American comic Kathy Griffin fainted on stage in Dublin last week, and there were doubts over whether this London gig would go ahead. Consider those doubts resoundingly dismissed: Griffin performed for two and a quarter hours without pause, motormouthing through screeds of showbiz gossip, self-promotion and an account of “how my life crumbled” when she posed for a photo with a bloodied Trump mask resembling the president’s severed head. The latter story is gripping, but there’s too much celebrity tattle around it at this sprawling show – at least for those of us with strictly limited interest in Kim Kardashian’s domestic life or the dissolute habits of American comedian Andy Dick.
Her whole show is styled as gloves-off Griffin: her career is in tatters in the States, she has no interests left to protect. “You came on a good night,” she tells us: “I’m spilling it all!” She sets an immediate indiscreet tone on encountering an awkwardly positioned microphone: “Let me fix this. I feel like I’m on a date with Louis CK.” CK isn’t unique in comedy, she claims: plenty of standups are in it for the (predatory) sex. Few names are named, but she’s more candid about the celebs who jilted her when the Trump photo went nuclear. She’s upfront about how hurtful that was – and this world tour must provide some balm, because she gets cheered to the rafters after practically every statement.
The show is engineered as much for those celebratory whoops as for laughs. When discussing being subject to federal investigation – for conspiracy to assassinate the president, of all things – she wells up with tears, just as she reportedly did at the same moment in Sydney last month. Cue more cheers – but she has earned them. The experience she describes is extraordinary, a tale of lynch-mob justice and persecution.
If she had focused on that, and added Tinseltown gossip as garnish, Laugh Your Head Off would be a great show. But it comes overstuffed with hobnobbing anecdotes, dependent for their comic charge on the supposed celebrity of Griffin’s chums. If you’re as interested in the famous as she is, this is the show for you. Others will savour the spirit with which she has defied an ugly act of public shaming, and how – give or take a tear or two – she recasts that trauma as a catalyst for cathartic laughter.