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Opinion | Kathy Griffin Wants the World to Stop Thinking She Did Something Wrong

archived recording

(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

[MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

I’m Kara Swisher, and you’re listening to “Sway.” My guest today is Kathy Griffin, the brash and snarky comedian who I’ve known for quite a while. In 2017, she became a canary in the coal mine for cancel culture when she posed for a photo with a mask styled to look like Donald Trump’s bloody severed head.

Griffin said it was a joke, but the Secret Service didn’t see it that way. They treated the image as a credible threat to the then president and launched a formal investigation into Griffin. She was also harassed online by MAGA fans and fired from many jobs, including her regular gig co-hosting CNN’s “New Year’s Eve Special.” She was also put on the no-fly list, a real problem for a stand-up comic, whose job it is to tour.

Unlike some of her male cancel culture counterparts, Griffin still hasn’t been able to make a real comeback. The experience hit her hard, and by 2020, also facing an addiction, the comedian found herself dangerously depressed and in a dark place. So I wanted to dig into Kathy’s experience and get her take on the broader trend of cancel culture.

Before we get into today’s interview, I wanted to give a warning about content. This episode contains a discussion of addiction and suicide. Some parts are graphic and reflect Kathy’s brand of humor. If you’re having thoughts about suicide or a concern that someone you know may be having those thoughts, the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. And there are links to additional resources in today’s show notes. Now onto the episode.

Kathy Griffin, welcome to “Sway.”

kathy griffin

I’m so glad to be here.

kara swisher

Explain your voice because your voice is a very —

kathy griffin

Can you handle this? I’m demure now, and I’ll tell you why. Because in addition to surviving my cancellation, which I just want to say, one of my gays — and yes, I still say that, so go ahead and get offended. One of my gays said, you know, yours is the only cancellation that mattered. And damn it, that means something.

So I’ve also survived cancer. And so it’s been a heck of a few years. And so I got lung cancer, and I’ve never smoked a day in my life. And so I had a tumor removed in August and half of my left lung removed. That’s right, I’m one and a half lungs, honey. Take me as I am. This is it. And by the way, I don’t like your “I have two lungs” attitude. I feel it’s offensive to me. And I might cancel you.

kara swisher

I do have two lungs, but I’ll try not to —

kathy griffin

That’s all you people brag about! It’s all you two-lunged people. The two-lunged community is so full of themselves. OK, so anyway, the good news is they got all the cancer. There was a couple of complications, and one of them was probably because of the intubation tube, my vocal cord on the left was damaged. So I’m trying to come back from that so I can work again and do stand-up again. And it’s very odd. I mean, for me of all people, to barely have a voice and to sound whispery and mild can be off-putting.

kara swisher

Who do you think you sound like in your demure state now?

kathy griffin

I think that I sound obviously like Marilyn Monroe meets Joan Rivers. And that would be probably my perfect woman, if I could be her. Why not?

kara swisher

Well, I like the way you sound. It’s very nice. I do miss your other voice. So the last time we did one of these interviews in 2019, it was really something because I think it was the first time people realized, you’re seen as a comic and sort of brash and this and that. But when Trump was still president, you and he tussled quite a bit on social media.

And then you did that photo, and you got a lot of fallout from that. You came under fire from the right and left. You got tons of death threats. You got investigated by the Secret Service, and the DOJ contacted your lawyer. And even your mom, your late mom, who was wonderful, believed the conspiracy that you were part of ISIS. How do you look at it when you look back? It seems like a million years ago, but this was not that long ago.

kathy griffin

No, and also, it can happen again. And I’ve never gone deep with you like this, Kara. But it’s actually been really something and really challenging. And I’m looking for words because when you’re a comic and when you’re me, you’re annoying and loud and blah, blah, blah. You know, it’s hard to sort of even say things like this. But it’s been really difficult. And it’s been — I think one of the things that’s been hard is the number of folks that think I had it coming because it’s me.

As much as I thought I had been dealing with misogyny so much in my career — and I do for sure — I think even I underestimated the length of misogyny and sort of how high up it went. And what I mean by that is the number of men who probably consider themselves to be pretty feministic, who just didn’t seem to be able to see me as a human. And that’s been a thing that I think when I talked about death threats, I mean, I had the F.B.I. coming to my house, doing what they call a duty to warn. I was fully investigated by the Department of Justice.

And so I sort of like — it’s funny. Since we spoke, I kind of almost take umbrage to the term canceled because most people — I mean, we can go down the list — frankly, they have been canceled for doing something wrong. And what I find offends people the most is if I say, yeah, I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s OK if you didn’t like it. That’s totally cool. But you have to stop thinking I did something wrong. You have to stop thinking I deserved it. I certainly didn’t violate the First Amendment, but that’s the part that I think we’ve seen from a greater cancel culture for my situation. Now people are canceled in their office. They get canceled among their relatives. They get canceled in their Facebook group, you know? And it’s an opportunity for me to be a little quiet. This is actually the first interview I’ve done in quite a while for me, which is a big deal, because there’s a lot of it here, like, I’ll be honest, I’m kind of afraid to talk about it with you today because it’s a real thing that when you feel the weight of literally millions of people telling you over and over and over, not just that they want you to die and all that stuff, it’s that the number of people that could have helped in a small incremental way that just didn’t has been a hard pill for me to swallow.

