The D-Listers Guide to Reality-Show Happiness
Photos by Virginia Sherwood
As an aficionado of and occasional participant in reality TV, comedian Kathy Griffin has energetically dissected the genres giddy highs and guilty-pleasure lows in her take-no-prisoners act. But with Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, shes taken the shadowing-camera trail forged by the Osbournes, Anna Nicole Smith, Nick and Jessica, Farrah Fawcett and Bobby Brown and given viewers a peek into some perhaps unknown corners: the working-stiff grind of a comics life, her Spencer-and-Tracy-like marriage, how exactly she gets into impolitic scrapes, and her Herculean efforts at self-promotion. Some of the tiny details of her life were even new to me. Full disclosure: Im friends with Griffin, which is why I wont be reviewing her show, so instead I thought Id check in and get her thoughts on the experience. And if youre Omarosa from The Apprentice, I wouldnt read on. L.A. WEEKLY: What have you learned about how reality TV is made from having your own life recorded for a Bravo show?
KATHY GRIFFIN: First of all, Ive learned that people who say that they were edited a certain way are full of shit. Omarosa really is an asshole, and you can never forget the cameras are there. Those people who say, Oh my god, I forgot the cameras were there, thats not true. I basically couldnt pass gas for five months. So thats one thing thats difficult. Would you say youre offering a somewhat self-conscious version of yourself?
Yes, and heres the thing: Im pretty on. Im on to a fault, and [for this] you have to be on so much more than even I want to be, which is a lot. For example, lets say Id worked all day, and I come home and [my husband] Matt and I just want to sit on the couch, and he wants to read the Atlantic Monthly, and I just want to put my head in his lap. You cant do that on a reality show, because the camera guys like, Um, so! Hows your day going? And youre thinking, My day is going like this: I want to go to sleep.
Any other weird fine points we wouldnt think about?
You cant have TV or music, cause they cant clear [the rights for] anything. And thats all I want to do. My TV watching had to go from 14 hours a day to only seven. That did not work for me. And also, the Backstreet Boys have a new CD. So thats bullshit that I cant even play Incomplete in the car without the sound guy telling me to turn it off. Dont tell me its not harsh. Were you ever worried about how humiliating your D-list experiences would get? Everything was humiliating. I cant tell you how many things I regret saying. About every third day I was like, Oh my god, thats a career ruiner. Its not unlike my act. Im a bridge burner. Im now down to one rickety bridge with bad planks. I cant help myself. Those first three days I was trying really hard to be sweet. How hard can it be? But three days was my ceiling, and then the mask was off. It was like dating someone. That first day you have your makeup on, youre holding your stomach in, and then once youve been going out with a person for a while, youve got your bobby pin in your hair, you look kind of greasy and you havent showered for a while, and its their fault.
Were any events manufactured for the cameras?
Look, this show is absolutely real. I could have restricted areas of the house and all that, but I am too much a fan of reality to do a staged show. I definitely felt there were moments in Farrah Fawcetts show where the producers thought, Shes kind of boring, and it seems like shes on drugs all the time. Lets have her go see a psychic. I dont ever go see a psychic. Bottom line. Im pretty sure Farrah doesnt either. Or the Gastineau girls. That to me is the watermark of a bad reality show: when they go see a psychic. Are you hoping to change anybodys mind about you with this show?
I dont know about that, but I can tell you that there are things people dont know about. I was on a plane recently talking to Vince Vaughn, and I was telling him about bombing really bad at this corporate gig, and he said, God, I cant imagine you bombing. Every time I see you on TV, its one of your specials. And I said, Yeah, thats because its people who are coming to see me, but in real life, one out of three times I bomb, and its usually horrible, especially at corporate gigs. And he goes, You should have a camera crew come along sometime, because I dont think anybody knows that world even exists. And sure enough, in Episode 1, theres me bombing hideously at a charity event. Something like that is cringe-y, but its also funny, and I do think that if maybe you think Im a little harsh on people, then youre going to think of that moment maybe and go, But she had that horrible bombing experience at the Beverly Hilton, and I was very uncomfortable for her. Were you concerned at all when you heard your fellow Groundlings graduate Lisa Kudrow was going to play a sitcom star with her own reality-TV camera crew for HBOs The Comeback?
Absolutely. I heard through the grapevine, Lisa is doing a show that is to some degree based on you, shes wearing a red wig, she was on a really bad middle-of-the-road sitcom, and now shes doing a reality show with her husband. And I was like, Well, thats . . . me. [Laughs] And shes got elements of being pathetic, and I have those. But I thought, well, its a scripted show. So even if they started somewhat influenced by me, or maybe an amalgamation of me and two other people, I thought, once they get into writing it, theyre going to change stuff. And that seems to be what happened. So you werent nervous?
I was most worried about them having their big HBO budget. Im opening my Vanity Fair, and theres Lisa with her full-page ad, theres billboards on Sunset and a great campaign, the cover of the Calendar section, and Im doing a podcast. That is life on the D-list. Are you Kudrows character Valerie Cherish at all? She isnt me, because I really enjoy all those D-list moments, and Im having a blast, and I actually have an awesome, fun life. I have a great job. What I love about the D-list is its a little bit of the fame without the horrible trappings of fame. Whereas it seems Valerie Cherish hates it, doesnt like her life. Also, Valerie gets shit on every minute of every day. I get shit on every so often, but I fight back, or deal with it in my act. So I cant figure out that part about The Comeback. Im not sure why Valerie gets shit on. She seems like a nice person. Maybe when youre an actress you want to be taken more seriously, and I really dont want to be taken seriously. I hear you recently hosted a reality-show all-star reunion special for Bravo. Im curious: Were five years into this genres boom, but in looking into the throng of reality alumni did you ever think, Yes, youre a genuine celebrity. No. And there were something like 54 of them. I mean, it wasnt like Kelly Clarkson was there. Shes someone who became a genuine celebrity. But Richard Hatch? I love him, but no. There was no one where I thought, Okay, youve figured it out, and parlayed this into something. What theyve all parlayed it into is personal appearances for $100 and talking about all the offers theyre passing up. And they all want to host on VH-1. Thats the one thing I found more than anything. Were you beloved at the gathering?
Trishelle [from The Real World: Las Vegas] walked off the taping 30 seconds in, because I might have made a little bit of a joke about her leaving stains on my carpet. And Omarosa walked off at one point. The best part is she was in the wings saying to one of the producers, I dont need to be here. Im hosting now! Im a host! And I thought, Perhaps of a virus. Maybe theres an E-list or F-list for reality-show folk? Look, I like to think that the buck stops at D. If youre going to Z, then what? Double-A? But I will say that maybe even more than actors, [reality show celebrities] are often delusional about being A-listers. A lot of the reality people I met were fun and had a sense of humor about it, but half of them really thought they had arrived. One of them was talking about how hard it is to be really famous, and yet no ones paying for their security. Well you know, look, there were three days when Darva Conger probably really needed security, but I dont know if Coral from The Real World really needs it to go to Mayfair. I think shes going to be okay. KATHY GRIFFIN: MY LIFE ON THE D-LIST | Bravo | Wednesdays at 10 p.m., premiering August 3
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.