She may be a household name, but Kathy Griffin has never forgotten her modest roots in Illinois. In fact, as the two-time Emmy-winning comedian and actress shows us around her lavish home in the celebrity enclave of Bel-Air, Calif., she’s the first to recognize its grandeur.
“I mean, nine bedrooms and 11 bathrooms. Come on. Next door to the Kardashians! It doesn’t get more ridiculous.”
With infectious energy and a ready smile, the star is a warm host, pointing out highlights – the formal dining room where she holds get-togethers and insists on a no-cellphone policy; the elevator; the guest book open to an entry from, yep, Kim Kardashian West! Meanwhile, her partner, Randy Bick, introduces us to their pets.
“That’s Olivia,” Randy says of the bigger dog, who’s come to say hello, “and Elliott.” The pups are named after the leads of Law & Order: SVU , on which Kathy appeared in 2010. Amiable and mild-mannered, Randy is Kathy’s tour manager, too – looking out for her best interest on the road, and here a home as we set up for our exclusive photo shoot. In a way, the pair balance each other – her exuberant energy compslemented by his easygoing nature.
Now 59, Kathy is enjoying the spoils of the hard work she put in to make the proverbial showbiz dream come true: She moved to L.A. in her late teens, studied her craft and locked down roles where she could.
“I have never been precious about a way I can make people laugh,” she says. “I really did just take every single gig and tried to make the most out of it.”
Fans will remember her stint on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air , two on Seinfeld. But it was the late 1990s sitcom Suddenly Susan , which cast Kathy as leading lady Brooke Shields’s office pal, that elevated her.
“That’s really the gig that changed my life,” says Kathy. That and Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, which wrapped in 2010. Earning her those two Emmys, the series gave us a glimpse of the real Kathy (well, amplified Kathy), her circle of friends, husband (now her ex), mom and dad, and her always-comical ambition to climb the ladder in Hollywood.
Mission accomplished! Three years ago, she moved into this spacious light-filled home, which backs on to a sprawling yard, infinity pool and serene canyon beyond.
This picture of domestic bliss conceals the hardships Kathy has known of late. She lost her older sister Joyce to cancer; her mom, Maggie, is living with dementia; and for the past two years, Kathy has been climbing back from the fallout resulting from an infamous photo she posted on social media two years ago, of herself pretending to hold up the disembodied head of U.S. President Donald Trump.
“It was a mask with ketchup,” the star has reminded critics, but she issued a public apology. This didn’t stem the backlash, consisting not just of hate mail, death threats and cancellation of her shows, but also, she maintains, a federal investigation. It could have ruined her. Instead, it encouraged a comeback: if she couldn’t book gigs at home, she would do so abroad.
Such was the appetite for Kathy’s uncensored take on the controversy (and for more of her signature pop-culture insights) that it fuelled a hit 2017 tour overseas, another in North America in 2018 and, this year, the film Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story – which documents the whole thing, complete with raw, emotional behind-the-scenes moments and laugh-out-loud performance footage.
She’s proud she fought back.
“I am the first person in history that this particular thing has ever happened to,” she says. “So that’s one of the reasons I made the film – you know, hopefully, it’s funny, but it really does have historic value. But don’t worry, it’s got Kardashian jokes, too.”
When we sit down with the star, she is in her element, still basking in the joy of her recent successes and ready to share stories and, naturally, a few laughs.
HELLO! Canada: Thank you for welcoming us into your home, Kathy. It’s beautiful. Can you tell us what made you fall for it?
Kathy Griffin: I started looking and looking, and I didn’t think I would be a gated-community girl, but this is just the one that checked off every box. I knew I wanted to remodel [a place], but not from the ground up. More important, I just wanted a place that represented a little more sort of sanctuary and quiet. Because even then my life was pretty busy.
What’s your favourite area in the house?
I call it the chamber. It’s really the master bedroom, then it has a sitting room, the parlour. And then the bathroom and the walk-in closet because one I close that one door, it’s like having an apartment inside my house. There are often times when I’m in bed watching my news, the door’s open and Randy’s right there in the sitting room watching sports. Or we sit in bed together and watch silly shows. It feels like a sanctuary. And the view is beautiful.
It seems like an oasis.
That’s what I wanted. I didn’t used to be like this. I was like, “I don’t care about any of that stuff, whatever. If I’m surrounded by a bunch of people, no problem.” And then it became more important for me.
Tell us a bit about Randy. You’ve been together for a while now.
