Project Runway” — cut to my life has radically changed and they’ve got "Million Dollar Listing” and all my gays are a-flutter because one of my gays has a crush on this one and another on that one. And people, like you, are watching “Shahs of Sunset" and watching the election very closely. It’s a perfect storm. I love it. The timing is great.
And you’re shooting in L.A., right?
Yes, we’re shooting here.
Do you wish it was live?
No — uh, no. No. They won’t do it. I think you know why. They’re trying — let me tell you the real reason: they’re scared ... . If you ask them, I’m sure they’d tell you things about fiber feeds — they’d make it technical. They’re not stupid. Which is so great because this is me screaming at Bravo: "Really? Because I’m good enough to go live on CNN with Anderson Cooper for five years in a row.” To which their response was, "Didn’t you say … one year and have to get your check back?”
We’re going to shoot it live to tape. And we’re going to air Thursdays at 10. We’re going to try to truly talk about all the stuff you’re not supposed to talk about. If I get in trouble, at least, hopefully, I won’t go to jail like Juicy from ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey.” By the way, there are several people on several channels that have legitimate trials pending. All the “trouble” that I get into because of my big mouth, I don’t actually have a trial date. I’m really just here to make people laugh. And I’m priding myself in not having celebrities.
Which talk shows made an impression on you?
What I like the best is a show that feels unleashed and the person gets to do what they do. I love Chelsea [Handler] because I feel like she's very much in the same wheelhouse that I am in. I love David Letterman, and yet he is extremely formal. When I go on that show, I'm extremely nervous. He doesn't just run a tight ship, he is ... scary. I watch a ton of "Jimmy Kimmel Live"; I think his field pieces, in particular, are brilliant.
Going back, certainly Arsenio Hall -- I remember vividly when Madonna decided not to do "The "Tonight Show" anymore and just do Arsenio, even though Johnny Carson is of course a huge idol and influence, but at the time, it felt like Arsenio was doing something really, really different. And Joan Rivers -- oh, my God, there was no one like her so when she took over for Carson, it was great. And my whole family thought that. My mom and dad couldn't believe there was this outrageous woman sitting in the Johnny Carson chair saying that stuff.
You're not planning to have big celebrity guests on your show. Is that because it's tough to book them?
My idols are Howard Stern, Bill Maher, Joan Rivers -- people that get in trouble, people that can be wrong. For me, to have celebrities on, it would just be a different kind of a show. I think it's great that a woman like Ellen DeGeneres can be a comedian and segue into a show in which everyone adores her and she never offends anybody. That is just not my story, not by a mile. The network is pressuring me pretty heavily to have celebrities. Hey, let's face it, they get big names on [Bravo's other talk show] "Watch What Happens Live," like Sarah Jessica Parker and Liam Neeson.... Of course I'm a fan of Sarah Jessica Parker. But when I think about sitting across from [her], how could I possibly say the ... that's in my head when I know I'm going to offend them or one of their best friends? This has to be a place where nothing is off the table. I'm so evil, I'm making fun of the guy with a speech impediment from "Bachelor Pad" because I'm fascinated that there's a guy with a speech impediment who just can't stop going on reality shows.
So you'll have a panel of comedians instead?
I'll have what I call a panel of civilians. I really love finding people, like my mom, who is a regular person who just happens to be opinionated and super funny. There's a friend of mine who's a screenwriter whose sister is a dog trainer for Cesar Millan and that's how I met him -- he's a legit weirdo. And that's what I love about Howard Stern -- that the audience got to know Robin [Quivers] and Baba Booey. We're as interested in their office politics as we are when Jerry Seinfeld finally was a guest.
That’s really my theory, that the network wants a big first guest and it’s all, "Call Cher. Call Cher. Call Cher.” I said, “Look, Cher’s in her mansion in Malibu. We can’t even afford her hair and makeup and she and I were texting and she doesn’t even know what Bravo is.” It would just be a different tone. I’m open to, once the show is up and running, if celebrities are really willing to come and play, they’re welcome. But until then, they’re not welcome. Not even you, Barbara Walters! How do you like it? You’re banned!
One of the girls, yesterday, was like, “What if we could get Oprah?” I was like, “Really? Really?” Because that would be a really short interview. It would just be her leaving.
'Cause you would obviously bring up the failings of OWN.
Oh, absolutely. That’s why it would be the shortest interview ever. It would just be me saying, “I am telling you you’re a failure because you didn’t make ‘The Judds’ 50 episodes a year. Answer my question right now, Ms. Winfrey.”
Are you telling me you wouldn’t consider replacing Rosie O’Donnell if Oprah asked you to? You wouldn’t fit the OWN brand?
I’m sure I’m welcomed there and have a complete open-door policy at OWN. I think the name of my show would be "Oprah & Gayle: Lovers? You bet.” I mean, honestly, what the … could I do at OWN? Although, it’s interesting, I was a guest on the old Rosie show and Rosie was like, "What about you making fun of Oprah?” and I was like, “Don’t even start. Don’t think I’m going to stop making fun of Oprah just cause I’m in the Harpo Studios." It takes a lot more than a studio in Chicago to shut my big mouth.
The nice thing is, I actually appreciate what Bravo has said about mentioning other shows — back in the days of “My Life on the D-List,” they were concerned about not acknowledging other channels and their competitors. But they’ve realized that the people that watch Bravo do really watch other stuff. Let me tell you, I know the OWN slate better than Oprah. Of course we all watched the Bobbi Kristina interview. But let me tell you, long before that, I watched every moment of “Why Not? With Shania Twain.”
Do you hope it expands beyond one night a week?
No. Not really. I still really love touring. I love going on the road. And I think it’s essential for the show that I am still currently going out on the road. I don’t know. I look at Jay Leno’s schedule and I don’t even know how he survives doing an hour a night, getting on the jet and doing a corporate gig, then getting home and doing it all over again. I’m more than happy to stick with an hour a week. And I’m also doing another two standup specials for the network. Standup is my first love. My plate is definitely full.
Are you really upset that the show hasn’t launched yet given that Snooki is pregnant and The Situation’s whole rehab issues?
Oh no. That’s not over. Don’t worry. That is not over. Then there’s the post-rehab, the baby shower to be attended by Sammi Sweetheart. This story is going on. Also, remember: these folks are with us for good. Just when you think you’re done with Gary Busey, he’s back.
I know. That’s the perfect reaction.
-- Yvonne Villarreal
Top photo: Kathy Griffin attends the Bravo network 2012 upfront presentation on April 4 in New York. Credit: Evan Agostini / Associated Press