Kathy Griffin: Polarizing Queers Everywhere

by: Thomas Borg

Kathy Griffin. Let’s be honest: her name either makes you jump up and down and squeal with glee as you go on and on and on about how much you love her, or just thinking about her makes your stomach churn a little bit as you remember how she’s not quite your taste in comedy.

Griffin has become one of the biggest hits or misses of this generation. Her massive fan base is almost completely dominated by females and the queer community — or, as she likes to call us, “her gays.” Now, I have to admit ahead of time that I am biased in this discussion – I have developed quite a liking for Kathy and her crude, sometimes inappropriate comedy. But I am making my best effort to objectively lay out not only what makes her so appealing to the queer community, but also the elements of her comedy and personality that make some of “her gays” have that uncomfortable feeling that they get when she goes just a little too far.

Let’s start with one of the basic concepts that begin to explain how Kathy attained her level of adoration among her gays.

Gay/queer men, speaking in general terms, LOVE women. We love to talk to them, we love to listen to them, we love to go out and do things with them, and we love to shop with them. Because of this sort of mutualistic relationship, some men in the queer community identify with women and their respective problems and lives more than they identify with straight men. In this way, Kathy already has a hold on most of her fan base for the sole reason that she has a vagina (which looked probably quite fabulous after her vajazzling and public pap smear, I might add).

Also, her ability to work everyday “first-world problems” with just a subtle touch of feminine and flamboyant flair into her comedy makes the gay boys go gaga and, in some extreme cases, into a straight up Griffin-induced frenzy. Seriously. If you start speaking about her to one of her more “dedicated” fans, you may end up hearing a never-ending recount of every joke they’ve ever heard from Mama Griffin that made them ugly laugh. And let’s face it: being talked at instead of talked to is never a fun situation to be in. But her most zealous gays will make you wish that you could turn off your ability to hear at will.

So you might be still asking, “What is it that is so great about this red-headed middle-aged foul-mouthed weirdo?” And that is a completely understandable reaction to Kathy’s brand of comedy. To some, she comes off uneducated and unrefined. To be fair, she definitely can get pretty dirty, even going as far as giving a play-by-play of Kim Kardashian’s famous sex tape in one of her routines.

Some see her as unfit to represent the gay community and scoff when she makes an appearance as Grand Master at a pride parade or any queer-oriented event. To many queer folks, Kathy Griffin capitalizes and profits off of their lifestyle.  Fans of her Bravo TV show “My Life on the D-List” know that she and her assistants, collectively known as “Team Griffin,” often go out in public and simply try to sell tickets in a cold-sell fashion to her shows to anyone who even appears to be the slightest bit queer.  With her never-ending barrage of gay guest stars on the Bravo show and copious amounts of material in her comedy routines that is aimed directly at the queer audience, she knows that she sells to the gays exceptionally well and, frankly, she is not afraid to use that to her advantage.

But is it fair to target the queer community as a market for ticket sales, or really for the sale of anything? In a world as progressive as the one we live in, where homophobia is no longer the norm but is instead stigmatized by almost everyone, Kathy is pushing the limits with her public appeal to the queer community.

However, it highlights a subtle, yet important issue. When one hears Kathy call out “her gays,” one has to wonder whether she tries to collect a following from strictly gay men or the entire queer community. Throughout her shows, she has only very rarely reached farther than gay men into the gay community. Notable exceptions include when Kathy went to a well-known lesbian personal trainer, Jackie Warner, in preparation for Rosie O’Donnell’s lesbian family cruise.

Other than this singular instance, though, Kathy tends to have exclusively gay men featured in her productions. Is this blindness to the rest of the queer community by choice or by ignorance? It seems as if, though Griffin is helping the queer community by putting “her gays” in the spotlight, she is making us take one step back as she leaves out the rest of the queer community and applies a one-dimensional blanket term to the people of whom she claims she is a fierce supporter.

Altogether, Kathy Griffin is a wildly successful comedian that you either love with your entire heart or hate with the intensity of a million burning suns. But you have to give her some credit; any person who can evoke that much emotion from anyone is doing something worth talking about. If you have never really heard of her or heard of her but you have not seen any of her material, you should definitely either check out Bravo’s “My Life on the D-List” or any of her numerous stand up specials.  Or you can just go see her when she comes to Chicago in January 2012.  At the time of writing, at least one of her shows still has tickets available.

You might find your new redheaded BFF. Or maybe you will find a new object to focus all your negative energy on. Either way, Kathy Griffin is a part of pop and queer culture that no one should ignore, whether you are worshiping her as “Queen of the Gays” or making fun of her Midwestern accent and ridiculous hairstyles.

Thomas Borg is a student at Illinois Institute of Technology. He’s majoring in Humanities with a specialization in Literature and has a minor in Architecture. He is openly gay and would love to chat with you about it. He directs the Crown Joules, IIT’s all-male a cappella extravaganza and takes passion in writing, editing and singing. Check him out on Twitter @OhHeyTom or follow his Tumblr (ohheytom.tumblr.com) to take a peek into his life.

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2 responses to “Kathy Griffin: Polarizing Queers Everywhere

  1. I’d be surprised if many queer women like Kathy Griffin. Personally, I find her to be a rather loutish and grating example of straight/white/female. I tried watching one of her comedy specials once, and I lasted about fifteen minutes before changing the channel. She seemed awfully obsessed by the phenomenon of celebrity, which I find deadly boring.

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