Because you can’t help but go, why did you stop at me? Like, why did other people who are, quote, “canceled” have so many other people advocating for them? And I’m talking like Louis CK. That’s been a thing that’s different from when we spoke. Because when we spoke, I was still sort of in survival mode. I had just done a world tour, which was great.

kara swisher

You were sort of swinging. You were like, this is bullshit. You were in the “this is bullshit” mode, I think.

kathy griffin

So that was three years ago. And my career landscape and the perception of me really kind of hasn’t changed very much, like a little, but not much where I can really kind of make a difference in my life, or, where I can go, hey, this is how I got out of it. This is how you should if you’re in this situation.

kara swisher

Right, right, so what was interesting about the time when we talked is two things. One was at South by Southwest, and I was told by the South by Southwest people that many reporters didn’t want to do this interview. And I was like, why not? It’s really — if you find it tasteless, that’s one thing, but what’s happened to her is really quite astonishing. And the other part was I think people were surprised by what happened to you, even though you joked about it. I have more people talk to me about that interview than many that I’ve done because they were surprised. And I’m also surprised here that you’re still scared. Can you talk a little bit about that?

kathy griffin

Yeah, look, I had a guy come to the house last week. Like, I’m very immersed in MAGA world because I became very fascinated with them because of the way they treat me. But also as a comic, oh, my God. I mean, it’s such a study. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. And so last week, a guy came to the house, and he’s this guy that goes to CPAC. And he made this really weird gold sculpture of Trump, but it looks like a troll, I guess you’d say. So he’s sort of very well known in those circles. And, you know, he came to my house last week and knocked at the door and was talking to my husband about he wanted to do a shoot with me. That’s kind of off-putting.

kara swisher

Creepy.

kathy griffin

Yeah, because this guy is very into MAGA world, you know, and he’s not a random artist, which would also have been weird. So this stuff still kind of comes up.

kara swisher

Why are they interested in you? They are very much. You’re one of the — Hillary Clinton, you. There’s a whole bunch that they sort of have as their villains in this demented Marvel movie, MAGA movie, I guess.

kathy griffin

Well, this is what I wanted to ask you because I was like, wait a minute. There’s two things that I have to admit. There’s a part of me that I’ll always want answers for. And one of them is, how do you think that my photo on that day went from being on TMZ, because that’s where the photographer gave it for some reason — I don’t know why — and then it was manipulated so quickly in meme form?

I’m just curious what you think because you now understand that machine in a way that I, to this day, don’t. How would that photo go from someone in the White House or MAGA world — and I’m assuming since they went through with an actual investigation, my position is I feel strongly it came from the Oval Office. How do you think tech-wise, how did that damn photo get put into, what, convincing people I was a member of ISIS or whatever so rapidly around the world?

kara swisher

Well, it’s interesting. There’s been several really good books about this, about how it moves up and down. There’s a stack where it can start at the top and go down or start at the bottom, bubble up, and go to the top, to Trump, who then would retweet things, right? Whatever it was, people are saying and then would link to it. Or make, you know — when the shooting starts, the looting starts. Then it goes down and up.

And there is a sophisticated system of online outrage that goes up and down. So the platforms are really — is the amplification and the weaponization of these things. And yours was particularly tasty. And it was easy, meme-able. It was easy to push around. I’m surprised it didn’t go a lot faster.

kathy griffin

God, I was astonished by that.

kara swisher

Really?

kathy griffin

Because I felt like it just happened. And, you know, the picture was up on TMZ, and I was just like, OK, for the stuff I’ve done in my career, it’s not that big of a deal. And then it all changed so quickly. And then I read on the ticker on CNN that I was fired. So clearly, how did it get back to someone’s office at CNN, where they actually believed it to be like Kryptonite enough that they had to take such drastic action?

kara swisher

Well, a lot of it is, they get spun up by the spun-up.

kathy griffin

So one of the big issues I have is, like I said, I wasn’t really canceled. What happened to me was —

kara swisher

You were deplatformed.

kathy griffin

Well, hold on, I was targeted. My First Amendment rights were squashed by the federal government. But the fact that I haven’t been able to make a living or work since then, except for a couple little things here and there, that still tells me it’s still a powerful machine. And I think that in my cancellation, and now I’ll sort of go into other people’s, sometimes there is an effect where people don’t kind of want you to come back. And that’s what I’m struggling with now because I don’t want to come back until my fans, if I may, want me to.

And that’s a hard thing to gauge in this environment because, you know, online, there’s one world, and in theaters, my last experience, I had quite a few incidents on my tour. I had a guy show up with a knife after a show and try to get me and all kinds of things. And I am apprehensive about those things happening again. Because whether or not Trump is still president, the Trumpism stuff, I’m amazed at how like Mike Flynn and Stone and those guys, they are really online, able to keep that world going. And then they have rallies, not just Trump rallies, every weekend. And it kills me that crowd is so good with knowing how to get a false message out.

kara swisher

Yeah, they’re very good at it. Let me ask you a question. You said you lost your First Amendment by the federal government or by private companies pressured by the public?

kathy griffin

The federal government.

kara swisher

Because how?

kathy griffin

Because remember, I was put on the no-fly list for absolutely no reason. So that’s the feds stepping in. And they opened an investigation for the Secret Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I wasn’t just called. They investigated me for two months. They came to my home. I was interrogated under oath. None of that happened to anybody else. So that’s a little different.

kara swisher

If you’re an actual risk to the president, whether they could have gone, obviously, she’s not.

kathy griffin

That was what they were considering charging me with, conspiracy to assassinate the president of United States. So that’s a very different animal than an inquisitive call.

kara swisher

So private companies also pressured by the public, such as CNN and others.

kathy griffin

Right, right. And of course, Squatty Potty.

kara swisher

Well, pressured by whom?

kathy griffin

Well, pressured by Jeff Zucker, who hopefully is on a squatting potty right now, pooping himself into oblivion. By the way —

kara swisher

There she is.

kathy griffin

— you’re welcome, America. You’re welcome, America. I took care of that one, didn’t I? Go ahead and cross me. Cross me, Squishy. See what happens. I’ve taken down bigger titans than you, baby.

