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Book Review: Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin

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If you are a Kathy Griffin fan, you will love love love Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin. She is her brash, irreverent self: throwing around the Fbomb at every turn, skewering her favorite love-to-hate celebs (don’t forget to check the hilarious Index at the end for her guffaw-inducing statement about Ryan Seacrest, his only mention in the book by the way); and look out Oprah! And yet, we get to see her surprisingly — dare I say it — softer side. Yes, folks, even razor-tongued Kathy Griffin has one.

Here are just a few of the candid revelations Griffin shares with us: she was banned from Letterman for over 10 years for (gasp!) swearing; she almost died of kidney failure after having liposuction; and her brother Kenny was a drug-addicted pedophile. This memoir is not for the faint at heart.

Griffin starts the book — how else? Talking about her childhood. In her case, her background really gives you a good picture of who she will become as an adult: her diehard work ethic, willingness to be the funny sidekick, and closeness with her family all started here. As a young kid, she would escape her own Chicago home full of siblings and head to the neighbor’s house and do her first “live” show — filling them in on who swore, who got drunk, etc. She discusses what it was like growing up in a large Irish-Catholic family having little to no privacy; finding fascination in after-school TV; seeing what alcohol can do to people and deciding never to drink (which to this day she still has not done) and beginning what would become her lifelong eating disorder. Like many artists, Griffin found solace in the arts and sought refuge in musical theater. It was there that she began to understand and have an affinity for “her gays.” Realizing she didn’t want to go to college, and with older actor brother Kenny already out in Los Angeles, Kathy convinced her parents to pick up and move west to pursue her dream of stardom.

Kenny: This is where Griffin gets really personal. She discusses in detail her unstable brother Kenny, his violent nature, drugs, how all this affected her parents, and specifically the rift between her and the rest of the family for what she believed was his predilection for children. Truly an honestly written chapter and remarkable that she shares these insights with us.

Usually when a comedian makes it, we have little idea of their background — it just kind of shows up. So I personally found it quite interesting to read that Griffin went to the prestigious Strasberg Institute for two years (where Brando, Pacino, and James Dean all learned how to become great). Mostly she thought it “was dumb.” Ha! She also performed with the famous comedy group The Groundlings (Julia Sweeney — ”It’s Pat!”; or Lisa Kudrow — brunette, pre-nose, pre-boobs — ring a bell?) for many years. Great story there about meeting the late Phil Hartman. She learned then that her strongest characters are what she uses now in her shows: herself and her mom.

Loved the Hilary Swank story, John Corbett too (he was the lighting guy at Groundlings). She also taught classes for the Groundlings to the likes of Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and Mariska Hargitay (now on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit). She lets loose on Jack Black (who dumped her) and Andy Dick (still a good friend), who sounds as whacked out as he appears to be.

Griffin talks about being a woman in a male-dominated business — comedy is not for the easily offended. Close friends like Janeane Garofalo and Margaret Cho, with whom she started a kind of free-form, girls-only coffeehouse comedy open-mike “hot cup o’talk” when none of them were satisfied with the same old improv, deserted her when they made it. She quickly learned that there’s a “drift” that comes with success and decided she wanted nothing to do with it when she hit it big. That’s why you always see her mom with her — family means everything.

When she started getting commercials and guest spots, she had written into her contracts that she was allowed to bring her starstruck parents to every shoot. The infamous Sally Weaver character on “Seinfeld” soon followed and Jerry Seinfeld became one of her biggest fans — even to this day. Griffin then booked her first HBO special, followed by the casting as Brooke Shields’ wisecracking sidekick, Vicki, on the NBC TV show Suddenly Susan.

In typical Griffin style, she doesn’t hold back. Titling this chapter “Brooke Shields, Don’t Read This,” Griffin details what it was like behind the scenes on the troubled sitcom. Being with an inexperienced and yes, at times diva-like star who was dealing with the dissolution of her marriage (Griffin spills that a young, cute comedy writer named Chris Henchy was hanging around the set all the time. Hmmm…) to Andre Agassi, who quite honestly sounded like a pill. She also gives heartbreaking details about the sad death (a suicide) of drug addicted fellow actor David Strickland, how it divided the cast, and how she still misses him every single day. A serious matter she shares with class. Yes, class.

Talk Shows: In case you’ve been under a rock somewhere, perhaps you don’t know that Griffin has been banned from almost every talk show out there. Conan (whom she once dated) — banned. Letterman — banned. That morning show with Regis Philbin (truly a doll) and Kelly Ripa? Banned. However, she loves Howard Stern — he has always been in her corner, probably because her mouth is just as bad as his. However, with the success of her show she has worked her way back on to a few talk shows, and she details how in Official.

She details life on the road, what it’s like to be truly on the “D” list, and how she met her husband Matt. Probably more to deal with all the misinformation out there than anything else, she details exactly what happened with regard to him “stealing” from her and how she dealt with it. Good information on being a woman in a position of power and handling your own money.

The book wouldn’t be complete without specifics of what it was like to finally get her own reality show. Reading about her road to getting there is hysterical. The actual filming? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong. Good reading; sad at what it does to people.

Winning the Emmy: the infamous “Suck it Jesus” comment and the fallout (which I personally felt was ridiculous) is detailed here. Also the death of her beloved father is particularly touching. She covers all her plastic surgery in gory detail. More on Hollywood and who can’t take a joke — Dakota Fanning… seriously? Details on The Woz! Paris (gag), and a hilarious send-up of a Reading Guide at the end. And finally, the fabulous Index, which in my opinion makes the book — and could be easily be skipped over if you don’t know how clever she really is.

Official Book Club Selection is a quick read — I read it in a day. That said, I read it in a day because I couldn’t put it down. As long as you are not offended by curse words (gasp!), or looking for really deep thoughts on well, anything, then this is the memoir for you. Come to think of it, between the Oprah put-downs and cutting celeb remarks, Griffin actually gives you some really deep thoughts to muse on after all. Huh.

(Audio CD also available read by Griffin herself.)

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