Yes, we’ve been together for eight years. The first year, he worked at the L.A. Times. He was in marketing… After about a year, it was like a long-distance relationship [because I was touring]. So, Suze Orman, the financial guru, said to me, “Girlfriend, you’re never going to see him. He’s got a master’s degree – why don’t you make him your tour manager, and you can be together! Unless he can’t do the job.” I’m like, “OK, the last line’s the most important thing.” So Suze, in my house, sat him down – I was not allowed to be in the room – and interviewed him for the job. And she was tough! So it actually works. Seven years now he’s been my tour manager, my marketing manager. Don’t judge! And it just works for us. He’s 19 years younger. It’s definitely a little bit of a change from the L.A. Times. Randy’s always been great and he’s very good at his job.
Why do you think your relationship works?
It’s a little bit of the classic tale of opposites attract. Obviously, I’m extremely extroverted and don’t have a filter, and he is extremely introverted, to the point where sometimes he feels kind of self-conscious about it. And I was like, “Well, you’re in luck. You’ll never get in a word edgewise with me!” No, I did make him one promise when we started dating: “There’s only one promise I can stick to besides being faithful – you’ll never be bored.” I said, “I’m not saying there’s not going to be problems, but you won’t be bored.”
You split for a short while and publicly announced the breakup…
We did break up for four months. I honestly thought we weren’t going to get back together. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done that. And so I’m sort of laughing now because we both thought, “Oh boy, it’s over.” And then, one month goes by, two months goes by, and we’re both living separately going, “Hmm, I wonder what the other is doing.” And then it was easy breezy. It wasn’t even dramatic. We actually did have one of those eight-hour conversations… Then, something we never do, we went away for five days, just the two of us. We just talked and talked and talked and rediscovered each other.
Let’s talk about your former neighbours, Kim and Kanye. They’ve moved away now, so who can you borrow a cup of sugar from?
I would probably text Kim and say, “Can you messenger a cup of sugar?” Then she’d probably text back from God-only-knows-where on the planet. [Laughs] There have been times when I’ve texted her, thinking she was next door. Like, this was really sweet – I don’t know if I ever told anyone this story. One time my mom was here when she had not fallen yet into dementia, and Kim did something unusual for her. [Mom] said, “You know, I’ve been feeling kind of depressed and down.” So I panicked and called Kim. I was like, “I know this is really weird, but…” – because they all love my mom and my mom loves them, I go, “Is there any way, like, you could send the kids over? Just for half an hour? It would cheer her up so much.” And she writes back, “Oh my God, no problem. I love your mom.” So I’m thinking she’s going to come over and she’s like “Oh, by the way, I’m in Costa Rica.” So she, God love her, instructed the nannies to bring two of the kids over! I have the cutest videos of my mom playing with East, South, or whatever, and Sinner, whatever their names are – the first two. But my mom just cheered up. It was so meaningful.
Speaking of high-profile personalities, Joan Rivers was a dear friend – and even played your mom on Suddenly Susan.
A friend, a mentor, a sister… She was also so bright and read every book in the world and saw every play in New York and London. And by the way, she was very beloved in London, and took me to meet her – I’m going just going to say boyfriend! – Prince Charles… Camilla loved her, too.
Joan was at their wedding, wasn’t she?
Oh, honey, you don’t know! She would go on secret painting trips with them to Balmoral! I can tell you, having been alone with them twice, they adored her. They hung on her every word.
Many would say you share some of Joan’s qualities – her grit, irreverence and resilience. Where does your fighting spirit come from?
My parents, 100 per cent. I mean, the fighting Irish, what can I tell you?
I remember your late dad appearing on the D-List and your mom was a regular, too.
I’ll always be grateful that I’ve been able to show the world who they really, really were… My dad was the type of guy that he could be funny on cue, like comedian-funny. And my mom was just funny, but wouldn’t know why. Like she would say something outrageous, everyone would laugh. She’ go, “What’d I do? What’d I say? What happened?” Both of them make me laugh. And they were from the Depression, so I grew up in a Depression-mentality household: use it up, wear it out, make it do.
No nonsense. My dad was in the Second World War. My mom worked my whole life. She always worked at least part-time while raising five kids. So your typical lower-middle-class upbringing.
It must be gratifying to know they witnessed your success.
Oh, yeah. I have to be honest. The best part, from when I had three lines on ER with George Clooney: I don’t know where I got the [nerve]. Nobody knows me, I’m there for a couple of lines, and every single gig I would do, whether it was a commercial, whether I had one line or more than that, I would always ask. I would say, “My parents, may they please come? They’ll be really respectful.” They had two folding chairs in the back of their car at all times, and they came to, I think, almost every single set. When my mom and dad met Robin Williams, I thought they were going to fall down!
It’s lovely that you could share such experiences with them.
Oh, it was heaven.