A defiant, tearful Kathy Griffin said on Friday that she regretted making a photo of herself holding a mask that looked like President Trump’s bloody severed head, but that she wasn’t going to stop criticizing the president or fighting for others to do so.
The comments were the fast-talking comedian’s first beyond a video-recorded apology on social media. The image outraged Trump, his family and many, many others earlier this week. She said five employers had canceled scheduled shows since then, and she’d been fired by CNN.
“A sitting President of the United States and his grown children and the first lady are personally trying to ruin my life forever,” she said. “You guys know him, he’s not going to stop.”
She said the online attacks on her in the last few days – including death threats – were a distraction mobilized by a president embattled by scandal. And she sought to frame it as the kind of “bullying” she’d received from older white men her entire career.
“I’m not good at being appropriate,” she said. “I’m only good at doing comedy one way. It’s in your face. I’m going to make fun of the president. And I’m going to do it more now.”
Although she reiterated her apology, she told reporters a person shouldn’t have to die for a joke in the United States. “The threats that I am getting are . . . detailed and they are specific. And today it’s me, but tomorrow it might be you.”
Still, she cried as she told the gathered reporters: “I don’t think I’ll have a career after this. I’m going to be honest, he broke me.”
Chelsea Clinton and Griffin’s friend, CNN host Anderson Cooper, were among those with sharp criticisms of the gruesome photo, but reactions from President Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were especially incensed.
President Trump tweeted that Griffin should be “ashamed of herself,” and that his 11-year-old son Barron was “having a hard time with this.”
“Sick!” he added.
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., wrote on Twitter that Griffin’s photo was “disgusting but not surprising.”
“This is the left today,” he said. “They consider this acceptable. Imagine a conservative did this to Obama as POTUS?” He also called out CNN in subsequent tweets, urging the network to sever ties with the veteran comedian and decade-long co-host of a New Year’s Eve program with Anderson Cooper.
CNN later announced its decision to part ways with Griffin.
Even after Griffin apologized, Trump Jr. was unsatisfied.
He tweeted, “The #kathygriffin phony apology would be a lot easier to believe if there wasn’t a video of her mocking the response she knew was coming.”
Perhaps the harshest and most emotional denouncement came in a rare statement from the first lady:
“As a mother, a wife, and a human being, that photo is very disturbing. When you consider some of the atrocities happening in the world today, a photo opportunity like this is simply wrong and makes you wonder about the mental health of the person who did it.”
Outside the first family, Griffin’s stunt garnered near universal condemnation from the right and left, spurring the company Squatty Potty to pull its advertising and leading Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., to cancel an event with the comic promoting his latest book. Across the country, venues pulled Griffin from their lineups.
After such widespread backlash, it may seem odd Griffin would position herself as the victim of bullying, rather than the bully.
It’s a word that has been associated with her brand of comedy before, and something she has talked about experiencing both as a young girl and as an adult.
Most notably, Griffin’s ongoing feud with former Alaska governor Sarah Palin came to a head during a Fox News interview, when Palin called the comic a “bully.”
“She’s a 50-year-old adult bully, really is what she is, kind of a has-been comedian,” Palin said in 2011.
The Fox News host had asked Palin about rumors that Griffin would be playing a tea party mom, modeled after Palin, on the sitcom “Glee.” But by that point, the tiff between the two women had been brewing for some time.
As host of the VH1 Divas salute to the troops in December 2010, Griffin made fat-shaming jokes about Palin’s daughter, Bristol, that drew loud boos from the crowd. Bristol Palin had competed on the reality TV show “Dancing with the Stars.”
“She’s the only contestant in the history of the show to actually gain weight,” Griffin said. To the displeased crowd, she continued: “No, come on, come on. She gained like 30 pounds a week. I swear to God, it was fantastic.”
“She’s like the white Precious,” Griffin added, referencing the movie “Precious,” about a 350-pound black woman.
Then in early 2011, Griffin said her new target was Sarah Palin’s daughter Willow, then 16, who reportedly used homophobic slurs on Facebook. Griffin, a fierce advocate of the LGBT community, told the Hollywood Reporter that “you don’t throw around the f-word without hearing from me about it.”
In response, Palin told Fox News that Griffin’s targeting of her underage children was taking it “a little bit too far.”
“Kathy, pick on me,” Palin said. “Come up to Alaska and pick on me, but leave my kids alone.”
Griffin, of course, had a retort: “You’re going to call a comedian a bully – then what that tells me is that you have never really been bullied. As a comedian, she really is just fodder for me.”
Often, Griffin qualifies her jokes with this justification: She doesn’t really mean it. Most of the people she mocks she actually genuinely likes, Griffin has said. And in interviews, she has spoken out about bullying she endured as a child.
While speaking with Rosie O’Donnell on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Griffin said she was unpopular in grade school and called “dog” “every single day.”
“I was so ugly that the other kids would just look at me and bark,” Griffin said.
She also struggled with bulimia and body image.
Griffin told O’Donnell about an appearance on Jay Leno that rattled her. She was doing a bit comparing herself to photos of other celebrities, one of which was Carmen Electra. Griffin joked that Electra often asked her for makeup advice, and Leno quipped back: “Looks more like a before and after picture.”
The comment made Griffin cry, and she said that she later told Leno after the show that she thought the dig was “below the belt” and something he wouldn’t say to a male comedian.
Her reaction could be called hypocritical given her history of mocking other people’s appearances. And after the Trump stunt this week and her news conference announcement about being bullied by the Trumps, the comparisons have continued.