Kathy Griffin says celebs need not apply for a spot on her new Bravo talk show

Kathy Griffin stars in "Kathy" on Bravo
Kathy Griffin stars in "Kathy," premiering April 19 on Bravo.

A Kathy Griffin talk show without celebrities? Sounds a bit like baking a pie and forgetting the crust, no? Well, the doyenne of the D-List — and frequent scourge of the A-List — isn’t completely shutting out famous faces from Kathy, her new Bravo gabfest that premieres April 19. Just don’t look for them sitting next to her.

Hard as this is to imagine, Griffin told me she would feel encumbered with celebrities surrounding her, actually having to worry about hurting someone’s feelings or, God forbid, listening to someone promote their latest whatever. She favors having her friends and family — people like her mom Maggie and personal assistant Tiffany Rinehart — around to discuss the frivolous topics of the day.

Channel Guide Magazine: How has it been getting the show off the ground?

Kathy Griffin: It’s fantastic. By the way, I’m actually learning all the correct verbiage. So it’s a lot of “launch,” it’s a lot of things like “ramp up.” I’m used to standing on stage and telling jokes, so I have to learn all the lingo. So when people call and say, “How’s the launch?” I have to realize they’re not talking about a space shuttle. I am having the time of my life. I’m having too much fun. I really have done everything corny, from taking our offices — which are a little ghetto, I’m going to admit it — and I’ve said to our executive producer, “Can we just redo all this and make it look like an IKEA catalog?” Sure enough, it does. By the way, I’m not a paid spokesperson for IKEA. I’m just saying when you go into the office, it’s fun and bright and cheerful.

I’ve got my mom on the show. Although you should know that my 91-year-old alcoholic mother has just called in sick for rehearsal today, so I might have to let her go. Let’s see if she makes the cut, frankly. I’ve never dealt with talent, in reference to my mother, with a hangover. She’s been hitting the box of wine. She’s going to have to straighten up and fly right and realize this is a legit studio job where you can’t just be drinking your boxed wine all night, roll into work as Charlie Sheen. So I might have to crack the whip a little bit.

CGM: So you’ve got your mom on the show. Who else from your life will be regulars? There are a lot of online videos you’ve made starring your assistant Tiffany.

KG: Oh yeah, it’s so great, because if you have the good fortune of being in my life, you’re probably going to be on my TV show whether you like it or not. Tiffany is thinner and yet bigger than ever, meaning she’s lost a lot of weight. It’s funny, because the Twitter and Facebook people are obsessed with Tiffany. They love her. She has a great laugh. She is constantly on the search for an African-American NFL player to marry and impregnate her. At the same time, she genuinely has lost a bunch of weight through old-fashioned diet and exercise. So she’s fielding a lot of health and diet tips, as well as on a constant manhunt.

I am very, very proud of the fact that I am not having celebrities on my show. I don’t feel I can do my job properly if I have to worry about a famous person sitting to my right, or offending their friend who’s going to be on the show next week, so I can’t make this joke about this celebrity because that celebrity from next week was in their baby shower. I don’t want to talk about babies because I don’t even like kids.

You know, we’re just trying to do a show here where you kind of let it rip. The audience gets to feel like this is a destination where hopefully they can count on me to say the things they’re thinking that are too horrific to come out of their own mouth. Here’s the deal, I’m going to make fun of the guy who was on Bachelor Pad with a speech impediment, and I’m willing to take the heat for it. That’s some funny shit, that there’s a guy with a speech impediment who just keeps putting himself on reality shows and professing his love. I can’t tell if it’s his accent. I went on his Twitter and he says he doesn’t want to talk about it. I love people who will then go on a reality show and say they don’t want to talk about something. We’re going deep about the important issues of the day.

CGM: I don’t know how much politics you’re planning to focus on, but it just seems like great timing that you’re premiering during an election cycle.

KG: Are you kidding? I told David Gergen that I’d be willing to sleep with him just for a segment idea. I will sleep with anyone I can that is even slightly associated with the White House, or has even seen a picture of the Oval Office. An election year is like gold for me. I will admit something that I’m ashamed of, which is there is a part of me that misses Michele Bachmann. Not as a woman or a citizen. But as a comedian, I will say she delivered like Domino’s on a pretty daily basis, a ridiculous sound bite. There is plenty going on in the political landscape that is just dreamy. I’m very open about my leanings. I’m extremely far to the left. I don’t even really have a party anymore. I don’t mean to be Glenn Beck, I’m just saying I’m farther to the left than most Democrats. Keeping that in mind, I have to say the Republicans are offering more comedy fodder than the Democrats.

CGM: Yeah, don’t know if you heard recently about Rick Santorum getting in trouble for supposedly almost calling President Obama the n word.

