Griffin is taut and swift, gut-driven and fearless. A news junkie, she can speak about down-ballot voting and the latest atrocity in Yemen. She is easy to laugh with but not always easy to like. She is keen to camera angles and lighting and especially these days demands firm control of her image. Hide the wrinkle, disguise the blemish, but keep nicking boundaries and never waver. That is what will bring her back from the strange wilderness she has been wandering the last two years.
"I'm very aware that this situation would have not been the same for Gwyneth Paltrow or Ellen DeGeneres, someone who's beloved and blond. All the things I'm not. I've been poking the bear in my comedy for a while, and this was a way for people to put me in my place. That is painful for me to think that I engender in people when I'm just trying to make them laugh. But I think that's a reality."
Rise to first chair Griffin's career started at Groundlings, an improvisational comedy troupe. She appeared in "ER," "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and was the comic sting in "Suddenly Susan," which starred Brooke Shields and ran on NBC from 1996 to 2000.
Her stand-up comedy has included HBO and Bravo specials and shows for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. She has dated doughnut shop mangers, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, who took her to lunch with the cast of "Reservoir Dogs."
Her quips have gotten her into trouble over the years. Her 2007 acceptance speech at Creative Arts Emmy Awards satirized celebrities who thank Jesus for their prizes: "I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. ... Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now." The Catholic League called the comments blasphemous.
Griffin performed a concert recently at Largo at the Coronet in Hollywood. The crowd was a mix of gay fans (she has long fought for LGBT rights), a scattering of the young, a Debbie Harry look-alike in a pink wig and those in their 50s, who were grayer and heavier than they were when they first followed Griffin in the '90s, an era marked by big hair, puffy shirts and glowing pastels. Two women took seats and discussed the Mueller report; another scrolled pictures of Jack Nicholson. The lights went down.
Griffin pranced on stage wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt. Her eyes glinted when she edged toward an affront that startled in its audacity and echoed with slivers of truth. She took on everything including the Ridgecrest earthquake, Jeffrey Epstein, Alan Dershowitz, Les Moonves ("I don't sit near rapists" at the Polo Lounge), "Dateline" and Melania Trump, and she impeccably mimicked Barbra Streisand. She showed a clip of her new documentary and said, "I have to keep up on the Nazis. ... All these nut jobs who come after me."
She went on for more than an hour and, with a notebook full of typed lines and scribbles, could have played till the wee hours.
"It's pretty amazing to come back after everyone dumped her," said Christina Menor, an anesthesiologist who was in the crowd. "She wasn't treated fairly for the offense. It was very frustrating. I've been a fan for 15 years. She's real, honest and relatable."
Two days later, Griffin walked into her home office, where a likeness of Joan Rivers, the first woman to host a network late-night talk show, hung on a wall. She also reveres "The Mary Tyler Moore Show's" wisecracker Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper). Acerbic can be clever, but it is a fine, dangerous line, even for those who learn early how to navigate audience sensitivities and a comedy world dominated by men.
"I won't do second chair on talk shows," she said. "It's bad. I admit it. I was second chair for so long, and then I watched my male counterparts who had the same accomplishments, number of HBO specials, ticket sales (get first chair). When I finally got my shot at first chair, I made a rule that I'm first chair or no chair. I believe that as a female of a certain age if I go back to second chair I'll never get back. I'd rather sit home."
The wind stilled. The moon was gathering. The cameramen had left. Two dogs padded over the marble floor and into the kitchen. It was quiet.
"Trump is going to go down in a spectacular way," she said. "It's a fascinating time to be alive." She stood, smoothed her red dress and with old-school grit plotted her way back. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.