Kathy Griffin Talks Donald Trump, Why Taylor Swift Is 'Important' & 'Staggering' Ageism

Kathy Griffin
Courtesy Photo

Kathy Griffin

It's time for the self-described "little Catholic girl gone bad" to take on Carnegie Hall.

Kathy Griffin will return to the famed venue Nov. 12 as part of the New York Comedy Festival, and a week prior to the show, Billboard caught up with the comedian to discuss everything from Donald Trump (obviously) to the backstage "celeb enclave" at a recent Madonna tour stop. "It’s this whole other show," Griffin explained about all the A-listers hobnobbing while waiting for Madge. "It’s Selma Hayek, and [Ashton] Kutcher and Mila [Kunis], and Fergie, and Katy Perry who then went on stage. I was right there, babe. I saw the whole thing and I had my rabbit ears on high alert!"

Besides behind-the-scenes celebrity dish, Griffin -- who happily interviews as she performs, full of gossip-y asides and mile-a-minute references -- also discussed why she's pushed herself to do 80 cities so far this year on her stand-up tour, why Hollywood is still mostly terrible for women, and why she's hoping 2016 is the year she finally gets to join Taylor Swift's squad.

It's hard to get a word in edgewise, but we didn't mind one bit.

Congratulations on the Carnegie Hall gig. I know you’ve performed there before, so is it just like a regular gig for you at this point?

You mean that I’m one of only five female comedians to ever play Carnegie Hall by herself? First of all, I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing but I don’t find it one bit intimidating because it is so much fun to go into a venue like Carnegie Hall where God only knows what’s going to be in the other hall, or what was there the night before, like the chamber choir or something. It’s the little Catholic girl gone bad in me that loves to just stand there on stage with nothing but a bottle of water and an old-time-y notebook and just see bullet points and not know what the f--k I’m going to say....

In this world of the Republican debate, which, it doesn’t matter what your party is, that shit is funny, I would love nothing more than if President-elect Donald Trump showed up with First Lady Melania. And just the thought of them being the first family I could do two hours on. Or maybe little baby South West could be crowning at that very moment  -- I’ve just decided to name Kim and Kanye’s baby South West for my own amusement, regardless of the name they choose. There is so much shit going on right now, trust me, I can barely keep track of my own material. I have fallen into a pit of comedy; I’m not a religious person but I will thank the baby Jeebah because I’ve had the most incredible celebrity run-ins lately, which, you know, my act is always based on. And who knows what is going to happen between now and the 12th.

Donald Trump is hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend!

UMM, I’m sorry, I thought he said he would never go near NBC again! Can you imagine what his negotiations are? I mean, I should try that with Anderson Cooper for New Year's. [Griffin will return as co-host of CNN's New Year's Eve coverage]. ‘I want $50,000 for hair and makeup’ which, by the way, I’m pretty sure is Anderson’s bill anyway, and I want a private jet, and I want Anderson to give me a bubble bath like I’m Mariah Carey on Cribs. I can’t believe that Donald Trump said, 'I’m never going back to NBC' and now he’s hosting SNL. I don’t know who I want to strangle more.

It’s so crazy. I feel like we’re at the point where we don’t need any exaggeration in politics for comic effect. I know you talked about the Palins so much when that was all happening, and now we are there with Donald.

Yes, but I know Donald. So that’s what I’m going to bring to Carnegie Hall. Any comic can talk about what they’ve seen about Donald. I KNOW Donald. I’ve met him several times, I’ve had several insane personal interactions with him. And, I admit, I’m hoping he sends me one of those hate tweets. For fun, I send him a tweet [each week] that says: ‘Dear whatever his handle is, you are not qualified to be president so please do what you do best and get my coffee, bitch.’ Like, the littlest things get under his skin and so even though I’m a comic he’s not going to take it in the spirit which it’s intended. He’s kind of like the Amanda Bynes of candidates. Remember when poor Amanda Bynes was sending all those tweets to people saying ‘you're ugly, you’re ugly'? He’s no different. So do I want him to be president? No, but as a comedian I’d love it.

The dream scenario is that he gets elected and then gets impeached 48 hours later and we just have two days of utter chaos and then Hillary comes in and makes it all better.

So you’re supporting Hillary?

Yes…and so there goes half my audience! That’s the world we live in. Katy Perry goes and stumps for Hillary, sings a few songs, and now half her fanbase is like threatening to walk away. And I don’t believe that. I have a very good friend who is voting for Jeb Bush if he gets there, and I’m not going to disavow her as a friend. But yes, I’m told by my team, ‘Don’t say who you’re supporting. It’ll cost you ticket sales.’ F--k that. Yeah, I’m supporting Hillary, sue me. At this stage in my career I’m less fearful than I was 20 years ago, and yeah, I’m supporting Hillary. It’s gonna be a struggle. If you think sexism is dead, wake up America. Look how hard we’ve been on the black guy. The black guy has had 8 years of straight-up racism and I think it’s going to be harder on the chick. So yeah, I want Hillary to win and I think it’s going to be an incredibly difficult presidency for her because as the first woman everyone is going to be so, so tough on her. If I knew her, and I don’t, I would say, ‘Hillary, are you sure you want this? It’s going to be rough.’ But I’m voting for Hillary, so I guess that makes me a terrorist if you watch Fox News? I don’t know.

