I asked Kathy Griffin what she wanted the title of this piece to be. I told her she could choose, and so she did. I have no compunction about admitting upfront that I absolutely love Kathy, so you should understand that what I’m about to write isn’t going to be neutral, objective or dry. In fact, in some parts I might even quote her filthy cursing, because that’s the only way to do our conversation justice.
A huge amount written about Kathy over the last year or more has been focused on one single event and how it’s affected her life. It’s still affecting her in many ways, both foreseen and surprising. But other people can write about that ad nauseam. I want to write about Kathy, not what other people say about her.
“Heeeeeeeey, Jack! I’m reading your profile, and it says you have a terminal degree in dance?” Kathy asked me. I was so hoping she’d start like that.
“Yep, it’s terminal,” I relied, setting up the volley ball for her to spike it.
“So, is it killing you?”
“It can seem like it while you’re finishing it! And by the way, I love your short hair, no matter what ‘The Globe’ says about it falling out. It looks good short: It brings out the lupus in your eyes!” I say coyly.
“Yeah, they go right for the jugular. It’s crazy what they make up in the paparazzi,” she replied.
“So, they’re purposefully ignoring what happened with your sister’s passing from cancer, and your brother only a few years before that?”
“They don’t care about truth.”
But Kathy does. And she speaks her truth with a righteous fury. It really is a spectacle of sorts to listen to her banter on the phone.
From that point on, it’s mostly a blur. I didn’t need to ask many questions, because the woman was absolutely oozing with news. You’ve already heard the main points, I’m sure, so let’s just say it’s still infusing her work with new material. And rightly so!
What I think is very important to remember is that whether you agree with someone or not, it’s unacceptable to wish that person death. It’s not right to menace them. It certainly isn’t very American to use your own free speech to try to take away someone else’s (or to intimidate them into abandoning that right in an effort to protect themselves and their loved ones). Dialogue of all timbres is specifically what makes free peoples free.
And that brings up an interesting idea: The critique of the critic. The role of court jesters was to speak truth to power with impunity. It was the task of the fool to speak wisdom to the king and his court. That same function is the bailiwick of modern comedians, who are artists using humor to paint pictures. Often those pictures aren’t very flattering, because they show us portraits of ourselves that might resemble Dorian Gray’s. But just because a person is free to speak doesn’t mean they’re free from criticism themselves. And so Kathy is mocked for mocking.
The difference, in my mind, is that Kathy aims to capture something of the spirit of our times, and rumor rags purposefully lie. Comedy punks reality in an effort to help us cope with it. Tabloids break reality in an effort to scandalize readers and demoralize public figures.
One of the consequences of Kathy’s actions presents itself at foreign airports. Because she was charged with conspiring to assassinate the President of the United States, Kathy has been placed on certain lists.
“I sometimes get detained for hours in places where it’s illegal to be gay. I wanted to say it, but I didn’t think, ‘Hey, could you hurry the fuck up? I have a room full of cock-sucking gays waiting to hear my jokes about dicks and cocaine’ would help the situation. Besides I didn’t know how to say it to people in Singapore anyway.”
I should note that Kathy repeated many times that her current tour does focus on comedy. It’s not a laundry list of complaints or injustices. She’s finding the absurd in all this and continuing on with her career, despite the fact that some very powerful forces have sought her ruin.
Whether you like her public persona or not; whether you agree with her politics or not; whether you think she’s funny or not; Kathy Griffin is an example of strength and bravery.
Her opponents would likely disagree with me, but I feel that Kathy is doing her job as an engaged citizen. She’s putting herself into the middle of the maelstrom and flipping everyone the bird. And why not?
In a democratic republic with free elections, we get the government and the culture we deserve. We elected these people. We created our current situation. Why shouldn’t someone like Kathy Griffin use her podium to regurgitate indignities? I’d argue that it’s people who take these risks who honor our nation best. Regardless of which party’s in power, we need truth tellers who dare to push back against cynical dishonesty and flippant bigotry.
“When the protestors fly a blimp over your show, do you think you’ll be wearing a diaper and holding a cell phone?”
“I certainly hope so!”
Kathy Griffin will perform at the Belk Theatre, 130 N. Tryon St., in Blumenthal Performing Arts on Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. as part of her Laugh Your Head Off World Tour. Tickets range from $45-$125 and are available online at bit.ly/2Khurlt.