Kathy Griffin in London

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Kathy Griffin may not be a massive name in Britain, but, my, are are her fans excited to see her. The atmosphere in the Palace Theatre is so full of crazy expectation that a raucous holler goes up just for the stagehand who leaves a bottle of water out on stage. So the ovation Griffin gets when she appears in person is deafening.

Nor does that buzz ever quite die down during the exhilaratingly indiscreet two hours that Grifin’s on stage. She even gets a chorus of encouraging whoops simply for plugging her Twitter user name, a reaction magnified a dozenfold each time she namechecks a celebrity.

And that’s a lot of celebrities. She drops names liberally, and each time her die-hard fans immediately know the back-stories of the anecdotes she’s about to tell. For Griffin has made a career out of pissing off A-listers, the elite of American showbusiness who so often take themselves so desperately seriously, as Griffin’s pal Ricky Gervais discovered at the Golden Globes earlier this year.

Occasionally, the lack of such background knowledge may leave the the lay-listener feeling as if they’re excluded from a private joke, especially when it comes to feuds with lesser-known names such as Elisabeth Hasselbeck, co-host of The View, the American talk show which makes Loose Women look like Panorama.

The relentless, braying cheers of the West End audience did get intrusive, with even Griffin sometimes taken aback at some of the audience’s intimate knowledge of her life. But even if you’re not up to speed, she is expertly skilled at forging that inclusive, bonding feeling that we’re all in her gang, the naughty rebels who can see through vacuous Hollywood pretension – while hungrily devouring the gossip by-product, of course. She also flatters us by reinforcing the idea that we are smart enough and broad-minded enough to oppose reactionary politics; to appreciate jokes about the likes of Sarah Palin and scientology that frequently get her into trouble when she repeats them on American TV.

She over-sells this idea at the start, hyping up the idea that the things about to escape her vicious mouth are going to be so outrageously edgy that they could never be repeated outside the safety of the theatre. Then, after all that build-up, she begins a routine complaining about the portion sizes of the jam at high tea in her £1,300-a-night Mayfair hotel, poor dear.

Yet even in this she never comes across as privileged; her angle is that she is basically like us – a woman who’s got lucky and found herself a seat on the table of fame, without quite feeling that she belongs there. But unlike us she has the sass and the barefaced front to say what it takes to puncture the pomposity of everyone from Oprah – portrayed as a demanding ogre of a boss – to Whitney Houston, the tragic crack-ravaged wash-out. She’s had run-ins with Paris Hilton, Ryan Seacrest and, significantly, Gwyneth Paltrow, all of which she shares here – while her current British trip has provided new fodder in the shape of Bear Grylls, whom she met on the Graham Norton Show.

In some respects, Griffin a human version of Heat magazine, with a witheringly dismissive, yet hypocritically awestruck, approach to celebrity that has won her a substantial gay following. Yet the force of her playfully defiant personality and her vast reserves of attitude makes this work even if you only have passing interest in such goings-on... or even if you’re straight.

Her own claim to fame comes mainly through the reality programme My Life On The D-List – shown on the niche E! channel here – which has also made minor stars of her assistants and her no-nonsense, hard-drinking nonagenarian mother Maggie, who understandably makes several appearances in Griffin’s Stand-Up Stories tonight.

On the face of it, there is not much comic substance to many of Griffin’s stories; there’s the occasional barbed turn of phrase, sure, but few truly well-crafted lines or carefully-constructed routines. In fact she has - or at least affects - a haphazard approach where starting one story will immediately prompt an altogether different one, taking her further and further away from the original train of thought; leaving her to ask the audience to remind her to go back.

But that is not what’s important. This is a performance carried on the strength of her fierce attitude and playfully impudent spirit alone, achieving that compelling but elusive dynamic of the entertainingly incautious friend disclosing scandalous, gossipy stories over an illicit lunch. And after this, her first British visit in four years, you’d have to say: we really must do this more often.

Review date: 20 Jun 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Palace Theatre

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