I’m actually in a fight with my 95-year-old alcoholic mother because now she’s not sure if she wants to vote for Hillary because my mom thinks that she’s trying to recruit her to be in ISIS because my mom watches Fox News and thinks it’s real. Honestly, that’s part of my day. I have to go to my mom’s retirement village and reassure her that ISIS isn’t breaking through the door.

Besides being recruited for ISIS, how’s your mom doing these days?

SHE’S DOING FINE, ERIN. Don’t take her side. My mother is the Taylor Swift of old people. She could assassinate a puppy and people would still be like, ‘Ohh, I love Taylor Swift.' She also of course doesn’t approve of my stand-up comedy. Her actual notes for what I should do at Carnegie Hall are 'stand on stage at Carnegie Hall and only say nice things about people.' So I’ll be talking more fearlessly than ever just to piss her off.

We really are living in a crazy time in pop culture where anything can happen. And also I’m going to have my own run-ins. Like, I just saw Ryan Seacrest two weeks ago, I went to his house.

Behind enemy lines! What happened? 

I so crossed enemy lines. I’m telling you this with nothing but shame. I am admitting that my friendship with Ryan Seacrest is completely shame-based. But, he’s trying to help me with my Demi Lovato situation, which is the Lovatics want to kill me, they tweet me death threats so Ryan is trying to broker a truce between me and Demi Lovato, who is a 23-year-old global superstar. And I’m just 54-year-old Kathy Griffin with my briefcase full of dick jokes.... I just want to make people laugh. I really don’t want to die for it. I know you’re hashtag Confident but so am I! So you sing and I’ll tell the jokes and no one has to die, how about that? [Laughs] That’ s the environment I’m living in: I’m going onstage at Carnegie Hall and hoping a Lovatic won’t kill me that night.

You’ve been such a workhorse for so long. I know you said you’ve done 80 shows this past year. Do you set specific goals for yourself at this point in your career or --

Oh my gosh, yes. Because I feel like there is sexism and I can’t stand when interviewers say, ‘After two Emmys and a Grammy, you’ve kind of done it all.’ You know I haven’t! I have more energy than I ever had; I want to do a movie role, I want to do an ad campaign I want to do another series. I’ve had three series with my name in the title. I want Ryan Murphy to call me. I hear these stories where it’s like, ‘Ryan Murphy called and now I star in his show!’ I WANT THAT! I want to ink a 20 million dollar deal with HBO like Jon Stewart did today. I want to do what the boys are doing.

I’m so proud to have the record for the most stand-up comedy specials of any comedian male or female living or dead. So yes, I did my 80 shows this year. You know what Chris Rock said to me? 'You owe child support?' [laughs] He was making fun of me and said, ‘What are you trying to prove?' Well, I have a lot to still prove. And I love doing it every single night, every single show.

You’ve been speaking about feminism for so long, and I feel like the movement has really entered pop culture in a big way in the last year or two, with Beyonce and Taylor Swift and her “squad.” You’ve been so good at being able to point out concrete examples that show the difference of opportunity in Hollywood. So I’m wondering what your opinion is on how the industry has changed in the past few years for women; obviously there is so much more work to do but where have you seen signs of improvement?

I’ve seen lots of signs of improvement for, once again, young beautiful girls. Like, that’s the thing. I remember when Sex and the City was the big thing, and I had all these male executives say, ‘See? Quit your bitching. This is a show about four relatable women.’ And I’m like, ‘What the f--k are you talking about? I don’t look like Sarah Jessica Parker! No one looks like those women.’ Those are four beautiful women who model on the side. They have hair campaigns and stuff! So yes, it’s great that it is happening, but it keeps happening to one person. Like, yes, Amy Schumer is on the cover of Elle magazine, and that’s amazing, but she’s just one of us.

And now, what I deal with on a daily basis, is the ageism is f--king staggering. I love that people make jokes about my banging bikini bod, but it’s true, I sort of feel like an athlete that has to keep up in a way that the dudes don’t. When you look at the 54-year-old dude comics who are at my level, and you can decide what that means, they don’t have bangin’ bikini bods! They all have back hair and are starring in movies, umm Adam Sandler. [laughs] They are all rolling in dough. So, yes, there is progress, also by the way, I totally make fun of Taylor Swift but I am also on a personal mission to befriend her this year, but she has to let me still make fun of her. I actually do think she’s doing something important. She’s also 25 and a model. It’s different! Yes, we’re making strides, but it’s still like, yeah, if you’re 25 and gorgeous it’s good, but we’ve still got Anne Hathaway being like, ‘Well, I’m yesterday’s news!’ So the struggle continues and my fist is up in the air. 

Kathy Griffin plays Carnegie Hall Nov. 12 as part of the New York Comedy Festival. She has upcoming dates across the country on her Like A Boss tour.