Kathy Griffin paints herself as a Broadway innocent during her one-woman show Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony, but she can’t help but prove her theatrical bona fides with a joke in her Playbill bio. Buried among fictional Broadway credits, Griffin lists Dead Whore in Neil LaBute’s I Hate You But I Won’t Say It Till It Can Do The Most Damage. Of course, that incisive, succinct takedown of LaBute’s entire oeuvre is small potatoes compared to what comes out of Griffin’s mouth over the next two hours.
On stage with a clock, some water and a microphone, Griffin acts surprised that people are hesitant to take her photo. “Go ahead and take my picture,” she said with some surprise. “I don’t give a shit. Is that bad?” Of course, the audience eats it up, after so many celebrity meltdowns over errant cell phone rings. Griffin then proceeded to stagger from topic to topic with no clear path. But her ramblings are funny enough to excuse the tangents within tangents, as she eviscerates everyone from Charlie Sheen to Elisabeth Hasselbeck to Whitney Houston (did you know that Griffin does a stellar Whitney impression?). But the best parts of Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony come when the comedian, who’s always so cheerful as she twists her knife, drops her guard and goes dark.
“Andy Dick is living in a box in the alley behind The Abbey,” she told the crowd on opening night. There was an expectant pause, then she added, “Sorry, not every story has a happy ending.” And her description of her heart as one of the personalities in Sybil, limping down the street in one shoe and boxing with God after fucking the wrong guy all night, is comedy at its darkest.
Griffin always pulls herself up short when she gets too confessional, though, re-aiming her focus on the people who most deserve her scorn. It’s no surprise that Sarah Palin (who called Griffin an “adult bully” recently) comes in for a great deal of bashing, especially after her statement last week that the celebrities being paid to portray her might want to pay for her children’s braces. “She made $12 million last year,” Griffin snorts. “What people don’t realize is that braces actually cost $13 million.”
What endears Griffin to her fans is that, unlike Joan Rivers, say, we never feel as if Griffin will turn her acid tongue on us. She’s in the world of L.A. fame, but not part of it, so she can sit back and take notes and then regale us with every misstep and mistake that she bears witness to. She’s not saying anything about Palin or Sheen that their detractors aren’t thinking, but her platform allows her the chance to actually get her jokes to their attention. And that scratches a deep-rooted itch in all of us, appalled at the way celebrities are excused for their ridiculousness but unable to do anything about it except mock them to our friends. Griffin, though, has an entire Broadway audience captive to spread her word, and we eat up every last crumb she spills.
Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony, through March 19, Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St. (betw. 6th & 7th Aves.), 212-239-6200; $61.50–$121.50.
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