Whether she's on television, on stage or on the phone doing an interview, Kathy Griffin is rarely serious.
In advance of her performance Friday at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond the popular stand-up comedian and TV personality had a few questions of her own. Griffin wanted to know what Kentucky-based items she should bring on stage, whether this reporter was a "bro," and whether the state itself had any sort of gay population before describing her following in an ... interesting way.
"My audience is going to be LGBTQ ... IA2," Griffin said, throwing on a trio of random figures to cover her bases. "Bruce Jenner might come in a dress. I don't know. I don't know what she will be up to by then."
The comment above is at least part of why Griffin is so popular. In a world that's obsessed with gossip and celebrity culture, she has a third-degree black belt in wittily taking down our country's most revered or revolted Hollywood idols in some of the most brash and offensive ways possible.
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But just because Griffin, 54, is rarely serious doesn't mean you shouldn't take her seriously. Since first stepping on stage to do stand-up in the early '80s, she has parlayed her skills on the mic into a career as a successful actress, a New York Times best-selling writer, a TV host, a Grammy Award winner and a yearly wild-card New Year's Eve correspondent alongside news anchor Anderson Cooper on CNN.
Despite audiences' current love of her "dishing" on famous people in her act, it wasn't always the case. She remembers, in her early years of stand-up, performing in comedy clubs alongside a boys' club that included the likes of Louis C.K. and Dave Attell, that her celeb-based jokes didn't go over so well.
"Many times, I was the one girl ... and many times I would go up, I would bomb," Griffin says. "It took me years to realize, 'OK, it's all about the venue and setting the stage for the audience and letting them know what they're in for.'"
Even now, with all of her success, Griffin struggles to get a certain level of respect as a comedian despite some monumental achievements in comedy. This year, she earned her sixth consecutive Grammy nomination and her first win for best comedy album for the recording of her TV special, Kathy Griffin: Calm Down Gurrl. She joined Whoopi Goldberg and Lily Tomlin as the only women to win in that category. And that special was just one of 23 stand-up specials Griffin has recorded, which is a Guinness World Record for the most stand-up specials ever. Such an achievement was something that even the biggest comics couldn't ignore.
"When Chris (Rock) found out about the 23 specials, he called me and asked me if I owe child support," Griffin said. "The longer I do this, the more and more these dudes come around."
In addition to her take on tabloid fodder and her real-life connections to celebrities, Griffin's ability to come up with so much material stems from revealing plenty about her personal life. People got an inside look at Griffin's life during her Emmy Award-winning Bravo reality series My Life on the D List, which introduced the world to her mother, Maggie, who frequently makes an appearance in her act.
"I have found that in addition to an alcoholic national treasure, people of all ages are fascinated with my mom," Griffin said. "After a half-box of wine, I could have half my act. At 95 years old, she wants to talk about that Kylie Jenner has officially admitted that she has gotten her lips done."
Griffin is almost always ready to joke, but in March, she had to be uncharacteristically serious when explaining why she was leaving as co-host of E!'s Fashion Police after only seven episodes. She issued a statement (which she tapped Girls star/creator Lena Dunham to help craft) that not only explained her resignation and why she was not a good fit for the show, but one that defined her as a comedian — as someone "who loves to find the funny in all people, attitudes, beliefs and appearances, but only when the context permits intelligent humor" and wants "to help women, gay kids, people of color and anyone who feels underrepresented to have a voice and a laugh!"
"Obviously, that was a really, really hard decision for me to make. When I wrote that statement, I felt like I was high and mighty," she said. "I felt strongly it was important to say why (I left)."
Of course, this being Griffin, she couldn't let those be her last words.
"Sorry to end on a serious note," Griffin said. "I have lots of d--- jokes for Kentucky."