The Evolution of Kathy Griffin, From Her ‘Life on the D-List’ to Trump Antagonist

The comedian has been unstoppable but is now being treated for lung cancer

kathy griffin
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Kathy Griffin, who announced that she is battling lung cancer and needs to undergo surgery, is no stranger to controversy – personal, political and, often, viral. She once told Jesus to “suck it” during an Emmys acceptance speech – that kind of thing. As the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Zero F–ksville,” the comedian has gone through ups and downs upon ups and downs, and she’s stood her ground the whole time. 

Intertwined with her legendary, 40-year-long career are her brash comedy-style, signature, fiery-red hair and sheer courage when facing controversy. During her career Griffin has played a muckraking journalist on “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” hosted the Daytime Emmys, turned a stand-up night into a HBO comedy special, starred in her own reality television series, and just last year, made her film debut with concert film “A Hell of a Story.”

She has also been banned from several talk shows, danced topless to celebrate Paul Manafort’s verdict, faced a potential “conspiracy to assassinate the president” charge over a controversial art piece of Trump’s head and today, she announced that she was diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks ago, and that she will be having surgery to remove the tumor from her lung.

The Emmy and Grammy award-winning comedian, New York Times bestselling author and television and film veteran got her start as a member of the improv comedy troupe The Groundlings, after moving from her native Illinois to Los Angeles to study drama. In the 1990s, she started doing stand-up comedy and starred in several shows and films, like “Seinfeld,” “Suddenly Susan,” “Run Ronnie Run!” and “Pulp Fiction” and went on to sprinkle her comedic talents into reality television, music, and writing.

UP: Reality Show Success

In 2005, Griffin starred on a Bravo reality television series, “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” for five years. In it, she poked fun at herself and the struggles of being a self-proclaimed “D-list” celebrity. She captivated audiences as she continued her shocking, yet conversation-starting antics: she schemed for publicity, took her kid niece and nephew on crazy adventures and even got a pap smear on camera, seated – naturally – pool side in Beverly Hills. The series’ second season even earned her the 2007 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality Program. Then… came the speech.

Kathy Griffin Life on the D-List Iraq

DOWN: Cursing Jesus Sparks Backlash

While the series – much like almost everything the comedian does – sparked a bit of controversy here and there, nothing compared to the comedian’s Emmy acceptance speech in which she infamously told Jesus – yes, Jesus – to “suck it.” Griffin later explained that she was parodying other celebrities who thank Jesus for their various accomplishments. Nevertheless, backlash rolled in and she was dropped from a few appearances, but Griffin took it all in stride, with her quick wit and self assuredness.

UP: More Award Show Glory!

In 2008, Griffin was able to redeem herself, in a way, as she stacked up more award show wins and nominations: an Emmy for “My Life on the D-List” and a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album for her first comedy CD, “For Your Consideration.”

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DOWN: But Also a Joke Misfires

And just like that, Griffin’s career ebbed once again, as she came under fire for a profanity-filled joke about the Octomom at during her routine at New York’s Apollo Theater. Griffin even said that received a letter banning her from the venue.

Kathy Griffin Apollo

UP (and DOWN): A Brand New Talk Show

In 2012, Griffin got her very own late-night talk show “Kathy” on Bravo, much to the delight of her fans. Her boisterous personality and matter-of-fact humor was on display, as the show was the perfect platform for the comedian to discuss everything and anything on her mind from equality for women in comedy to liposuction to celebrity gossip. She even had celebrity panel guests, like Jimmy Kimmel, Sharon Osbourne, Anderson Cooper and Jane Fonda. Unfortunately, the series was canceled 12 months later, after just two seasons.

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UP (and another subsequent DOWN): The 2015 “Fashion Police” Gig

With 20 comedy specials under her belt – which even got her the Guinness World Record for “Most Televised Stand-Up Specials by a Comedian” at the time – Griffin took over “Fashion Police,” the biting, slightly controversial, but light-hearted fashion commentary show made great by the late Joan Rivers, who was also Griffin’s longtime friend. After seven episodes, Griffin announced her departure from the show saying that she didn’t want to “contribute to a culture of unattainable perfectionism and intolerance towards difference” in a statement on Twitter.

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DOWN: Gory Art About the President Causes Everyone to Freak Out

In what may have been Griffin’s biggest controversy, she posted graphic photos of herself holding a bloodied head, with an uncanny resemblance to then-president Donald Trump in 2017. Though she issued an apology on social media and gave a tearful press conference in which she acknowledged the “disturbing” nature of the photos – “I understand how it offends people… I beg for your forgiveness” – her career took a hit, with many – most famously, Anderson Cooper – expressing their disapproval. She was dropped from advertising gigs and television appearances, her and her family received death threats and was even investigated by the U.S. Secret Service for a “conspiracy to assassinate” the President.

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UP: But Kathy Griffin Bounces Back Big With “a Hell of a Story

In true Griffin fashion, she came back more fearless than ever, taking back her apology in 2017, saying that it was an expression of her free speech. She went on a cheekily-named “Laugh Your Head Off” comeback tour, which sold out in less than 24 hours, and in 2019, premiered her first, self-financed concert film, “A Hell of a Story,” based off of the backlash she received from the Trump photo controversy.

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And now, amid her recent battle with lung cancer, Griffin’s representatives confirmed that has successfully undergone surgery to remove the tumor from her lung.


Like she said in a 2013 interview, “At some point, you gotta have a good laugh to survive.”

That she is.


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