At the beginning of her 2011 special Pants Off, Kathy Griffin is introduced by her mother, Maggie, a 91-year-old sparkplug who has become known to her daughter's fans via her box-wine-swilling appearances on Kathy's reality show My Life on the D-List. "Sometimes she gets a little raucous," Maggie warns, with a grin. "Just take it for what it is. It's just Kathy." Those three words--"It's just Kathy"--seem about as succinct an accurate a review as one could formulate for Kathy Griffin: Pants Off/Tired Hooker, which collects two of her Bravo specials from last year on one disc; Griffin has cultivated a specific and defined comedic persona, and it is one that you either enjoy or you don't. There are no surprises here. It's just Kathy.
Much is made of Louis CK's unique stand-up work ethic, by which he turns out a new hour of material (for either his stand-up specials or his Louie TV show) every year; we hear less about Griffin, who turned out two specials per year for Bravo in 2007, 2009, and 2010, and then doubled that in 2011. On the other hand, Louie's material also seems considerably more worked-out and refined than Griffin's; she seems (and seems may be the operative word here--it probably takes a great deal of work to seem this casual and off-the-cuff) to bound out on stage and just talk shit. For the most part, her act is confined to the realm of pop culture, star gossip and reality TV, and because of the disposable nature of those topics, the shelf life of her specials is limited--which may also contribute to the quick turnover.
In fact, she acknowledges that impermanence here. Pants Off begins with a discussion of the then recent nuptials of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries--a union that had already dissolved by the time she shot Tired Hooker. The Kardashian family and their beaus (including Bruce Jenner, who's "had more face work than I have," and Humphries, who Griffin notes "looks a little 'special needs'') aren't the only repeat topics; the Casey Anthony case prompts an extensive discussion of Nancy Grace (including a terrific impression) that returns in the next special, as Griffin marvels over Grace's run, and unexpected "wardrobe malfunction," on Dancing with the Stars. Other topics, over the course of the specials, include the Real Housewives, Anderson Cooper, Ashton and Demi, Marcus Bachmann, her friend Cher, and Lindsay Lohan.
She introduces that final topic in a way that speaks to her style, and much of her appeal: with the question, "Remember when Lindsay was late to the morgue?" Note the phrasing and wording there--she's on a first-name basis, assuming a familiarity with both the story and the subject. She doesn't say "Lindsay Lohan"--she just uses the first name and assumes we know exactly who and what she's talking about. That assumption is occasionally hazardous (this viewer actually doesn't get all the Real Housewives references), but her approach is endearing; she's conversational, catty, fun, a friend you get together to gossip with. "Let's do the Kardashian wedding by the numbers," she says, right off the bat in Pants Off, and that's the attitude: let's dish, let's blast, let's go. Later: "You've waited long enough--we need to talk about Marcus Bachmann right now!" Later than that: "Wanna hear about my weekend at Anderson Cooper's?"
And that's the fun of Griffin's act--she's violating the rules of polite society, calling bullshit on hack "celebs" and political hypocrites, going undercover and reporting back with all the giddy details. That said, she's a better performer than a writer; she too often goes for the easy laugh or the cheap gross-out giggle. And frankly, though the pop culture stuff is her bread and butter, I found myself getting more enjoyment out of her fleeting but funny personal routines (like her week-long run as a 50-year-old stoner) and more traditional bits (few stand-up stand-bys are older than the riff on TV informercials, but her bit on pajama jeans and the "Forever Lazy" is priceless). But even when the punchlines seem tossed-off, Griffin's amusing physicality (her model poses and waves are inspired) and likable personality sell the weaker gags.
Video & Audio:
The anamorphic widescreen presentations are adequate if unexceptional--it's a clean image with fine saturation, though the focus in Tired Hooker is noticeably softer, and the image a bit noisier on that later special (particularly in the bad stock footage of Atlantic City in the opening). The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround tracks are quite good--all of Griffin's material is clear and audible with no issues of note, while immersion of audience reaction is light but effective.
Stand-up discs don't usually offer copious bonus features, but we do get some Unaired Bonus Footage from the two specials. The Pants Off outtakes (17:10 total) include bits on "LA Ink/Jesse James," "Gypsy Weddings," and "Cher and the Movie Premiere"; from Tired Hooker (6:59 total), we have routines on "The Emmys" and "The Little Chocolatiers." "None of that's ever gonna make the show," she says at the conclusion of the first, "but I think it's very funny." And most of them are--the gypsy weddings bit doesn't really go anywhere, but the Cher story is a gem, and her recounting of an encounter with Paula Abdul is a winner as well.
Pants Off and Tired Hooker aren't great stand-up specials, but they've got some laughs, and enough quotable lines and payoffs ("I'm Cher, I don't know how to order a fuckin' pizza!") to spackle over the lesser bits. I'm still not completely sold on this iteration of Griffin's act--I prefer the less stargazing material of her early HBO specials--but nonetheless, there's some awfully good stuff here.