kara swisher

She’s referring to Jeff Zucker, who just left CNN under difficult circumstances. I’ll get to him. OK.

kathy griffin

Oh, because I left Bravo.

kara swisher

So before we get to them resigned, he did resign not of his own will. Let me just get finished with the platform. So I know you were always tweaking Jack Dorsey. Now he’s gone from Twitter, at least. Are there any parting words for him? Are there any parting words for Jack?

kathy griffin

He’s actually, I have him stored in my wine room. I can’t let him out. No, he’s just ridiculous. I mean, I had a good conversation with that guy, Nick Bilton, who wrote that book about him. And he made me feel good because he said Dorsey’s just not a very smart guy. He’s not really great at running the company. And I always liked that. By the way, that’s like Zucker. If you thought Jeff Zucker knew about news, this is the guy that put the Emeril Lagasse sitcom on NBC. I’m just saying. We have to stop letting people run stuff that really don’t know how to do it.

kara swisher

Yeah, OK, so do you think Twitter’s learned any lessons? Because it did, eventually, a lot of this led to January 6. This is where it went in the end. They were not the reason it happened, but they were part of the spinning up of it.

kathy griffin

Yeah, I mean, they were really late to the party of doing whatever they’re going to do. I mean, look, this is your area, all the hearings and stuff and all this stuff that they could have done and didn’t. So that’s what I think about. I mean, and their whole game is like, you tech people are like mechanics. You know? Yeah, we go in there, we’re blind, and we trust you. And you go like, hey, lefty, come on in here. You pick up the foil thing. And how much is this going to be? $4 million, all right? Is that what the going rate is?

And so you think you got us by the balls, but let me tell you something. I got rid of Dorsey, I got rid of Zuckerberg. I’m getting rid of Sandberg. I’m re-engaged. By the way, when I asked Jeff Zucker for that raise where, then, not only did he fire me, but he deducted me 20 percent when I called back and begged for my job back crying, I did that because I read that freaking “Lean In” book like an idiot, and I believed it.

kara swisher

So you leaned in.

kathy griffin

I leaned in till I broke my nose on the concrete.

kara swisher

All right, OK. So you —

kathy griffin

So that one’s in my sights also.

kara swisher

So how do you look at their performance, tech’s performance? Because you’re a huge critic.

kathy griffin

Oh, my gosh.

kara swisher

There’s people who don’t know. Kathy DMs me, and it’s always about tech. Can you handle these boys? Can you get your boys? And they’re not my boys, by the way. They’re not mine.

kathy griffin

Oh yes they are, Kara. They’re your responsibility, and they’re your fault.

kara swisher

They’re not my fault. I warned you about what’s happening.

kathy griffin

They’re your responsibility.

kara swisher

Do you think they’ve learned anything? Or how do you assess them now? Because they’re still the richest people in the world. They’re still controlling enormous amounts. They’re trying to clean themselves up with Ukraine by behaving correctly here versus what they did around election lies or anti-vax or January 6. Where do you think they are right now?

kathy griffin

Oh, yeah, OK. So first of all, the warnings are a joke. And we can go back to Jan 6 for that. By the way, I’m like the definitive expert on Jan 6. I’m obsessed. I listened to all the hearings and everything. I love it. OK, so that stuff, remember, even when Trump was like, we’ll be exciting, stop the steal, they were putting the warnings on his stuff, too. Those folks all still showed up, and they’ll keep showing up. So, no, I don’t think they’re doing their job at all. And you know I’ve dumped you for Franny Haugen. Did you know that?

kara swisher

Yeah, is she your friend now? I had her on “Sway.”

kathy griffin

More so than you, frankly.

kara swisher

OK, all right.

kathy griffin

So yeah, I kind of dumped you for the new shiny — see how you like it —

kara swisher

Franny?

kathy griffin

You know the lesbians. They always want the new shiny. Franny Haugen and I. Now —

kara swisher

Frances Haugen, for those who don’t know, is the whistleblower in the Facebook hearings, and she was a product manager at Facebook.

kathy griffin

Don’t play her down.

kara swisher

I’m not playing her down. She was a big —

kathy griffin

She did what you should have done. You were supposed to go testify on the Hill today. I’ll walk over there. Let’s go together.

kara swisher

I don’t have internal documents.

kathy griffin

Come on. Yes, you do. I feel like you do.

kara swisher

Kathy, I’ve written column after column since the 2015’s warning about this.

kathy griffin

You’re holding back. You’ve got some stuff. You’ve got —

kara swisher

I do? I do?

kathy griffin

If I was a tech person, I would be afraid of you having my pee tape. And by the way, Kara, I do have one. And I’m revealing that here for the first time. I’m not saying where it is or what’s to be done with it, but I do have a pee tape.

kara swisher

On who?

kathy griffin

— no one, like, asked about it. On myself. It’s myself peeing on myself. But it’s very secret, and—

kara swisher

OK, all right.

kathy griffin

— worry about getting it out.

kara swisher

All right, you’re very funny, but it is — it was a really hard time for you, and I think that’s what really touched people in that interview. And in recent months, you’ve spoken more about this, that you fell deeper into pills. You were in a dark place.

kathy griffin

I tried to kill myself.

kara swisher

Talk about that.

kathy griffin

I tried to kill myself, and ended up in the psych ward, Kara.

kara swisher

What happened? Explain what happened. Why did you — why did it go there for you?

kathy griffin

I think — well, look, I think that I’m probably an addictive person, you know. But you have to admit, it’s almost, like, comical. Like, I went in the hospital for pill addiction at 59 years old. Who the hell becomes a junkie in, like, their late 50s? Me.

