The show that launched Kathy Griffin into a brighter wattage of fame (and notoriety) was “My Life on the D-List,” an Emmy-winning reality TV series on the Bravo network that lasted for six seasons before it was canceled in November 2010.
Saturday night, Griffin brought her one-woman standup show to the Music Hall in Kansas City, drawing about 1,800 loud and rowdy fans. Some of them paid $90 or more for a good seat — empirical proof that, for now, at least, she resides somewhere among the A-List stars who are the brunt of most of her material.
Saturday’s two-hour show was Griffin’s third in Kansas City in a little more than three years; her previous two were at Starlight Theatre, the first of which drew more than 5,000 people. Like that show, this one focused primarily on our celebrity culture, especially those who populate the incipient world of “TMZ” and reality TV: the Kardashians, all the “Housewives” shows; and The Learning Channel’s various series that showcase America’s many odd and obsessive lifestyles and cultures.
Dressed in all black, including a T-shirt with “Tired Hooker” in spangled letters across her chest, she opened with some local and regional material. She first addressed the protests outside the theater by members of a Topeka church — “It’s not exactly the March on Washington,” she said. “It’s so awful, you have to laugh.”
She then read the group’s description of her on the church’s website: She is an advocate for gays and lesbians; she “promotes sodomy at every turn”; she “worships” the U.S. military; and she was in Kansas City to spread “her filth” and the “pleasures of sin,” most of which was true, she said. “If you came here expecting to hear the symphony, you’re in for a surprise” she said.
Griffin was in Columbia on Friday for a show at the University of Missouri, so she drove to Columbia and back to Kansas City that night. She wrung some material out of that drive, including bits about her meal at the Cracker Barrel in Independence and the many billboards along the way, which stick to three basic themes, she said, “fireworks, porn and Jesus.” She also riffed on a large homemade sign she spotted off the highway: “horse poop for garden,” which would become a catchphrase for the evening.
Griffin has a manic style that is accelerated by her fits of short attention span. She started several stories, interrupted herself to start another and then remind herself to tell yet another, only to return circuitously to her original story. But most of her set was free-form with plenty of improv thrown in. There were also plenty of asides and stories about her 92-year-old mother, Maggie Griffin, an Irish-Catholic with a hard Chicago accent and a love for boxed wine.
Now an insider among the celebrities she skewers, she told some out-of-school stories of luncheons with the Kardashians and her friendship with Cher. She also spilled some beans on the TV talk show “The View.” To sound more informed, she confided, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck gets a briefing each morning based on Fox News’ headlines; and Barbara Walters can turn from a peach to a piranha in a heartbeat.
There’s a resonant irony to her act, which portrays many famous people as wealthy, spoiled and beset by trivial First World problems that elicit bad behavior and torpedo their sense of superiority. “Trivial” is the key word; it’s the basis of Griffin’s act.
She earnestly thanked her fans for their support and for spending money in this economy. She did a bit on Gov. Rick Perry and his recent gays-in-the-military commercial, but otherwise stayed away from politics, the economy and the other, larger protests going on in the world, focusing instead on people who are famous for things like their sex tapes and 72-day marriages. In a world beset by so much dread and so many deep, formidable problems, her act can feel as trivial as the world she mocks. But in a time when entertainment and news worlds are so often inextricably linked, there’s nothing wrong with someone on the inside poking holes in some of the illusions and exposing some of the delusions. And don’t we all need some escape now and then?