Tonight, Bravo is airing the season finale of “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List.” A year ago I wouldn’t have cared, but a few chance encounters with Griffin’s televised comedy shows have changed my opinion on the woman I once knew as the irritating redhead on that Brooke Shields show.
Not that I think Vicky from “Suddenly Susan” is funny now. I don’t. She and the rest of the show sucked. But I think that the role did Griffin a disservice. Instead of being allowed to practice her own brand of comedy — which is funny, it turns out — the show mashed her into a spunky best friend role that I’m surprised anybody thought would be a good idea. Furthermore, naming the character “Vicky” only made it easier for viewers to confuse Griffin with “Newsradio” actress Vicki Lewis. “Suddenly Susan” distanced Griffin from roles that would have given her a shot at being cool — like ones in “Pulp Fiction” and “Four Rooms.” Go watch them again. She’s there, pre-plastic surgery.
Even in spite of “Suddenly Susan,” TV work offered Griffin some good roles. For example, there’s a stand-alone episode of the “X-Files” in which she plays Betty Templeton and Lulu Pfeiffer, two women who look identical and both claim that the other is their stalker. Griffin also appeared on “Seinfeld” before anybody knew who she was. She played Sally Weaver, a friend of Susan’s — different Susan — and the FedEx heiress who first infuriated Jerry then returned to the show when Jerry found out that Sally had begun doing stand-up soley based on their earlier interaction. The plot of the second Sally Weaver appearance mirrored Griffin’s own comedy routines, in which she mocked Jerry Seinfeld. The whole thing altogether — the original appearance, the fall-out with Seinfeld, the re-appearance lampooning the fall-out — is kind of interesting, in an art-imitating-life-imitating-art sort of way.
I had to sit through one of her shows on Comedy Central, however, to realize that she’s actually a talent. I can’t think of another comedian who could pull off her delivery, because it’s not so much a string of one-liners as an intimate-seeming storytelling session in which she talks mad shit about the people she’s met. She’s famous, sure, but not so much that she’s part of that Hollywood clique and can’t discuss how batshit crazy many of them are. You can almost forget that you’re watching a performance and think that Kathy Griffin — your friend who lives in L.A. Kathy Griffin — is sitting across from you at lunch, telling you all these secrets about famous people. It’s a huge part of her appeal, and the fact that she does it in a funny, entertaining manner helps her all the more. I honestly think that anybody with a clue of who’s who on the apparently alphabetized levels of celebrity would laugh if they got over their preconceptions of who this woman is. That, and she does this kickass routine on Cirque du Soileil.
But like I said before, she is kind of famous. I mean, she has a reality show. You haven’t met her, most likely, but you’d recognize her if you ran over her in your car. And though I like her reality show — mostly because it lets us see what the life of a non-famous famous person might be like — the woes of her personal life are spoiling the fun. For example, last night I watched the previous episode. It involves Kathy eating lunch with Caroline Rhea and Rachel True and then dressing up like a giant rat in order to trick her dog into behaving. That's funny.
It also, however, had some scenes in which she discussed her finances. She referred to her assistant and her husband as the core of her financial team. And later, she even tells an L.A. learning annex class that anybody who wants to pursue a career in show business has to learn to manage their money. At the same time, you can easily pull up news items about Kathy Griffin — both in trashy gossip rags and in legitimate publications — that detail how she finalized a divorce from her husband, Matthew Moline, after he bilked $72,000 from her. So watching her talk about the money situation pre-thieving husband makes for that kind of cringing awful. If English class taught me anything, it’s dramatic irony, like in Julius Caesar, when the audience knows Caesar is walking to his death but he is blissfully unaware of what awaits him around the corner.
Yes, I just compared Kathy Griffin and Julius Caesar, and I defend it. From a selfish standpoint, that kind of irony makes me uncomfortable. More importantly, I just end up feeling bad for this woman — or, you know, that Roman dictator. Kathy Griffin probably got a reality show to reconcile the public’s perception of her as an irritating person with the fact that she’s a human being. And for me, it worked. But now, if I watch her show, I’m just going to feel bad for this person who I just got around to liking and who has to publicly endure an embarrassing and altogether shitty situation.
It's like I just found this kicky new friend and was all excited to hang out with her. Then the doctors found a hole in her liver or something. And that sucks, for her and me. Of course, she’ll probably talk mad shit about the ex-husband now, too. And that will be pretty funny.