Many people have asked why the Blade chose to invite comedian Kathy Griffin to its table at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
The event is a celebration of the First Amendment. As a longtime LGBT rights advocate, a comedian and provocateur, Griffin has made a long and successful career out of exercising her First Amendment right to free speech. The stunt last year in which she posed with a mock severed head of Donald Trump — which needlessly led CNN to fire her from a longstanding New Year’s Eve hosting gig with Anderson Cooper — was a textbook case of satire, which is constitutionally protected speech.
Thus, the decision to invite Griffin proved an easy and obvious one. (We also invited Stormy Daniels, but her attorney, Michael Avenatti, told me without irony that it would be too much of a “sideshow” for her to attend.)
Griffin didn’t disappoint, bringing her quick wit and fearless, LGBT-centric sense of humor to the dinner table. I met her and her boyfriend, Randy Bick, on the red carpet and held her purse as she posed for photographers and granted a series of TV interviews. Inside the heavy purse was a stapler; it turns out she suffered a last-minute wardrobe malfunction leaving the hotel, breaking a strap on her gown. After it was repaired, she feared a repeat and asked to borrow the stapler, just in case.
She proved a good sport throughout the night, posing for an endless stream of selfies with (mostly gay) fans who congratulated her on surviving the Trump machine’s attacks in the aftermath of the photo scandal. When asked how her famous mom Maggie is at age 96, Griffin replied, “drunk.”
The only awkward moment came when Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley tried to squeeze past our table. Griffin stopped him and said, “How do you sleep at night?” Gidley replied, “Very well, thank you.” When Griffin expressed doubt about that, Gidley asked, “Are we really going to do this?”
That’s when things got interesting. Griffin, in her trademark style, retorted, “Yes we are, suck my dick! No, really, suck my dick!”
There was some back-and-forth, then Gidley, who was holding a Tecate, announced he was off to enjoy his Mexican beer “before we build the wall and you can’t get these anymore.” That prompted a farewell “fuck you” from Griffin, triggering nervous laughter around our table.
Later, when Politico’s Josh Dawsey was announced winner of the Merriman Smith Award for his story about the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer — who was seated at the table next to us — Griffin stood up and applauded loudly in his direction, eliciting guffaws from our neighbors.
One personal highlight of the night: the Blade’s Chris Johnson was honored as the honorable mention for the Merriman Smith award for a story he broke in December about Trump firing all members of his AIDS advisory committee. Chris’s name was called and he stood to a round of applause from the room. That would have been unthinkable 40, 30, 20, 10 or even five years ago, when much of the journalism and political elite of D.C. wouldn’t deign to acknowledge the gay press, much less honor one of its journalists. Congratulations to Chris for his dogged work in the White House, pressing officials to address our community’s issues.
Another noteworthy moment came when gay country singer Ty Herndon took to the podium to perform “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.” Unlike last year, the party drew current and former members of the administration, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kellyanne Conway, Spicer, Reince Priebus and Omarosa Manigault-Newman. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attended, too, drawing curious stares from many.
But the highlight of the evening’s entertainment came when Michelle Wolf delivered a riotous keynote, roasting everyone from Trump and Sanders to Sean Hannity and the Democratic Party. Afterward, Griffin raved, saying she “loved” the performance, despite some audience discomfort with an abortion joke. I was surprised by the mainstream media’s depiction of Wolf having bombed and offended the room. She did what any fearless comedian should do in that moment — skewer everyone and make us all laugh at ourselves.
Which brings us back to Griffin. Comedians occupy a unique and important role in our popular culture. We’ve long turned to them for incisive social commentary delivered with a sting; they say out loud what most of us are thinking. Attacking a comedian for doing her job as Trump and his cronies did to Griffin is petty and betrays deep insecurities. So, thank you, Kathy Griffin for making us laugh and for holding your own in the face of scorching attacks by those humorless GOP bores.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.