Kathy Griffin was sitting in her sparse dressing room when one of her minions presented her with a golden chalice. But the ornate container wasn't filled with Cristal Champagne or chocolate truffles. Griffin's life on the D-list apparently means that her cup runneth over with pint-sized packages of peanut butter. And the chalice? It's made of plastic.
"Well, aren't I the big star?" she teased, shoving a spoonful of the peanut butter into her mouth in hopes of a protein boost.
The flame-haired 49-year-old comedian known for her acerbic humor — and her Bravo series "My Life on the D-List" — holds a nebulous place in the celebrity pecking order. She's the star of a reality series in which she mocks stardom, while her own Hollywood life lends itself to plenty of material. Especially on this September day: Griffin was between two comedy sets at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, which has been edited down into the one-hour Bravo comedy special "Kathy Griffin: Whores on Crutches" that will air Tuesday.
"I'm not doing Caesars. Palace — that'd be too easy," she said backstage. "We're doing it Temecula style and, frankly, I deserve an Emmy for the drive alone. You can't come here unless you witness several accidents and get caught in several brush fires."
As cameras flicker backstage, Griffin engages with fans, signing photos and even a catheter (she likes to call her Twitter followers "Katheters"). Despite the one-on-one attention she shells out, she remains absorbed in thought.
"I'm replaying the act in my head," she said. "Trying to figure out what worked and what didn't so I know whether I should start with the bit about Maggie [her mother] … or if I should mention Ryan Seacrest in the next show because I didn't mention her [sic] in the last one?"
Griffith acquired her adaptability over a career dotted with periodic triumphs and frequent rejections. After high school, the Chicago native moved to Los Angeles and worked odd jobs while also working the audition scene. She landed bit parts on television, including appearances on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "The X-Files," before eventually finding a more lasting gig as Brooke Shields' feisty sidekick in the NBC sitcom "Suddenly Susan."
But poking fun at the Hollywood elite is her favorite game. She's filmed numerous stand-up specials — this one marks her eighth for Bravo. Two of them, "Kathy Griffin: Straight to Hell" (2008) and "Kathy Griffin: She'll Cut a Bitch" (2009) were nominated for Emmys.
The specials are only one facet of her enduring relationship with Bravo, along with "My Life on the D-List," which wrapped its sixth season earlier this summer.
"She peels off the layer of celebrity," said Andy Cohen, senior vice president of original programming and development for the network, who isn't exactly immune to Griffin's comedic wrath. (She pokes fun at his "crossed-eyes" in the special.) "She's very Bravo. Her observations about pop culture are just really spot on and we love being the home of her very uncensored, unfiltered act."
The same rapid fire wit has been a frequent source of controversy. While co-hosting a red-carpet event for cable network E! in 2005, Griffin joked that Dakota Fanning, then 10, was in rehab; the network issued an apology shortly after. Her sarcastic comments about Jesus during an Emmy acceptance speech in 2007 had religious leaders fuming. Most recently, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) slammed the comedian for calling his two daughters prostitutes on her show.
Her wicked humor and lampoons of celebrities have also resulted in her being temporarily banned from talk shows including "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "The View."
"I can't say I don't enjoy getting under some people's skin," Griffin said. "I'm the poor man's version of Joan Rivers. She's a legend. I can only hope to insult people for as long as she has."
In Tuesday's special, Griffin warns, "I'm going to discuss things that should not be discussed in a tepee," with Bristol Palin, Paris Hilton, Tiger Woods and "The View's" Elisabeth Hasselbeck coming under fire.
"Howard Stern said this great thing to me one time," she shared. "When you're in this business, you can't keep track of the crap you've said…. I'm nervous constantly and yet I can't stop myself. I know I shouldn't have told that Hasselbeck story because now I know I'll never be on 'The View' again, but it's toooo good."
All it takes is a cheap notebook and some bullet points listing topical headlines to transform trite encounters into salacious stage fodder.
"Writing jokes is not my style," Griffin said. "I'll literally just write down 'Bristol Palin' and then I'll riff for 15 minutes. It helps that I'm constantly tuned to news events, reality TV…. I can talk about it for hours."
As Griffin analyzed her live set in retrospect, her brain was clearly moving at warp speed, pegging the opening — in which she appears with a Native American headdress — as "really strong cause it was visually funny and silly — it could be the commercial." But she admits she didn't hit her stride until much later in the act, when she blathered on about the VH-1 series, "The OCD Project."
"It will be interesting if Bravo lets me keep all that stuff [in the televised special] because I talk about shows on other networks," Griffin said. "But I felt the audience and I really kicked into high gear when I was talking about that show."
The bit, which pokes fun at the over-the-top "treatment" offered on the series, made the final cut.
But, moments later, Griffin had shifted gears to a more important matter: She couldn't fasten her belt buckle.
"Someone get Tiffany [Rinehart] now!" she said, referring to her assistant. The shout was not so much the demand of a diva as the plea of a panicky performer about to appear in front of a roomful of "disgruntled poker players who were probably given free tickets."
Belt finally in place, Griffin prepared for her second grand appearance on stage.
"If you'll excuse me, I have to put on my headdress," she said. "I bet Joan Rivers has never had to say that."