And so I just think it was like, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was just such a crazy workaholic, and all of a sudden, I had this time on my hands, and then I was depressed, and things just weren’t looking up. And then, you fall into the, like, life will be better for my husband without me around.

And you call the estate attorney, and the whole thing — who’s Susie Harmon’s estate attorney, so, you know, I’m good. And so it just came to a point where I really — I was convinced, like, I’ve had a good run on this planet, and now it’s time for me to go.

It’s been good. I’ve done a lot of great stuff. And so you know, it gets pretty crazy. And then, I will say, not to blame Covid, but then Covid also is like, just laying around all day and trying to figure out life.

So that was rough, although it was a good thing, ultimately, and it was sobering, quite literally. And so you know, I’m happily a member of AA, although I never have had a drink still. And I won’t. But I was really exclusively pills, but I still go to AA, because there’s like, it’s a bigger umbrella.

kara swisher

May I ask why pills? What was it — just made you feel better? Or it just softened the edges?

kathy griffin

Yeah, I think that I didn’t know, like — it was a classic thing.

kara swisher

This was OxyContin? May I ask?

kathy griffin

It was Oxy, Vicodin. It was the benzos, like Valium, Klonopin, Ativan. And then, it was the uppers, like Adderall, Provigil. So I didn’t know I was doing, like, a rich white lady speedball, basically.

So I would take, like — I mean, the painkillers are insidious, because I really did get addicted like the classic story. I had injuries, and then blah, blah, blah. But then, you start taking a little more than you need, and then you can’t sleep, so you take the downers. And then, you got to get up, and you take the uppers. And it just got crazy.

And it got away from me, seriously. Like, I kind of knew it was getting bad, but then I didn’t. And then, once the suicidal thoughts take over, you go like, oh, this has nothing to do with drugs. I’m just being suicidal out of the blue, which turns out was not the case.

I am not suicidal, but I certainly thought so. And so I just — the reason I say that is, I don’t want anyone to ever downplay how much alcohol or drugs might be playing in — if you happen to have suicidal ideations yourself, you know, for me, that stuff went away. But I’ll tell you, detoxing was hard, man.

And I did a real detox. Like, I didn’t go to the fancy place, because of Covid But it was an important process, and I love my meetings that I go to and all that stuff. I’m like one of those corny, happy members.

And you know, it was funny. I watched — I’ve been following Beth Macy’s work for a long time, and I love “Dopesick.” And I became friends with that guy, Danny Strong, on Twitter.

And I said, you know, thank you for making the doctor character someone who also started taking drugs late in life.

kara swisher

That’s right.

kathy griffin

I said, because OxyContin and — in my head — some of those drugs, they’re unlike any other drug, in my opinion. Because you really can be someone that didn’t have these issues, and then you take enough Oxy, and you need it.

kara swisher

Yeah, absolutely. What prompted you to get off of it?

kathy griffin

Honestly, it was the fact that when I overdosed and thought I was going to die, I fell down a flight of stairs, and I just got a bunch of injuries instead. I didn’t remember it, and I’d never blacked out before in my life. So I was like, OK, this is bad.

And then, I finally got — I fell down one more time, because I tried to do it a second time the next day. And then, finally, I actually called my husband, who I had kicked out of the house in a fight, which was really dumb but also drug-fueled. And I was like, OK, I think I have to go to the hospital, because I think I just, like, injured myself instead of finishing the job. And this is one really inappropriate joke, but I can’t help it. It makes me laugh.

kara swisher

Please do.

kathy griffin

There’s nothing worse than waking up for a suicide attempt. Because I know it sounds like a movie, but it really is like, ugh. You are kidding me! Like, there is almost a moment of like, really? Really?

But you know, you get over it. But then, so then I went to the hospital. And when you go to the hospital and you tell them what you’ve done, they go, oh, why, thank you, and welcome to your 5150 psych hold.

And so I’m there, and then the hospital, in the psych ward, for three days. And boy, that’ll sober you up like nothing.

kara swisher

Why is that?

kathy griffin

And also, you’re detoxing. Because you’re just — you’ve got no drugs, and you’re just shaking and sweating. And I’m looking at the ceiling, and you’re just reassessing life choices, and you’ve got nothing but your own thoughts.

And so luckily, I was able to — the hospital actually hooked me up with, like, sober clinicians. And so they would come to my house every day for four months, pee test me. We would watch meetings on Zoom together, have sessions together.

And it was great. And so that really saved my life. And then, through that process, you know, you’re kind of unpacking anything and everything. So everything’s been kind of surrounded by that a little bit, you know.

Like, that comes first, and then we’ll see if we can — I don’t wanna say deal with the shallow career stuff, but we’ll see if maybe being, quote, “canceled” isn’t worth dying for.

kara swisher

No, absolutely not. But you also lost your mom before this.

kathy griffin

Yeah.

kara swisher

And so on top of this, and on top of — and your mother was wonderful, from what I can tell.

kathy griffin

Oh my god, Maggie. I know, I know. That was really big. And also, we couldn’t even have a funeral for her because of Covid, and you know. So yeah, it’s going to be — it’s actually going to be weird, like — taking the stage again after this break. Because I haven’t done a show since I saw you. So I haven’t been on stage in, like, two years.

kara swisher

You obviously can’t talk yet, but are you hoping to do that?

kathy griffin

Absolutely. I can’t wait. So I was really fortunate. I got to do a show called “Search Party.” So right before my surgery — so when I had my voice, I could still do a serious gig.