KG: You know what, let’s cut the crap. If we’re going to act like behind closed doors all of those right-wing nutbags don’t use the n word. If Marlo from The Real Housewives of Atlanta is using the n word to talk about her hairdresser, then trust me, Rick Santorum and his ilk are probably doing it behind closed doors. I’m still talking about the pink bowling balls, have you heard about this one?

CGM: Yes, the comment about how friends don’t let their friends use pink bowling balls.

KG: The thing that’s so great about this year, is you have to admit, we have candidates this year that I didn’t even know were still alive. I really thought Newt was gone. I thought he was just private sector — boom — gone. I’m 51, I remember every moment of the [Clinton] impeachment hearings, and him spearheading all that stuff. My memory is long, my friend, and so I will happily recall all that stuff for the younger women and gays who hopefully will be hanging on my every word every week on the Kathy show.

CGM: You recently tweeted and put on YouTube some videos about your recent uterine surgery, which sort of points to a special relationship you have with your fans. Describe that relationship and why it’s so close.

KG: My act has always been meant to be one way, which is it’s just me blurting out in a very uncensored fashion, which by the way I blame my father for. He really inadvertently raised me to say whatever I thought was funny. Even though my dad was a Hi-Fi salesman in Oak Park, Illinois, he really was comedian funny. And so I don’t know any other way.

My act has always reflected what was happening in my real life. Before I started working on television, it was crazy family stories or crazy date stories and then it morphed more into the Hollywood stuff. It does all seem to be intertwined in a way that the universe has come together for me, because I really just really think that there’s comedy in everything.

There’s certainly comedy in overexposing everything the way that all celebrities are doing now via social media, and the way regular civilian people are stars now because of reality TV, and politician have malapropism taped on somebody’s cellphone. Naturally, when I had a polyp removed from my uterus, I talked about it a lot. Look at Mariah Carey. When Tiffany said, “We have to recreate that picture of Mariah Carey in the hospital with Nick Cannon,” I said, “Hold on. Let’s get the phone. But let’s also PhotoShop it.”

CGM: Have you spent much time analyzing why the celebrity jokes play so well, or do you just kind of go with it?

KG: I’ve thought a lot about it. When I started working in television and then I started noticing the BS, and how much that celebrities seem to get away with — you know, I’m from a very normal middle-class family in Illinois — so it was so otherworldly to me to be working in an environment, whether it was a television studio or be attending an awards show, or later on if I was hosting an awards show, to see this kind of behavior that was so outrageous to me. I felt like no one was calling them on this. I can always hear my mom in my head, that’s really why she was so integral to my act and my life and my show, that voice is ever-present. I do think that’s the relatable thing. Like, I wish I was Nicole Kidman, but more people can certainly relate to me than freaking Nicole Kidman.

I think that is what the people that come to my live shows — I’ve been doing this for so many years, and it’s still kind of my favorite thing to do — and the overwhelming thing I hear from them is, “You’re saying the thing I was thinking” or “I feel like I’m in your living room. I don’t feel like I’m at a formal show.” That’s the feeling I like when I’m watching a comedian, I want to feel like I don’t know what’s going to come out of their mouth, and I want to feel like I’m kind of with them.

CGM: Well, you’ll be happy to know then that Nicole Kidman is on our cover this month, so you’ll be in the same magazine with her at least.

KG: You could not be more naturally gifted than Nicole Kidman. Genetically blessed is an understatement. It’s fascinating to me that she would get the lip plumpers or whatever it is she did. But basically she changed her face more in real life than she did in The Hours. Something like that I’m just fascinated by, because I was like, OK, I know why I would get a little face work, but I don’t know what the hell Nicole Kidman is getting it done for. She’s already perfect. So we’ll be chronicling anything I think is BS, and then of course the audience will continue to tell me if they think I’m full of BS. It’s a nice healthy dysfunctional relationship.

CGM: So you’re back on Bravo with this show. What’s changed from your D-List days?

KG: My office is not the nicest one in the building, but the neighborhood — it’s called East Hollywood — and we call it colorful. We actually filmed a little tour of the new neighborhood with my mom yesterday, and she may have food poisoning from the diner we stopped at. We did actually pass a Dumpster that had graffiti of the word “semen” on it. But other than that it’s a lovely neighborhood. And we’re next to iCarly. So I feel the cloak of safety that being near the iCarly staff brings me. But as far as Bravo goes, I did four hour-long specials on Bravo last year alone, so when I stopped doing The D-List, they’re like, “Wait, wait. What else can we do?”

I will say it was the head of Bravo’s idea quite a long time ago, Lauren Zalaznick, after about Season 3 of The D-List, she said, “You know, I’d really like you to move into more of a talk show.” I said, “I had more D-List left in me.” And I really did, I got to do stuff on that show like go to Iraq, and perform in a maximum-security prison on Death Row, all these crazy things. When we finally definitely ran that one out, I did all those specials. Let me tell you something, four specials in a year is no f@#$ing joke. That’s just an insane amount of material. Prior to that I had done two in one year. This year I’m still doing two specials even though I’m doing my weekly talk show.

