Kathy Griffin X-Rated? In Defense of Trickster Comedians

Kathy Griffin and the lower-case ‘d-word’

Joe Gandelman, our editor-in-chief, put up the video clip of Kathy Griffin fire-bombing back at a verbal sniper on the streets of Times Square during New Year’s Eve broadcast with Anderson Cooper.

I had to listen to the video to learn what the ‘d’ word was that the MSM news have been carrying on like a bunch of chickens in a hen-house sighting a fox. How dense is that of me? Ok, alot.

But the word Griffin actually used, the ‘d’ word, is the middle part of the phrase ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’… Griffin said ‘….Shut-up! I’m WORKING… I don’t come to your place of work and knock the d’s out of your mouth…’

Look, on New Year’s Eve, I looked at every network and cable channel broadcasting from the streets. It was back-to-back screaming above the crowd by all ‘hosts.’ Bellowing over the din. How happy is that? Not very. Lousy venue even for the best comedians. Turned it off. Read Didion. Much better, more focus without mayhem, thereby able to enjoy Didion’s wit..

CNN’s Weird choice

‘Hosting from the streets filled with drunken people’ seems a way-strange use of capital by CNN and others. The thing is, putting Griffin with a man who had been a serious journalist (re coverage on the scene at Katrina for instance) immediately puts Anderson in the position of straight man whether he wants to be or not, at the mercy of antics a la Griffin. But Griffin is only being Griffin, a leaping comedic mind. Her gift is not going to and ought not change any time soon.

Re Griffin, tons of folks like her fine, and she is, in the ‘blue language’ category, no different than other women comediennes who’ve done stand up for years and battled their way to the top through clubs, and past the 500 same old hind-ends all trying to squish through the same narrow doorway so they can be first and disallow all others, etc. Whoopi comes to mind as speaking her comedy without censoring ‘bad words’. If you’ve ever heard Margaret Cho unleashed, same. They are, all of them, not out of control, but performing in full instinct for timing and comedy. That’s a gift. Not a tidy gift, but rather more like sudden explosions of inspiration that underline the ironic, absurd and comical.

The trickster archetype

An archetype represents something in human nature and the world that has a mystery to it, that in a sense is irrepresentable except by those who take some part of it and paint it red, white and blue and act it out for us to see. Thus the many clown katchinas of the Hopi Indians, the coyote trickster from my heritage as a Latina, the Jack stories from the southern USA, the dummling stories from the European cultures… all these trickster characters are portrayed in story– and in reality, during ceremonies –(and sometimes just in day to day village life by some chronic prankster).

All are Supposed to disturb the usual order. All are supposed to upset someone or something. All are supposed to break certain conventions and get away with it.

The trickster is filled with appetites for all things, especially for vibrant life, deep instinctual nature. And this is what the trickster does, makes vital again what has gone too dry. Even causing some people to go red in the face with anger or upset, is a form of vital blood rushing with life, rather than just same ol’ same ol’ dusty dry existence.

Thus, we have and hopefully will always have highly developed tricksters amongst us. In their own ways, they renew what has gone dead or is too long sleeping. The deal is, are they good at what they do or just imitators? Are they en puente, hitting right on the head most of the time? Are they masters of their craft instead of warmed over versions of other brilliant tricksters, or merely cultural complainers who jump on the current bandwagon but have no true originality of their own?

Griffin and others, I think, are true originals. You don’t have to approve or like them, in order to grant that they are superlative in quick thinking and comedic instinct. (I’m one of those pitiful people who often thinks of ‘a good thing to say back to some intrusive person’… a week after the unpleasantry. I admire those who are quick with an at least semi-wicked smile and well-fashioned retort.)

Regarding Trying to Do Comedy Amongst Drunks

Frankly, I think for those who wish, going to the clubs to hear the real deal is probably a better setting for ‘the gems of comedy,’ than a comedian having to defend their work from those who try to over-talk, over-yell, the artist in the mean streets. Even in clubs there’s a certain amount of that, but the theatre is much smaller and much more containable thereby. There’s also television and Griffin has been a host on the Larry King Show many times, and that too has a certain ‘protected’ environ so the trickster can do her work without having to also control and over-shout a mind-poisoned mob.