So I think that will help people in my industry be a little bit less afraid of me. And then, once I start selling tickets, they’re all going to come running back. Like, that’s how that works. You sell tickets, and they’re like, hi, you were wronged. We love you.

kara swisher

Yeah.

kathy griffin

We’d like 10 more percent of your income. So I look forward to going back. And I’ll probably start small, like if I could even do eight nice theaters in eight nice comedy cities or cities that have been good for me, that would be heaven.

kara swisher

Yeah, not Florida, I’m guessing, right now. But in any case —

kathy griffin

You know, I have played Florida and Jersey more than any two states in this union.

kara swisher

Wow.

kathy griffin

It’s the oddest thing. So yes, will I be welcomed in Sarasota again?

kara swisher

We’ll see.

We’ll be back in a minute.

If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. You’ll be able to catch up on “Sway” episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Monica Lewinsky, and you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Kathy Griffin after the break.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

So let’s talk about cancel culture more broadly and who gets a second act. Let’s start with Jeff Zucker, who you know, who was forced out as president of CNN after the whole Chris Cuomo debacle. Zucker didn’t disclose his romantic relationship with Allison Gollust, the network’s chief marketing officer.

Zucker hasn’t been canceled, per se, and some people think he’ll make a comeback as a TV exec once again. What are your thoughts?

kathy griffin

Oh, I think he’ll be back. I mean, you can’t penetrate that boys’ club. That’s it. He’ll be fine. I mean, he’s at an age where he might just pull a Matt Lauer and say, I’m going to go in the Hamptons and count my money.

And you know, people don’t believe me when I say stuff. And my friend, Kim Masters, who I love, she gets so, like, offended.

kara swisher

She’s a writer.

kathy griffin

— when I say that — I love her, but I always say, I think you’re underestimating how many women in Hollywood are scared of these guys, even when they’re gone. You know, I’m still not allowed on that show, “The Talk,” because I mixed it up with Julie Chen when she started sticking up for Leslie. And I can’t stand —

kara swisher

This is Les Moonves, who used to run CBS.

kathy griffin

Oh, can I tell you what happened last time I saw Les?

kara swisher

Sure, yeah.

kathy griffin

Yeah, see Kara does not like this part of me.

kara swisher

I do.

kathy griffin

And this is why Kara only wants to see me, like, in private homes. Like, you never want to come out in public. You’re like, come to the living room. I’ll close the blind. But anyway — so get this. So I’m meeting a girlfriend at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. And this is after Les has finally been Me Too ed. Like finally. Finally. Did I say, finally?

kara swisher

Finally. Finally.

kathy griffin

So I’m fancy, and I’m like a real star, not like him. And so I walk in, and then the maitre d’ is so nice, that he walks me over. And then, I see Les sitting alone at a booth on his phone.

And first of all, I’m like, well, it’s been a while since you’ve been alone at a booth.

OK. So and then, I can’t resist, so I go like this. Leslie? Like, really sweet. And he goes, uh-huh? So I turn to the maitre d’ and I go, I don’t sit near rapists!

kara swisher

Oh, no, you didn’t!

kathy griffin

Yes. And then, it was in variety next day.

kara swisher

Oh, no. Kathy, how can you —

kathy griffin

I know.

kara swisher

you know, you can’t help yourself. You also, by the way, re-posted the Trump picture in 2020.

kathy griffin

Well.

kara swisher

You know? You have to keep stirring it up, right?

kathy griffin

You know. I mean, somebody has to.

kara swisher

Someone has to.

kathy griffin

But you know, the last time I got kicked off Twitter was by Margie Greene. Margie Greene —

kara swisher

Oh, really?

kathy griffin

Yeah. So she — it was when I reposted the picture. So then I noticed the way I get swarmed is — I’m also on the list of a lot of like Fox News blue checks, and then there’s the Fox Nation people, which are a little more gritty, if you know what I’m saying.

And they’re all named, like, Crystal and Charisma, and all those weird names. Like, they’re like nouns. And so the first time Sidney Powell came after me, I straight-up wrote, who’s he? Like, I just wasn’t aware of who she was yet.

And now, like, you’re kind of frankly bothering me, because you’re keeping me from listening in to one of my crack-and-lawyer hearings.

Because my day — I mean, this is sort of fun for me, Kara, but I need to get back to my hearings. I’m like a semi-professional court watcher.

kara swisher

Just this idea of powerful men — you talked about David Zaslav, who’s now going to be running the combined Warner, and John Malone, who is a big shareholder in this — Allison Gollust also had to leave CNN. Should she get a second chance?

kathy griffin

No! She’s a liar!

kara swisher

How do you look at this?

kathy griffin

OK, Eva Braun. You don’t get a second chance when you’re enabling Jeff Zucker, who by the way, when you meet him and you call him Zucker, he goes, “it’s Zucker, like hooker.” Twenty-five years, I’ve had to listen to that horrible voice of that horrible bald troll say, “It’s Zucker, like hooker.”

kara swisher

OK, speaking of someone who believes in second chances, Andrew Cuomo was at the center of the CNN debate. Not only his brother Chris gave him cushy coverage on the network, but Chris is also advising Andrew’s staff on how to avoid sexual harassment scandal. Chris lost his CNN gig eventually, but Andrew is coming back. Let’s hear a clip from a recent speech he gave.

andrew cuomo

Last February, several women raised issues about my behavior. As I said then, and as I say to you in this holy hall today, my behavior has been the same for 40 years in public life. You have seen me many, many times, and that has been my behavior.

But that was actually the problem. Because for some people, especially younger people, there’s a new sensitivity.

kara swisher

So he’s crying cancel culture, Kathy. What do you have to say to that?

kathy griffin

Of course. Well, look, let me just cut to the chase, because you try to be this, like, no agenda BS. You know, I’m — I’m biased, OK? I’m an analyst.

kara swisher

All right, OK. Analyze.

kathy griffin

— very serious reporter on the January 6 events.

kara swisher

OK.

kathy griffin

So I mean, he shouldn’t come back. I’m sorry. Like —

kara swisher

Yeah, it’s pretty quick.

kathy griffin

But the fact that he’s on our team, the fact that we’re losing a Democratic governor — and by the way, I like Kathy Hochul, and I like the options we have in our party. That’s actually the part that’s almost more egregious to me, because we don’t have them to spare.

