An Ode to When Kathy Griffin Was Actually D-List
Browsing clips from Kathy Griffin's newest Bravo stand-up special Kathy Griffin Does the Bible Belt, I kept having to remind myself the material was new. The anecdotes about an erratically behaved Sharon Stone? The clip about cable-TV indulgence Hoarders? It all felt like gags from five years ago, when Griffin could get away with insider-as-outsider observations without it feeling like an obligatory part of her self-appointed D-List stature. Now, on the eve of her new special and sixth season of My Life on the D-List, it becomes painfully clear what we've lost since Griffin's star -- and original appeal -- exploded into a cycle of dishonest repetition.
Something is flagrantly phony about that Sharon Stone clip. As if Sharon is unaware that Kathy Griffin -- who made an entire act out of Sharon's earnest recitation of "Imagine" at a charity benefit some years ago -- would jot down her talking points for onstage regurgitation. Phoniness isn't a crime, but Kathy's guise of the breathlessly candid informant is a little lame. That role used to be a little sincere, or at least more believable.
The difference between Kathy Griffin "then" (before her Bravo reality series Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List won its first of two Emmys in 2007) and "now" is a matter of what Kathy seems to value about her act. While dishing on the likes of Brooke Shields and Ryan Seacrest was always her MO, the brilliant and funny part remained Kathy's astonishment at the entitlement of celebrity. Her story of Seacrest groping her on stage to spice up an awards show is horrifying, intriguing and hilarious -- and anthropological.
Now, the new preview for D-List's fifth season shows Kathy pretending to be shocked that Liza Minnelli has picked up her call -- and only minutes later we see Kathy swanning about a New York apartment with Liza herself. Instead of watching a Hollywood misfit react to what the average OK! magazine reader feels is glamor, we're bearing witness to a comedy superstar so flush with connections that people like Sharon Stone and Liza Minnelli are using her for Bravo demo appeal. Depressing.
It's not hyperbole to suggest that Griffin enjoyed her act more in the old days too. Her autobiography Official Book Club Selection is glorious when Kathy recalls booking the Laugh Factory on Wednesday nights just to have a gig, or realizing she'd never see her Groundlings castmate Lisa Kudrow again after she booked Friends. Those chapters reflect the backbone of Kathy's act -- her tenaciousness and awareness. It's telling that her autobiography skimps on her post-Emmy life, only delving into an event where she showed off her "bangin' bikini bod" with Paris Hilton (where Kathy feigns surprise at their new camaraderie). I'd approve of such a PR stunt if she'd only own it and voice something like, "I'm aware I've risen to a point where Paris Hilton needs people like me to seem relevant." But she hasn't made that jump yet. She's still sure we don't believe she's not the most famous comedienne alive.
While she can still make up for that slip in sincerity, we simply can't go back to the best days of Kathy Griffin, the times when My Life on the D-List was a candidate for best reality series ever. I remember her excruciating appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno when the host called her photo with Carmen Electra "a before-and-after shot," comparing Kathy to the not-hot friend of the woman you really want to sleep with. Astonishing, and again, not just because of Jay's shallowness: It was because Kathy took to a confessional afterward with tears in her eyes and -- instead of using the moment to make herself seem unpopular or a red carpet-hungry hero -- simply stated, "I barely even know Jay Leno."