Maggie Griffin: Out of the Box

By Jeremy Kinser

Originally published on Advocate.com June 30 2010 4:10 PM ET

Even among the “ordinary” people who become unlikely celebrities on myriad reality-based series, Maggie Griffin is a surprise. The sweet 90-year-old mother of outspoken comedian Kathy Griffin has become a scene-stealing favorite of gay fans due to her weekly appearances on her daughter’s hit Bravo series, My Life on the D-list. Frequently the butt of Kathy’s good-natured ribbing about her excessive boxed-wine drinking, Maggie has won over viewers with her gentle observations as well as the bemused indignation she expresses at Kathy’s more outrageous antics — particularly her foul language on live TV while cohosting CNN’s New Year’s coverage next to Anderson Cooper. “He’s a Vanderbilt!” Maggie exclaimed.

Griffin has now followed in her daughter’s publishing footsteps. Like Kathy’s 2009 best seller Official Book Club Selection, Maggie’s just-published Tip It! The World According to Maggie (Hyperion, $23.99) is equal parts memoir and advice book. In it, she details her Depression-era childhood and happy 65-year-long marriage to her late husband, Johnny, and she doles out helpful tips for going green and suggests which actors should and shouldn’t do nude scenes. The prose also features the expected sarcastic asides from Kathy. Maggie Griffin speaks with The Advocate about her strange liking of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, her thoughts on marriage equality, and the celebrity with which she most wants to tip it.

The Advocate:
How did you come to write Tip It!?

Maggie Griffin: It was proposed to me. At first I wasn’t too keen on it. I’ve never written anything in my life. The publishers came back again, so I decided to give it a try. The book is a chance to say what I think, and of course Kathy gets her two cents in as well.

Do you really drink as much wine as Kathy alleges?
If I drank as much wine as Kathy says I do, I’d have been dead 20 or 30 years ago. No, I love wine, but I usually have only one or two glasses a day. My husband and I would always have a happy hour before dinner and then a glass of wine at dinner. So it’s just two glasses. That’s usually my limit.

Why do you prefer boxed wine to bottled wine?
It started years ago when we’d have big parties. The boxed wine was so much more convenient and easier to carry, and it would stay good for as long as it lasted.

If you could share a glass of boxed wine with any celebrity, who would it be?
Oh, Helen Mirren! I’ve met so many celebrities through Kathy and they’ve all been fine, but I think the only one I’ve actually shared a glass of wine with was Betty White. She was so wonderful and funny and real and adorable. I felt as if I’d known her forever. We just laughed and had the best time.What do you think is the most embarrassing thing Kathy has ever done in public?
It would have to be the New Year’s Eve thing with Anderson Cooper. I was a little unhappy with that. She did things when she was a kid that weren’t really embarrassing but were laughable. There was one time when she was 8 or 9 years old and wore this crummy wig I bought at Sears to church. She even put on makeup. The wig was full in front but separated in the back. I didn’t know she did it because she’d slipped out of the house. She came home and was so proud of herself and told us that everyone was looking at her. I couldn’t help but laugh. Of course they were looking at her — she looked horrible! I didn’t tell her that, though. I just told her they were looking at her because they were surprised to see her in the wig. All I could think about was that people must have thought, What were Maggie and Johnny thinking to let their kid out looking like that?

What goes through your mind when she does these outrageous things?
My first thought is, That’s just Kathy. She’s always been like that. She’s always been a free spirit, a “don’t rain on my parade” kind of girl. I really admire that in her. I think it’s wonderful. I don’t have the courage to do things like that.

Do you do things that embarrass her?
Oh, everything I do embarrasses her. No matter what I do, she says “There you go embarrassing me again.” There’s really no explanation for it. She enjoys it and I just laugh.

In your book, Kathy mentions that you now have as many gay fans as she does. Why do you think gay people have had such a positive response to you?
First of all, they’re wonderful to me. If I’m sitting having a cup of coffee, they’ll come up to me and ask if they can sit with me and talk. And I just love them, and I’m happy things are getting better for them. They say I’m just like their mom or their grandma. We always have a lot of laughs. I like the fact that they love Kathy so much.

Did you have gay friends before Kathy became famous?
I honestly never thought I knew gay people, but I was having a talk with two fellas who lived across from us when I was in the condo in West Hollywood and I mentioned that. The fellas were Randy and Steve, who are two of the best guys you could ever know in your life. Randy said, “Maggie, you knew gay people, but you didn’t know they were gay.” That’s exactly the truth. I knew them, but I didn’t think about it. I didn’t care and I don’t care now. If I like them, I like them.MAGGIE GRIFFIN 2 X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COMWho’s your best gay friend now?
There’s a funny story in the book about Kathy’s good friend Tom Murphy. He was very active in the choir and the drama club in high school. They were doing Dames at Sea and Tom was in it with a lot of girls. I said to my husband that Tom was prettier than any of the girls onstage. Yet I honestly never thought of him as being gay. He was just a high school kid who was good-looking. I didn’t have a clue. Then I found out, and we’re the best of friends today.

I have to confess that I’m surprised you’re such a fan of Bill O’Reilly. He’s not exactly fighting on the side of the angels. What is it about him that you like?
My boyfriend Bill O’Reilly? It drives Kathy nuts when I say that. I think he’s cute and has a nice sense of humor. I think he’s very smart. Kathy almost cries when I say that he’s fair and balanced. As much as I like him, I honestly don’t agree with everything he says. Not at all. I disagree with him on a lot of things, but I like his personality. Oh, to answer your earlier question, that’s one of the things I do that embarrasses Kathy. She’s very ashamed of me for saying that.

You were raised Catholic and still have strong Catholic beliefs, yet you’re in favor of marriage equality and gay rights. How have you reconciled your personal feelings with the way the church feels about gay people?
I hate it and it’s depressing. It’s very embarrassing to most Catholics, and many of my friends have been driven away from the church. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong and [the church] is paying for it. I don’t want to give it up. I love my religion. They have to remember that these are human beings. You have to keep in mind the good things the church teaches and discard the other stuff.MAGGIE GRIFFIN 5 X390 (GETTY IMAGES) | ADVOCATE.COMI was at the anti-Proposition 8 rally you spoke at in 2008. The crowd
was very excited that you were there. What do you remember about that
night?

Oh, that was great. They were so nice to me. I had a
wheelchair and two really nice guys wheeling me around. The rally was
wonderful. I’m not like Kathy. I can’t just get up there and be free
and easy. I’ve never done that. But I got up there especially for the
parents and families of gays, to ask them to accept their kids. I want
them to stick up for them and be there for them. That was my role and I
was proud to do it. I think gay marriage is eventually going to happen.

You
just turned 90, and you look terrific and your health is great. What’s
your secret for living such a long life and looking and feeling so good?

Oh,
my gosh. I wish I had secrets. First of all, I’ve had a real happy
life. I had wonderful parents and siblings and a wonderful family. My
husband and I were together 65 years and we laughed. I think humor
keeps you younger. I think that if you can laugh and get over things
and make fun of yourself and not take life so seriously, that’s real
good therapy.