Much of Griffin’s public persona seems, at first glance, contradictory. She mocks celebrity, yet she strives to be famous. She ridicules shamelessness, yet she is shameless. She belittles Hollywood’s obsession with plastic surgery, yet has had enough work done herself—which she’s proudly and publicly admitted—to put her somewhere between Teri Hatcher and Orlan, the self-sculpting performance artist. And, significantly, although she’ll scratch and claw at Clay Aiken and Oprah and Celine Dion, she admits to loving them all. “One thing that bums me out is when celebrities don’t get that part of it,” she says. “I can understand that if you read something I say, and you’re Celine Dion, you might be kind of pissed. But I just went to see Celine Dion’s show in Vegas a month ago. Again!”
It’s not surprising that Griffin has a large gay following, since gay culture essentially invented the idea of simultaneously mocking something (Liza!) while earnestly adoring it (Liza!). These entwined strands of derision and affection make up Griffin’s comic DNA. Riffing in her stand-up act, she’s the personification of the celebrity-directed snark that fuels a thousand Websites, on which fans dissect and deride the most obscure citizens of the celebri-sphere, sounding both dismissively superior and hopelessly smitten. Then again, in order to dish, as Griffin does in her show, that Clay Aiken is so obviously a homo, or Oprah so totally has a God complex, or Brad and Angelina are so totally and obviously doing it, you have to spend quite a lot of time thinking about, and caring about, Clay Aiken, Oprah, or Brangelina. Whatever drives that obsessiveness, it’s certainly not hatred.
“I’ve found that life is just high school,” Griffin says. “And I read this criticism of me somewhere that went ‘When Kathy Griffin rants, she sounds like the kid who was picked on in high school and now she’s mad at the cheerleaders.’ Of course! I am! Most of us were! Because there weren’t that many cheerleaders.” Here she doesn’t sound quite so snarky and her contradictions don’t seem quite so contradictory. For if every high-school cafeteria needs a popular clique, with its attendant posse of starstruck wannabes, there’s also got to be a wisecracking girl in the corner, camped out at the misfits’ table. She cracks up her friends by mocking the stupid cool kids, even as she can’t bring herself to look away.