And I feel that this is a man who 110 percent knew better. And without getting into the scandals, you know, it’s OK, when you’ve done something that messed up, to go. So you know, this is somebody who really affects people’s lives and policy, and once again, I took a picture.

Like, that’s the thing that I feel like is something I still have to deal with. And maybe it’s a thing I can communicate. But I do think he did something wrong. He did something wrong.

kara swisher

Right. And he’s coming back right away, and he’s scapegoating cancel culture for his groping problem. It’s probably smart. It resonates.

kathy griffin

But we have a long and important history of getting rid of especially politicians who have behaved this way. And by the way, I don’t — I think he’s a very, very bright guy. I think he was a great governor in many ways.

These guys shouldn’t be able to keep operating like this. And I feel that the new sensitivity is really — he may be really talking about transparency. So I don’t know if we’re sensitive to someone like Andrew Cuomo. We just see the crap he did.

kara swisher

Right. You know, it’s accountability. And I think one of the things is that — you know, the idea of being a victim is really a big, heavy thing. It happens on the right quite a lot, like grievance — they call it pre-offended or perpetual grievance.

kathy griffin

And that’s why this is newsworthy, because he’s acting like a typical — I don’t want to say, right-winger. I don’t know if a MAGA, but like a right-winger.

kara swisher

Trump does this — sort of always hurt by something. And it’s also so broad. One of the issues on the internet is, we lose nuance. I just interviewed Jon Stewart, and he talked a lot about that. Mobs will come and cancel if you’re accused of sexual harassment like Cuomo was, or if you pose for some gruesome photo like you did — obviously, not equal crimes. How do you make the punishment be different? Or is it not? Is it just such a broad brush or a giant hammer that just —

kathy griffin

The punishment has to be different. Like, that’s — I couldn’t be happier you’re asking me this, because if I’m going to play a victim for one second, it’s please stop asking me or putting me in categories of these toxically masculine men. But also, look, if you want to get into it, I also don’t want to be in the same fucking basket as Roseanne.

I look at Roseanne, and I think if someone who, number one, gave me a break on a show when nobody else did. She put me and Jennifer Coolidge on a show. And she was such an idol of mine, and I saw — personally, I saw Roseanne be treated like crap by men in the industry.

Crap. Didn’t trust her instincts, didn’t trust her comedic instincts, which were impeccable. And then, I think she sort of crossed over. And I don’t really know what led her to be MAGA, but I think she became Q first.

She’s actually the person that they make these documentaries about QAnon about. She’s really — she really believes that stuff. And she hates me now, and she thinks I — she thinks I’m ugly on the outside and inside and blah, blah, blah. So she’s, like, way down the rabbit hole.

But there’s a part of me that wonders how much Rose McGowan or Roseanne — I give them — I don’t want to say a pass, but I feel like that’s a category. But then, like I said, that’s very different from these guys that are typically sexual assaulters, or they’re people like Jeff Zucker that have, in my case, directly affected the trajectory of my career.

Like, I was, quote, “canceled,” but the folks that are the most egregious, they sort of have to be — they have to go first. And that takes a long, long time. So I think the cancel culture situation has been a bit co-opted by the same forces that were not comfortable with Me Too.

Like, there’s a lot of discussion in Hollywood about Me Too women feeling like they’ve been kind of abandoned by their own movement. And I kind of agree with them. And I’m not one of those girls. I don’t — you know. But I think there’s a little bit of a similar thing. Like, people are afraid to look too crazy, so they just abandon ship. Like, those Me Too girls shouldn’t have been abandoned.

kara swisher

Right, there’s too much hair on you, in that way. Too much trouble. All right, so let me go through a couple of people. Joe Rogan — he’s covered many, many, many things — misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racial slurs.

Most recently, he’s come under fire for spreading misinformation about Covid and vaccines again. Spotify stuck with him. Thoughts?

kathy griffin

Well, OK. So I hope you love me, because this is my third rail.

kara swisher

OK.

kathy griffin

And I’m going to get blowback.

kara swisher

All right.

kathy griffin

Even though the Rogan fans don’t, like, read The New York Times. But I’m just saying —

kara swisher

Some of them do.

kathy griffin

So I think that Joe Rogan, 100 percent, has the right to do that show wherever he wants. He is exercising his free speech, without a doubt. And that’s easy.

My feeling about Joe is, it’s an analogy I’m going to steal from a girlfriend of mine, Sara Schaefer, who’s a really, really talented comedian and comedy writer. And she was saying that she feels like the — like, we’ll say the Joe Rogan types. And go ahead. I’m going to go throw Dave in for a minute, too.

kara swisher

Yeah, Dave Chappelle, I was gonna ask you.

kathy griffin

Because there —

kara swisher

His special, “The Closer” —

kathy griffin

You know, we toured together.

kara swisher

Yeah, his special — just for people who don’t know, “The Closer” was criticized as being transphobic and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. But Netflix stuck with him, and doubled down on him.

kathy griffin

Well, I would argue it was transphobic. So I’m going to go further and just say, Dave does material that’s transphobic. So I’m just going to — that’s my feeling and my opinion, you know. So — and I love Dave, and I think he’s a genius. I just think that he’s also transphobic. OK. So but Joe — so Sara Schaefer made this analogy I really respected, which is — she was like, look, you’ve got two guys like Dave and Joe. And if your audience doesn’t know, they did a stadium tour together, where each artist is probably making a million a show. A show.

