Comedienne Kathy Griffin takes as her great subject the foibles of Hollywood celebrity culture. Part of the kick of Griffin’s TV show Life on the D-List and her stand-up routine is the feeling of being privy to the private inside dish on the stars we love — or love to hate. Here are some of the supersecret celebrity revelations gleaned from a viewing of Griffin’s new DVD, the extended cut of her HBO special She’ll Cut a Bitch:
- Singer Taylor Swift sure is young! And tall!
- James Gandolfini, believe it or not, is kind of unapproachable!
- Cher’s hair is long, black, and straight — in real life!
- That Tracy Morgan — what a kidder!
- Kathy Griffin is a crass narcissist with some patronizing, retrograde ideas about cultural appropriation and sexual identity!
At one point in She’ll Cut A Bitch, Griffin gives call-outs to the various constituencies that make up her audience: “Women and lesbians! Where are the women? Let’s hear ya! And where are my gays at? Yeah! All right! Straight men — sorry, guys. I’ve got nothin’ for ya.”
And, you know, in my case she was right — thought not for the reasons she thought.
Kathy Griffin talks about “her gays” a lot. That’s how she addresses her audience sometimes, collectively: “And, Gays, I could not believe my eyes…” Now, of course it’s all pitched as an affectionate tease, and of course Griffin is a longtime friend to the gay community — a campaigner for marriage rights and AIDS research. That is both undeniable and immensely admirable. But she seems to take that achievement as license to use gayness as a punchline. Griffin identifies herself as being, basically, a gay man, and the whole audience, gay and straight, laughs knowingly. But there are whiffs of a weird, patronizing attitude — the Straight Girl’s Burden, call it. The gays, you know, they’re so wonderful. So fabulous and carefree. Like children, really.
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Now when, say, Ted Nugent identifies himself as a black man to anyone who’ll listen, it comes off as blatantly creepy and hateful; it’s a screamingly dishonest ploy for the Nuge to use his pretended negritude as a stick with which to beat up current trends in African-American pop culture, leadership, and mores. What Griffin does is less overtly icky — more along the lines of the well-intentioned but hapless New York mayoral candidate Mario Procaccino proclaiming to his African-American supporters, “My heart is as black as yours” — but it stills comes from a place of privilege and condescension. Griffin legitimizes her own petty, bullshit obsessions by constructing an imagined connection with a collective identity, literally appropriating an identity not her own.
But as squicky as all this is, I might have forgiven it as a jolly lark, a thumb in the eye of fusty old Political Correctness, if it had actually been the least bit funny. Alas, ‘twas not to be. Griffin draws her material from life; she has encounters with the great and the good, and tells stories about those encounters. She’s limited, therefore, both by the quality of the celebrity dish she offers and by her skills as a raconteuse. As the bullet list above would indicate, the insights aren’t particularly scandalous, or even very interesting — less Hollywood Babylon than Joe Franklin. You can get juicier stuff by skimming the Enquirer while waiting in the checkout line at Shop ‘n Save.
Now, that’s not a fatal flaw; a gifted storyteller can always mine humor from the everyday. But Griffin’s delivery doesn’t elevate the gags much. Structurally, the act is a mess; the stories spin their wheels while she explores blind alleys, revels in her crappy impersonations, grooves on the sound of her own voice. The non-celebrity stuff — mainly about Griffin’s relationship with her elderly mother — is built on played-out old-people-are-wacky riffs that were tired when Bill Cosby did ‘em, thirty-five years ago. Griffin tries flogging some life into these old warhorses with sheer volume — yelling is her go-to comedic device throughout, actually — and more gratuitous catchphrases than your typical Black Eyed Peas single, but to very little avail.
There was only one moment that actually amused me, and not in the way it was meant to; Griffin talks about coming home late one night and embarrassing her mother, catching the poor woman in the act of watching … Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Griffin is horrified, shocked that her mother should be enjoying a cable reality series about women on the margins of showbiz who have the unmitigated gall to capitalize on their connections within the industry to obtain a modicum of unearned fame for themselves. Forget the Enquirer, friends — there’s the real scandal, right there.