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Funniest First Amendment Defender Returns to Town Hall

Comedian Kathy Griffin is a one-woman army for freedom of speech and push-back against homophobia, sexism, racism, ageism, and the political powers that do harm. She says, “I punch-up, speaking truth to power.” Kathy Griffin will perform at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St., Friday, August 16, at 7 and 9 p.m. For tickets ($70–$127) and information visit

by Lee Roscoe

Comedian Kathy Griffin is a one-woman army for freedom of speech and push-back against homophobia, sexism, racism, ageism, and the political powers that do harm. She says, “I punch-up, speaking truth to power.”

She’s won honors and awards for her humanitarian work, including The Trevor Life Award, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s Leadership in Entertainment honor, and the Harvard College Distinguished Service Partner Award.

She’s a best-selling author, has won two Emmys for her six-season run of reality Bravo TV cult classic My Life on the D-List, and is one of just three women to win a Grammy for best comedy album. She says, along with sexism, her business is still filled with ageism. “In this business they want to put you out to pasture when you are 40.” She is 58 and will be coming to Provincetown Town Hall this week for a one-night-only show.

“I’ve made approximately 75 million dollars over the course of my (40-year-long) career. And I’m not saying this to be an asshole…This is money I’ve earned boots on the ground. And I’m in the Guinness Book of World Records for having written, produced, and starred in more televised stand-up comedy specials than any male or female living or dead… I blew them out of the water, kid.”  (These appeared on Bravo, Comedy Central, HBO.)

The reason she likes these facts memorialized is because she wants to raise the confidence of underdogs, to show that it’s not only mainstream males who are funny and can generate revenue. 

About growing up in a Chicago suburb, she jokes, “I’m the most controversial former resident of Forest Park, Illinois.” She went to a Catholic grade school, “which doesn’t exist anymore, and I of course take credit for that as well.”  Her parents wanted her to go to Catholic high school to “become even more of a failed Catholic.” Instead she went to a 5,000 strong school in an integrated neighborhood, where she took to drama and broadened her horizons.

“I’m really grateful for the Oak Park High drama department,” she says, mentioning some of the famous actors it produced. “It goes without saying, I’m the girl that never got asked to the prom once, but when it came to the Sadie Hawkins dance, I knew that gay boy from the drama club and I said, ‘Tom, let’s just go!’ and I  don’t even know if Tom knew he was gay yet, but for some reason we stopped at first base, and I later officiated at his wedding to his lover David. I lovingly refer to myself as a gay-maker. Some scientists say it’s environmental, some say it’s genetic, but I say if you just say hi to me once and shake my hand, or touch my bra, you’re going to turn gay.”

Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Griffin

After high school, she says, “I moved out to California with my mom and dad. They wanted to move to San Diego because they wanted to golf. These were the days before the interweb, so I convinced them through trickery that there were more golf courses in L.A. When we got to LA, God bless my Depression-era mother and father—I actually got a full ride grant to the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, when Lee was still f**king alive!”

Strasberg teachers and friends like Janeane Garofalo told her she was funny.  She started doing comedy at the Groundlings, (an improv and sketch troupe like Second City) and “came up through the ranks.” She taught there, too; a who’s who of later Saturday Night Live comics, such as Will Ferrell. “I did every free student film, every Equity waiver play,” she says. Then she began doing stand-up,  putting on shows (like the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies) at bookstores and coffeehouses, at “atypical venues like theaters,” bucking the prejudice engendered because she didn’t tell jokes per se, but stories—and “had a vagina.”

Eventually, she says, “the phone started ringing” for gigs on TV: Seinfeld, ER, Ellen, then Suddenly Susan for four years “changed my life.”

But in 2017, after a photo of Griffin holding a Halloween mask of a severed head with ketchup poured over it, as a gag response to Donald Trump’s remark that Megyn Kelly (of whom Griffin is no fan) “had blood coming out of her wherever” went viral, Griffin’s career was in ruins. Trump allegedly put TMZ, a powerful TV show and entertainment blog he had ties with, on her case. TMZ asked, “Trump’s critics have skewered his speech for inciting violence. Did Kathy do the same?” The Department of Justice and FBI came after her to investigate (and possibly prosecute) her for conspiracy to assassinate the president. She lost all her upcoming comedy dates. Friends turned on her. (A few, like Rosie O’Donnell, Amy Schumer, Bill Maher, and an anonymous “Bobby from Sarasota” who called out Anderson Cooper for dumping Kathy—by writing, “Homo 101, you always support your fag-hag!”—stuck by her.)

A comic’s role is often to push the envelope. Griffin’s in good company: from the Fool in King Lear to Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, who both got busted for obscenities that now seem tame. Nixon had his enemies list, but Griffin says it’s historic for the White House to make a mission to “decimate” a comic. Self-made, she had no power behind her to make it all disappear, and she isn’t male: citing celeb guys’ verbal attacks against the president, which never caused their lives to be upturned.  

Death threats to her from Trump supporters, Nazis, and the alt-right continue.  They are gory, detailed, and frightening.

Determined to rise again, she’s organized and promoted her own events with a few helpers, booking herself on a multi-city European tour, Kathy Griffin, Laugh Your Head Off, which was wildly successful, with a stop at Oxford University, where she talked to students about the rise of authoritarianism. She then returned to perform at dozens of halls in the U.S., including Radio City Music Hall, selling out at Carnegie Hall. Not satisfied, she created an award-winning, hit docu-comedy, Kathy Griffin, a Hell of a Life.

“Its success has far exceeded expectations,” she says. Released July 31 for a single night in 700 theaters across the U.S., it is the number two requested pre-order on Apple, is available on many other platforms, and has had great “reviews like I have never gotten in my career—Variety, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter.”

Both the tours and the film tell the Trump trauma, but also rigorously defend the First Amendment, making true the saying: tragedy plus time equals comedy.

“I do my whole act—I have CVS notebooks, to this day, and this is how I started in the early 90s, I take notes, bullet points,” she says. Same for the upcoming all-new material for her popup shows (not part of the tour) at Provincetown Town Hall, which she calls, “The Carnegie Hall of Provincetown.”

She’s not saying there won’t be anything nasty about the Trumps, but she wants to get back to the “water cooler” trash talk, Cardi B’s marriage, or can the gay and lesbian community make up? She chose Carnival week because “I’m not going there unless there’s a scene.”

“I’ll be wearing a bikini and a sarong. There will be hot balls all over.  And many curse words,” she adds.

“I’m so happy to be back on stage. That’s my job. I’m grateful for my audiences. Anyone who buys a ticket is saying the government should not be violating your First Amendment rights. I love Provincetown, like my idol Joan Rivers did, because I can say anything. No one’s going to clutch their pearls and leave.”

Kathy Griffin will perform at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St., Friday, August 16, at 7 and 9 p.m. For tickets ($70–$127) and information visit

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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