So just because you have these two guys who started out from, I’m sure, humble beginnings, and wanted to be comedians, and now they certainly are, and wildly successful — it’s kind of like, just because you’ve never had a Lamborghini doesn’t mean you should take it out every single day and drive 100 around a schoolyard.

And that’s what I think these guys are doing. And what bothers me is that they don’t have to be this way at all, and that it’s a choice. And the Rogan situation is fascinating to me, because this is very, very controversial in the comedy world. So I’m just going to say it.

There’s a certain type of guy — and I’ve learned. I used to think it was all white guys. I think it’s now white, Black, gay, straight, and they maybe don’t have what it takes to excel to the next level, just talent-wise, like the actual material. Like, let me just say this.

Joe Rogan was a NewsRadio great. Joe was a middle — what’s called a middling comic before then. He wasn’t headlining. He wasn’t — people weren’t quoting his act. So it’s a great break.

I would suggest that there are comics who just kind of don’t have — they don’t have what it takes. And so I have seen over the years several comics that are mid-level, perfectly fine, homogeneous dude comics with, kind of, the similar jokes of all the other dudes, then go, well, I can’t quite keep up with — like, Dave Chappelle is obviously not that guy at all.

So I can’t keep up with Dave, but I can keep up with him if I have the show that 10 million people listen to a day. So it’s not terribly uncommon for a male comic who doesn’t succeed in the comedy realm to become very angry.

kara swisher

Were you surprised that Spotify stuck with him?

kathy griffin

Um, no. Because when are we going to see any of these guys, like, really pay? And I don’t mean, like, pay. He should still do his show. There are so many ways that Spotify could have done this.

And they could have — either they could have just said, look, this is the kind of show we need you to do, because people are dying. They could have certainly given him a pay cut, which I’ve been given for saying controversial things.

kara swisher

Or they could have just said, this is what we’re doing. So like it or lump it. They could have also just stood by what they want to do.

kathy griffin

Right, but that’s just kind of the usual for such a big corporation to do with a $200 million investment, to say like it or lump it. They’re trying to — they’ve got to please many masters.

kara swisher

Right. So in Chappelle’s case, you think he’s genius. So do I. But his material is transphobic. I think —

kathy griffin

Yeah.

kara swisher

I sort of was like, can you get off this? It’s not funny.

kathy griffin

I think Dave is transphobic. I think Dave is just a transphobic guy. I don’t think Dave is trans-bashing. I don’t think Dave is running around harming gays. I just think Dave is, like — once again, Dave’s like — look, he’s still just like a 51-year-old guy.

Like, I’m just saying, I think sometimes we attribute — whether if someone’s of color because they’ve had a struggle, and they’ve been an oppressed minority — I think that’s what hurts so many of my trans friends, is they’re saying to me, how can this guy be a Black guy whose — you know, his heart beats for George Floyd, as it should, but when it comes to us, he doesn’t even — he doesn’t get it. Like, he just keeps making a joke.

kara swisher

Right. He does go on about that.

kathy griffin

Well, he also loves to say, if this is what being canceled is, I love it. And I’m like, Dave, you weren’t canceled, not by any stretch of the word. Like, there are a couple of parades, and then you’re making more money. In fact, you’re doing more specials, so.

And I guess, look, here’s my selfish part. It is hard for me when any one of these guys sort of dares to utter the word without, like, referencing what happened to me. Easy with the, you’re canceled and it’s horrible, and you know, you’ve got to do an apology. Like, you know. Try still being out of work for five years, with my resume —

kara swisher

Well, another one — Louis CK, who really — he’s trying to make a comeback. He has a new special called “Sorry,” and everything.

kathy griffin

OK, what about his one-nighter in Kyiv? You can’t write that. Did you know that?

kara swisher

Yes, no, I read about it.

kathy griffin

He had a one-nighter in Kyiv. I could do that gig now if they met my quote. I’d be on a plane right now. By the way, I can’t wait to, like, perform for despots. Can you hook that up? Come on, you —

kara swisher

(LAUGHING) I can’t. I got more to ask about — J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling.

kathy griffin

OK, that one. Can you imagine just having everything in life? Everything in life. Everything’s going your way, baby. You’re a role model, you’re living the dream, you got more money than Oleg Deripaska, but no. This is the hill you’re going to die on.

And there’s, like, quadrupling down, sextupling down. This one will not stop. And by the way, you can’t engage with her, because she loves it. She’s, like, thirsty in a way that she shouldn’t be.

So no, I don’t — I don’t care for her. I don’t think she should be saying or feeling what she’s feeling. I’m now the thought police.

kara swisher

All right. Florida legislature.

kathy griffin

Oh, boy.

kara swisher

Don’t say gay.

kathy griffin

I mean, it’s really getting scary there in ways that — I’ll be honest. Like, the rest of America, one of my biggest fears is, I feel like my fellow Americans aren’t as scared as we should be. And I feel like my Floridian friends, they’re frustrated all the time, but I fear that stuff can flip there so quickly in ways that we’re not going to kind of understand.

