Kathy Griffin’s Gaffe Proves She Doesn’t Know What’s Funny Anymore

Video ryan seacrest and kathy griffin

There’s a moment in Kathy Griffin’s 2005 Bravo standup special, Kathy Griffin Is…Not Nicole Kidman, where she tells a story about presenting at the American Music Awards with Ryan Seacrest. It might be one of her best worst stories: All her standup tends to circulate around celebrity gossip transformed into joke-telling, juicy tidbits about famous people that us normal people rarely get firsthand. Seacrest, apparently, was an anxious mess before they went live, worried that Griffin was going to “fuck [him]” by making him the butt of a joke. After a brief joke by Griffin about taking her top off onstage, Seacrest went off script, walked behind her, and ripped open her rented $4,000 Badgley Mischka top. She was mortified and furious; this man’s fragile ego led him to effectively assault her on live television. “You’ll have to excuse my friend Ryan,” she recounts. “That’s the first time he’s ever touched a woman.”

This is Griffin at her best: conversational and quick, telling tales about famous people you suspect are assholes and confirming that they really are. Griffin has done two HBO specials and 18 (eighteen!) comedy shows on Bravo, largely in this vein. When she’s good, she’s great. Her six-season Bravo reality show, My Life on the D-List, was perfect. The show featured stand-up prep, her relationship with her parents, her divorce, and the time Jay Leno made her cry. She was brutally honest (sometimes just brutal), funny, weird, sad, and introspective.

Griffin at her worst, conversely, is what happened earlier this week when photographer Tyler Shields released a shoot he did with her. In it, a stark-looking Griffin holds up what looks like the bloodied head of Donald Trump. It’s not even clear what the purpose of the photo was: It’s not funny, or interesting, or thoughtful. Insofar as political commentary goes, it’s about as incisive as being the first to reply to a Donald Trump tweet calling him a Cheeto.

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But getting angry with Griffin over this photo is, frankly, the stuff she’s built her career on. She makes meals out of micro-controversies like this, documenting them for her standup or her reality show or her books. She talks about being banned from The View (allegedly repeatedly), not being asked back onto Ellen or Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, or being confronted by Whitney Houston after cracking jokes about her in her standup.

But the response to this particular gag has been far more costly. She lost her lucrative CNN New Year’s Eve gig, a televised event she has hosted since 2007 with Anderson Cooper, who also disavowed the photo and apparently hasn’t spoken to her since. On Tuesday, two days after the image was posted, she released an apology video, a deeply awkward, barely 30-second clip so stilted it seemed like she had never had to apologize for anything before. And then today she had a press conference with her attorney Lisa Bloom, apologizing again, but also claiming that she’s under Secret Service investigation, that she’s getting death threats and has been dropped from multiple jobs — five and counting. Bloom called the image “a parody of Trump’s own sexist remarks, taken to an extreme, absurdist visual,” and Griffin talked mostly about wanting to be a role model for other women as well as defending the First Amendment. “What’s happening to me has never happened, ever, in the history of this great country, which is that a sitting president of the United States and his grown children and the first lady are personally — I feel — trying to ruin my life forever,” she said. This is Griffin at her most sincere, because this is Griffin enduring her harshest punishment: She’s been fired before, or yelled at, or threatened, but never to this degree.

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