Released: 13th August
Seen: 13th November
On May 30th 2017, a photo was uploaded on the internet that would change Kathy Griffin’s life forever. The photo was of Kathy in a blue dress holding a mask with piss-yellow hair covered in ketchup, clearly a reference to a certain president whose name I won’t mention because it’s my review and I get to do stuff like that. The photo was immediately condemned on all sides and Kathy went through the standard cancellation procedure where she lost all her current gigs and had to do the apology tour we send comics on when they make a bad joke. None of this was asked of photographer, Tyler Shields, who not only never apologised, but who continues to work to this day (not saying he should’ve gone through it too, just pointing out that he seems to be doing fine while Kathy’s the one dealing with everything). Anyway, for Kathy this went far beyond your standard “Cancel culture” reaction, this was a steroid induced destruction of a life and career because of one photo. I want to state up front that I did not like the photo in question, I thought it went too far and wasn’t funny… I’m also aware that it was a joke referencing a comment the person depicted in it said and that, at least at the time, Kathy was apologetic for it. What followed was a reaction that even literal rapists don’t have to go through, and this year Kathy finally said “ENOUGH” and let the world know what happened in one of the best and most heart stopping concert films I’ve ever seen.
A Hell of a Story is… just that, one hell of a story. Part documentary and part stand up, the film is Kathy letting us all in on just what she’s had to deal with for a little over two years because she took one photo that was over the line. For that crime, she’s been sent enough death threats to put her on a first name basis with members of the FBI, she was on the MAGA bombers list of potential victims, she had to deal with the loss of friends and even some family all while the man who she mocked got to run around screaming about how everyone else is so triggered and upset. Again, I was not a fan of the photo but the reaction she got was literally worse than what Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby got when their crimes came to light, and those guys raped people. This concert film is her explaining in laborious detail, in her own comic way, just what she went through and how it’s far from acceptable… all while wearing the same blue dress she wore on the day she became infamous.
If you’re not used to Kathy’s comedic rhythms it does take a little bit to get into the groove, but this is also a very different set than what she usually does. This isn’t some fun lighthearted set filled with celebrity stories like all her other sets before it, this is a battle cry from a woman who was dragged through hell and came out of it stronger than ever. This is a set where Kathy isn’t afraid to get the audience to stop and take in the reality of how many death threats she got and how vile they were. Say whatever you will about that photo, it does not warrant someone living in fear for their life and throughout this movie, Kathy wants everyone to remember that the reaction she had to fight against on her own wasn’t proportionate to what she did. Considering other celebrities (Snoop Dogg, Johnny Depp, just as examples) also made fun of a certain president while referencing his death and THEY never had to go through a FBI investigation for conspiracy to assassinate the president, I think it’s fair to say the reaction wasn’t proportionate. She takes the genuine pain she went through and turns it into comedy, the moment when she reads one of her death threats is a brutal combination of sobering reality (because, holy crap, she got actual legit death threats that required the FBI to step in) and gut busting hilarity (because turns out, people who send death threats are dumb and can’t write words good). She’s taking her audience on a rollercoaster and trusting them to come along for the ride, and it’s a ride I was so happy to take.
You want to know my big complaint? The one major problem I had? An hour and a half isn’t long enough, not for this story and not for this act. Stories of this tour had sets going for three hours and I would’ve gleefully sat through more. I didn’t just want more because the story is so insane I needed the time to let the detail sit (details that made me think “every person who sent a death threat to Kathy’s sister while she was going through chemo can go fuck themselves with something sharp and pointy”), I wanted more because Kathy deserved the extra time. She deserved to get to have a three hour recording to prove to everyone that not only did they not take her down but she’s never been better. Maybe there wasn’t more on this night, maybe because they were filming it she kept it to just the story of what happened but I was so enthralled by the details and the insanity that was being described that I would’ve taken so much more.
We can argue for hours about if that photo was appropriate or about sensitivity or cancel culture but no one can argue that anything Kathy went through was a proportionate response. This special lays out what she went through and it’s designed to have you laughing until the second you realize “Wait, you seriously went through that? What the hell” and become desperate to know more. It’s Kathy showing off her skills and her scars, it’s like her entire career has been building up to this moment when she can use every trick she’s learned to deliver the best set of her life. Kathy may joke that she’s on the D-list, but A Hell Of A Story is an A-list film that proves how much of a fighter she is. Even if she’s not your kind of comic, you need to see this just so you know exactly what the hell certain people in power are willing to put someone through who dares to make them look even more foolish than they make themselves look.