EXCLUSIVE: Kathy Griffin on Sexism in Hollywood and Why She Supports Kesha and Hillary Clinton

by James Patrick Herman 10:50 AM PST, March 01, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

One of the most exclusive celebrity events of Oscars weekend took place far away from Hollywood. In fact, it was held on a ship docked in Cozumel, Mexico.

Kathy Griffin, who is currently in the middle of an 80-city tour, became the first stand-up comic ever to entertain aboard Carnival Cruise Line to the amusement of approximately 850 guests. Before her show on the high seas, ETonline sat down with the award-winning comedian, actress, author and self-described "feminist icon" for an extensive chat about Hillary Clinton, Kesha, and sexism in the industry.

Needless to say, the Michael Kors-clad Griffin rocked the boat.

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ETonline: Congratulations are in order on your latest booking.

Kathy Griffin: I am so proud to be [Carnival's] first comic, and I'm a chick! How about that? Sexism and ageism is very much alive in the world of female comedy, and I love that I am the first comic who is doing this because it actually means something. That is why I fought to get in the Guinness Book of World Records -- because I actually did write and perform more television stand-up specials than any comedian, male or female, living or dead.

Tell me more about sexism and ageism in contemporary comedy.

Let me put it this way. I am doing 80 cities this year. I love it, but when you are a 55-year-old female, you don't have choices. Look at my male counterparts. I mean, Kevin James? He is juggling offers. He's like, "Oh, should I do Mall Cop 17 and make another billion dollars?" But when you are a chick comic, and you're 55, you are hoofing, baby. I am all about trying to jump higher and work harder -- that's something I learned from the great Joan Rivers, and it also has been pounded into me since I was a kid by my mom and dad. Luckily, I have what I call stand-up comedy disorder, which is that I can't seem to stop doing it. And I enjoy performing on a boat one day, and Carnegie Hall the next, and then, you know, Parkersburg, West Virginia. Every audience is different.

Joan Rivers must be looking down from heaven and smiling. What is the most challenging aspect of doing a gig on a cruise?

I have to take the audience's temperature right away, so I have an opening reel that I start with. By the way, I totally stole this idea from Cher and she knows it. When I would see one of Cher's many farewell tours -- because she won't stop saying goodbye -- I noticed that she opens her show with a little [video] retrospective. Not that Cher's fans need to be reminded of her body of work, but mine do. Like I said, "I'm going to West Virginia." So if there's a woman who dragged her heterosexual husband, he is going to be like, "Is she the chick from Seinfeld?" That's all he knows. He doesn't know about the Emmys and the GRAMMY. So I have decided to put together a series of funny little clips, and I can usually tell by the reaction to that what people are into. But I will try everything at first. I'll see if they're into political stuff. Some audiences just want to hear stories about my mom. Others want to hear all about the Kardashians. Most want to hear about my personal run-ins. Recently, I had a run-in with Leo DiCaprio.

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How did that go?

Oh, it did not go his way. But he took it very well. And he admitted to being a douchebag.

Really? Give us the background, please.

It was a big win for me. See? This is what I am doing as a feminist icon. I was able to get Leo DiCaprio -- who has banged God only knows how many models -- to admit that to me in front of Lily Tomlin, who was my wingman for the night [at the Directors Guild of America Awards]. Lily brings out the naughty in me. Leo passed by us and I said, "Leo! Say hi to the great Lily Tomlin." He ignored me. So I just screamed at him. And then he finally saw Lily. He put his phone aside and he was like, "Oh, hello, nice to meet you." And I go, "What are you being a douchebag for?" And he says, "I am kind of a douchebag."

Is it true that you have also been hanging out with Lily's Grace and Frankie costar, Jane Fonda?

I am in negotiations with Jane Fonda. Jane said that she was jealous of J.Law's relationship with Amy Schumer, and I was furious with Jane. So I fired off an email and I go, "What are you doing saying things like that? You and I are supposed to be those people. And here's the good news: You get to be Jennifer f**king Lawrence! So stop fighting the obvious." And then I actually saw Jane that night and we were laughing about it. So yes, I am looking for my Jennifer Lawrence, who is not Jennifer Lawrence, because she's taken.