It takes the capital ‘B’ word to perform before others, and I don’t mean the word “_itch…

My experience as a stage performer and with others who perform these many years, is that though performance is supposed to look effortless to the audience… if you could only see the sensitive and in some cases, tremulous and loose connections performers carry within themselves behind the scenes, you’d see that performance of anything, is a trapeze act without the ‘eze’ part, and possibly alot of the ‘trapped’ part.

All I can say is, those who can manage to stagger out there and perform well, have mastered not just the shtick, but a good part of this strange part that exists in most performers, that little quavering voice within that cries, “No no, don’t drag me out there, I want to go home, just pay me for showing up and leaving, I cant even say my name right, let alone anything else… ‘

And yet, within a few moments, or minutes into the gig, something greater and far more gifted ‘takes over,’ and we are cruising like a glider plane and showing whatever shine we’ve been gifted with to any and all who have the eyes to see it. Most performers may not be called performers because they perform, but because they perform over and despite and because of, even, that small vorpal whining voice that occurs most every time one sees a backstage anything.

Each Performer Has Their Own Way of Dealing with Intruders Who Pig on Slime-light

Each performer/comedian has a rhythm to even their retorts. This is what Bruce Springsteen talks about as he demands

his audiences not clap along with his music as “I already have a tenuous-enough grasp of rhythm.” He’s saying, in essence what Griffin says more directly, except he hopes he’s giving notice pre-emptively. Hush. Be quiet. Just listen. I mean it.

Another bright comedian whom I met on book tour, the late Bernie Mac, told me to say to people who interrupt performance to grandstand their own garbled two cents’ worth: And do you bring your own f-ing guitar to Rolling Stones concerts too?

Not sure I can say that just the way Bernie mentioned it to me, he sure had a wondrous smile and brutally funny style of his own… but I know embattled comedians sometimes have to smile and slash back. Have to. So they can proceed with their craft. So they can give the other 99.9 % of the audience what they came there for: to laugh, to forget, to remember, to laugh some more. To be brought to life.

Even though I sometimes tire of fat jokes and old people jokes, I personally am grateful for comedians; their pathways have often been harder than other ‘over-darling-ized’ performers… and though you see them ‘acting up’ trickster style, they have their quiet times too, their contemplations, their self-doubts, their depths that they strive to apprehend, too. These only make their comedy deeper, more passionate, more creative.

The High Price of Being A Trickster

is the same as being a saint, same as being an artist, same as being a parent, an inspiratrice, a saddle maker, lawyer, scientist, teacher, worker, any person who cares about their craft. It isn’t that you have to put up with the occasional leech trying to over-write your act or those who act like id-jits. It is that no matter who says what, no matter who judges, who calls you out, you have to create right back in their faces, you have to fly all balls out, have to pull back on the wheel and scream upward then dive again, keep going, keep doing the very thing that causes some to ever overturn their own crab-apple carts.

Well-developed tricksters are not made for the clean; they are built for depth… depth of nearly instantaneous observation, of seeing ‘underneath’ others’ nonsense, of saving, of helping, of redeeming, of enjoining humans, one to the other by laughter about foibles, odd turns, eccentricities.

The Wild Woman Crown

And the women comedians, especially– all of them, from Diller to Fields, from Goldberg to O’Donnell, to Cho to Griffin, from Rivers, to Barr to Mable to Pearl, from Poundstone to deGeneres– and all others in between, well known and not yet so well known… you don’t have to like them or their comedy, you don’t have to like or endorse their politics, their values, or their lives… but personally having written the book on ‘wild women,’ I’d unequivocally grant them all the crown of ‘Enduring Wildness,’ now and forever.

It’s a hard crown to win. Griffin and all who went before her, and all her peers– have surely honed the craft, have done enough brave scut work on the road where some other comedians and ‘helpers’ routinely try to sideswipe, cutpurse, and ride roughshod over others… Yet these women have done enough deep and hard work in the tricksterish realms, and somehow managed to ‘protect the one precious gift’ they’ve been granted in this life…

Thus, I’d say they’ve all more than earned ownership of the entire crown factory…

“d” word, or no.

Author: DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

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1 Comment

  1. Funny — I'm reading Lewis Hyde's trickster book.

    I'm expecting a lot of “culture jamming” as the economy continues to slide into the crapper.

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