Let me just go on record and say no comedian in history, male or female, has ever done four hour-long specials in one year. So, I’ve got the fever, I’ve got the bug, but I feel like I never left Bravo. As far as what’s changed, it’s obvious. When I started at Bravo it was, you know, my show, Queer Eye and Project Runway. Now, I’m going to go to the promo shoot next week, and let’s face it, I’m afraid that someone will throw a table at my head. I don’t think it will be Bethenny, but who knows? It could be NeNe, I’m afraid Lisa Vanderpump will throw one of her shoes at me, leave some glitter and a laceration could be on my face. This time it wouldn’t be plastic surgery. So yeah, the whole landscape of the world freakin’ changed, and fast.

CGM: So it’s kind of nice then that not only is Bravo giving you a show, but they’re giving you plenty of material.

KG: Yes, and what’s really cool is that they have actually said, “You don’t have to be a commercial for Bravo. You don’t have to have the Housewives on your show. We’re certainly not going to stop you from talking about other shows on other channels.” When I met with them, I said, “You’ve got Watch What Happens Live, and that’s a great show where you get to see these crazy chicks and catch their antics.”

They said a really smart thing, that they realize that people who watch Bravo absolutely watch everything else. They’re not people who only watch Bravo and then they don’t watch any other TV. They’re people that are online, and they’re people that like to dish things and rehash things and they want a destination to have somebody maybe do the wrap-up for them. So I always like to say, in addition to being truly out and about in a way that I’m not sure who else is, because I’m still like going to these award shows and crazy Hollywood events and certainly doing lots of charity events. I’m in the mix. That’s key. I’m your living DVR, on one hand, and I’m out among the crazies also.

CGM: It sounds like then the idea of a talk show has been on your radar for a while, so how is the reality of getting into it now that it’s actually here?

KG: It’s so fun because so far they’re letting me do what I want. I think they’re wise in knowing that I can only do what I do. I can’t be the type of host that is so kind and gentle to their guest that the audience will after the interview will say, “I don’t know what that seven minutes was all about.” I have nothing against somebody like Jennifer Aniston, but what the f@#$ am I going to say to Jennifer Aniston? She’s friends with everybody, I can’t make fun of any celebrities, she’s not going to want to get political, she’s not going to roll her sleeves up and make fun of this politician or that politician.

Those kind of careful conversations that are on most talk shows, they don’t apply to me, even if I tried. We’re going to have a panel of civilians. I really like, and need to have, people around me that don’t have anything to lose. Like the audience, watching at home and screaming at the TV — which is what I do whether I’m watching Rick Santorum or any celebrity talking about how their relationship is going to last forever, any of that stuff — that’s kind of the feel we’re going for.

We certainly have classic elements. We’re doing a field piece a week, which is really fun, and obviously that’s in my wheelhouse. As of now I’m planning on starting with standup. I told Bravo, “Look, sometimes I’m going to start with a long standup, if it’s been that kind of a week, and sometimes I’m going to say hi and get right to the panel.” It’s really nice. I’m keeping as fluid as possible, because I’ve got to get my sea legs. I’ve got to learn what I do well, and what the audience likes. They’re the final board of directors.

CGM: Given the kind of humor you do, are you ever leery a celebrity might reach out to you and want to be sort of in on the joke? That maybe they’re just looking for a way to get let off the hook?

KG: That’s sort of why in a way Bill Maher and Howard Stern are my inspirations, because I love watching people that get in trouble and go too far, in general. And I think the genius of Howard is you fell in love with the real people that are around him. I love that whole crowd, Robin, Baba Booey and Fred, and then the celebrities came. As a listener of Howard, I thought it was so cool the first time Alec Baldwin went on, and the first time Jerry Seinfeld went on, because you know that when they go on Howard, those celebrities go on to play. I know that. You go on Howard, it’s all about full disclosure. I go on Bill Maher, I really have to know my shit, and do my homework and have my ducks in a row.

So what I’ve been telling the network to try to placate them is it’s not that I don’t like celebrities, it’s not that I don’t have a few celebrity friends, it’s that it’s very important that we establish what we’re about — and the ones that are really willing to play — I think they’re going to have to see the show, and they’re more than welcome. Frankly, it’s my nightmare to be sitting across from Scarlett Johansson and have her give me one-word answers, or say, “You can’t make a joke about that person! I co-starred in a movie with them, they’re like family!”

We’ll see how it goes. I find real people fascinating, I like bringing real people to television, the way I did with my mom. My mom is very natural on the camera, she’s herself. Honestly, at this point, I’m more interested in people like that, and I like the idea of the viewer getting to know these people. Let’s face it, that’s what the Housewives and Top Chef, that’s kind of what Bravo does. They don’t have stars. They take real people and you get to know them.