Because we’re used to democracy, and somewhat-fairness, and we’ve seen the slow drip. But I now understand the drip, drip, drip, and that’s, I think, what’s happening in Florida and Texas — and other states, but they seem to be wanting to lead the charge.

kara swisher

Yeah, absolutely. I just pulled a conference out of there. It’s causing quite a hubbub there.

kathy griffin

Yeah, I saw that. Good for you.

kara swisher

All right. So someone who never gets canceled — the person who canceled you. What does it take for Trump to get canceled? He says he’s Teflon. He seems to be, although he gave an interview where he was talking about Ukraine, and he switched to wind turbines, windmills.

kathy griffin

Yeah, because he’s the only one who’s, like, really talking about that. He’s got his finger on the pulse in a way where you might cut your finger tip off.

kara swisher

Yeah, so —

kathy griffin

I fee like Trump was someone you could actually put his finger in a windmill, and he’d be like, hey, how did that get cut off?

kara swisher

Yeah.

kathy griffin

So there’s that.

kara swisher

What is it —

kathy griffin

I saw that interview.

kara swisher

What is it about him that — you know, this is a person who is able to really give damage to you, Kathy, not just in the photo, but continuing to do that, and then they used it.

kathy griffin

And with his, like, foot soldiers — and we all know who they are, and all that other stuff. It’s an interesting thing. Remember we used to say Bill Clinton was Teflon? We had no idea what Teflon really was. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen anything as a comic, politically, like things I’ve covered or talked about. I mean, he definitely has to croak. Like, he really is overdue to pass away.

And I say that, because, I mean, the one thing I hate to give him credit for — and I’m not saying it’s not — and as a recovering pill addict, I would suggest he is on quite a combination. But he does do those rallies, and he doesn’t have a lack of energy.

And so he will be back. I don’t have total faith in the legal stuff keeping him out of the race. And I honestly, that’s what I think about a lot. Because when he does finally die, the noise will be lessened to a degree.

But there’s such a horse race to see who’s the next one. And it’s very frightening, because DeSantis is like the smart choice for a Trump replacement, you know. And then, we’ve got the craziest of the crazies, who still have power.

And this year, I am, once again, extremely apprehensive about midterms. Because I think we’re going to see real changes that affect our everyday life. And what I mean is, if you think you’re complaining about the supply chain or whatever is on Fox, remember the Obama years with fricking John Boehner, and then Paul Ryan.

I mean, the guy couldn’t do anything. And so I really don’t want to see the last two years of Biden, you know, God forbid, be like that. So I’m very apprehensive about that. That will make a change.

If the Dems can really turn out and get it as interesting as the Republicans, we’ll prevail. But right now — and I follow this stuff bizarrely religiously — the Republicans are way more invested in this than we are. Way more. It’s kind of really frightening.

kara swisher

If he runs again in 2024, how do you feel?

kathy griffin

Well, that’ll be an interesting thing, because then we do just fall into authoritarianism very rapidly, very rapidly. And as much as, like, the Ukraine stuff — obviously, there’s not a comparison to here. But I will say the rapidity— if that’s a word, or I made it up — of that, and how it went down so quickly — you know, Trump isn’t going to bring like foreign troops into a country, but I think he’s openly talked about all the things he wants to do.

And I think now is when you let people like me that make the jokes about what he says, and then let the important people stop joking about what he says. One thing that bothers me as a comic — I’m tired of, like, the George Conways and the really smart — and he’s our friend — but I’m kind of like, OK, I love that you’re witty, but stop being funny now, because now we’re really getting to the 2022 midterms.

Then, be funny for a while, and then you’ve got to be serious for 2024. So it is a cultural thing, because we’ve had a president who’s a joke in many ways, and then who turned out to be not a joke at all in many ways.

kara swisher

Let me just ask the last question. I was going to ask you where comedy is going, but what’s funny, Kathy? Is anything? I mean, you’re saying we have to stop joking and get serious. So what’s funny?

kathy griffin

I think the pundits that we’re supposed to take seriously should stop, kind of, like, goofing around with this, because I know it’s crazy and it’s fun, you know. But—

kara swisher

And it’s easy to make fun of Trump and windmills and other ones.

kathy griffin

It’s easy. And there’s so many others coming down the pipeline. But I think for comedy — I can only answer for myself. I think that my act for all these years has been — and we didn’t even get into the ‘90s and the aughts. Because there was, like, all of this sensibility that was vicious, comedically. Like, vicious.

I don’t think people have a taste for that. And I — look, I’m just going to talk about the Kardashians, because I have an actual relationship with them, and they’re always doing something funny. But I think that when I hit the stage again, I’ll probably talk more about, like — believe it or not, there’s a lot of really funny stuff in recovery. Like, I can talk about that. Pills are funny. You know, believe it or not, the cancer stuff is funny. Like, I know it sounds crazy, but like, I want to — Covid stuff — we’re all going through stuff. Like, I want to talk about what we’re all in together, and then I want to pepper it with my silly — whatever celebrity thing I happen to be actually immersed in.

kara swisher

Right. What’s your favorite celebrity right now? Kardashians were, for a long time.

kathy griffin

I mean, they don’t die, those Kardashians. They fucking keep coming back like a Jack-in-the-Box, like a whac-a-mole. I mean, just when the girls kind of calm down, and then the ex-husband comes back with an Instagram, which — you know, I’m going to hell in a handbasket, but I check it every four seconds. You have to call him Ye now. He doesn’t even want to play anymore. So — and then, I’m watching Britney. I’m not going to lie. I’m watching Britney. Now, I can’t tweet about Britney, because then it’s like they think I’m making fun of her. But I mean, her Instagram is a journey.

kara swisher

It’s a journey. So just Kanye — Ye — kind of copied you with that Pete head thing, correct?

kathy griffin

Honey, they all do. Wake up. You took your last question to realize that? They all copy me, god damn it. I’m hanging up on you.

[THEME MUSIC]

kara swisher

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Daphne Chen, Caitlin O’Keefe, and Wyatt Orme, with original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Sonia Herrero and Carole Sabouraud, and fact-checking by Kate Sinclair and Mary Marge Locker. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.

The senior editor of “Sway” is Nayeema Raza, and the executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Irene Noguchi.

If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to get your podcasts, so follow this one. If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” delivered to you, along with a gold sculpture of yours truly, download any podcast app, then search for “Sway,” and follow the show. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening.

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