Carnival LIVE presented Kathy Griffin and her ever-changing show aboard the Carnival Breeze, while the ship was docked in Cozumel, on Feb. 25, 2016. Photo:

I am wondering how you feel about the Kesha scandal, and if you support her struggle for independence.

Look, I didn't know that people were handing out $250,000 checks -- God love Taylor Swift. But I came home that night and texted Kesha. I was just like, "Look, what you did is so brave." She is so smart -- she went to Columbia -- and she is so talented. I know her to be a very hard worker. From my understanding, when Kesha tours with another headliner, she gets paid less, and she doesn't even have the same amenities. She is a special person and a unique voice, and I definitely support her.

As a female comic, do you relate to Kesha's situation and the reality of being pressured by men in the entertainment industry?

Of course, I identify with her. Also, I know what it is like to go up against those big honchos. And when it's a dude? A powerful dude that everybody else is afraid of? I don't want to say it's a [Bill] Cosby situation, but it is a little bit like that. Now that all of these women have come forward with Cosby, you go, "Well, hello! Don't you get it?" So yes, there is a tape of Kesha saying that [her producer, Dr. Luke] didn't roofie her -- and that doesn't matter. She was under contract to him. Probably scared to death of him. That is what people don't understand about this particular kind of intimidation. And my other feeling is that I don't think Kesha would go through all that it takes to get that kind of a case to trial if she was lying. I am not the judge and the jury, but this is obviously not fun for her.

Were you surprised by Kanye West's social media meltdown?

I love it. I will be quoting it. Sometimes I get Kanye and Donald Trump mixed up because their Twitter feeds are really similar. I think he would be an amazing running mate. I could see a Trump-West ticket. Also, I have to be honest, I am not quite buying Kanye's story that he called up Taylor Swift and said, "Oh, I ran this lyric by my wife -- a line that says I might have sex with you -- and she's all for it." And when Kanye said that to Tay-Tay, she just went, "Oooooh!" If you saw the [viral video] tape, that is what [Kanye] said. Like a lunatic. He was ranting at [LA club] 1Oak instead of going home to his kids, and I thought, his story frankly has holes in it. But I watched every minute of it. I love a good Vice President Kanye rant.

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And speaking of the presidency, what is your take on Hillary?

Well, I hope Hillary Clinton is in a war room 24/7. Because when you think about her head-to-head with Barack Obama, here is a highly intellectual guy, and Hillary does very well in that situation. But when you put her next to basically Kanye West-meets-Sean Hannity? I am fearful that Donald Trump is going to speak over her. I feel that people in this country have a real issue with a female president.

Does it bother you that Katy Perry was reportedly paid to endorse Hillary?

I don't care. I would think that Camp Hillary is, you know, manning up. She is going to have to do whatever it takes to get elected. But what I want for Hillary is to do some kind of a Jedi mind trick where she has to realize, you are now going to be sitting down with this racist bigot reality star who has a lot of support. So I want Hillary to be prepared for the ageism and sexism that she is going to face. I am going to say what a lot of women won't, which is that's the big problem people have with Hillary. Also, when you are in the game this long, you get a little dirty. Ask me!

But for the record, you are supporting Hillary because you believe in her -- not because you're getting paid?

Because she's whip-smart. She has met every head of state. And, by the way, you have to go places when you're the president. She's been everywhere, all right? Donald Trump can be the president of 56th and 5th. Do you think he knows the capital of Pakistan? He knows one word: Benghazi! Can he find it on a map? I doubt it. So I am always for the smartest person. I was an Al Gore fan because I just thought he was smart. And I remember when the argument was, "Yeah, but Al's so nerdy. I would rather vote for a guy you could go have a beer with." Hello! Iraq War! And I say that as someone who has performed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Donald Trump has not been to either place. And there goes half my ticket sales! Sh*t! Well, I couldn't pull back, as you could tell.