DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Comedian Kathy Griffin posted a photo of herself holding up a Donald Trump mask made to look like a severed head. That was May 2017. And since then, she's been blacklisted. But now, Kathy Griffin is trying a comeback. NPR's Sam Sanders has the story.
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: The thing that almost killed Kathy Griffin's career, it actually happened during some downtime.
KATHY GRIFFIN: In between, like, gigs, I will just do a million crazy things to try to make you laugh. And on that day - no joke - I had done a photo shoot. We had no paperwork. There was no publicist, like...
SANDERS: Where were the photos supposed to go?
GRIFFIN: Anywhere. Like, I - when we had done the photo shoot before...
SANDERS: You just post them online, or what?
GRIFFIN: ...He just put them online.
SANDERS: Griffin says the whole shoot took 20 minutes or so. And it was pretty nonsensical, except for one photo.
GRIFFIN: I did say, I want to do some kind of a picture to shame Trump.
SANDERS: Griffin said she was mad at Trump for what he said about Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News host, after she grilled him in a presidential debate in 2015.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her - wherever. But...
SANDERS: So Griffin wanted a photo of a bloody Trump.
GRIFFIN: No joke, like, I sent a friend of mine out to, like, a party store or, like, a Halloween store or something. And I said, just bring back anything, like, America/Trump-y (ph).
SANDERS: In the picture, Griffin holds up a Trump mask covered in ketchup. She put it online, and then...
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Kathy Griffin fired by CNN over that photo of her holding a bloody Trump head.
SANDERS: Kathy Griffin lost work immediately. Federal officials threatened to charge her with conspiracy to assassinate the president.
GRIFFIN: I couldn't fly for two months.
GRIFFIN: I mean...
SANDERS: At all.
GRIFFIN: The no-fly list, like a terrorist.
SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Griffin says when she was taken off the no-fly list...
GRIFFIN: I was detained at every single airport. And that is something I want people to know. People have a myth - they think, oh, they can't take your phone and SIM card. Oh, they can, and they did at LAX, at London Heathrow.
SANDERS: And LAX is bad enough.
SANDERS: Jesse David Fox is a senior editor at vulture.com. He also hosts the comedy podcast called "Good One." Fox says Griffin's story shows how hard it is right now to make good jokes about President Trump. And yet...
JESSE DAVID FOX: Comedians feel about joking about Trump like a couple who the love is faded feel about having intercourse on their anniversary, where, like, no one wants to do it, but everyone feels like they have to go through the motions. Like...
FOX: But the ability to just do the job, to show up and say the president is bad, is very important as a stabilizing factor of our society, to be reminded that we are allowed to do that.
SANDERS: And Kathy Griffin sees that as her role.
GRIFFIN: In my opinion, it is within my lane. So when people first came out - stay in your lane, tell your jokes - I'm like, hold on. Learn your comedy history. There are many, many comedians, you know, that at some point will do something that is half-statement, half-joke.
SANDERS: Griffin recently finished a comedy special. It's called "A Hell of a Story." In it, she talks all about the fallout from the photo, what it's like to be neighbors with the Kardashians and how she's coming back.
GRIFFIN: I'm going to have to do this one myself. Like, nobody's got a shovel for me and is going to help me dig my way out of it. I'm keeping the faith. I'm being positive. I'm a little bitter, but hopefully funny first.
SANDERS: But it's only funny if you can hear the jokes. Right now, Griffin's new comedy special is on ice. So far, she can't find a distributor.
Sam Sanders, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "CARGO CULT")
GREENE: And you can hear Sam's full interview with Kathy Griffin, including the story of her dinner party with Kris Jenner.
GRIFFIN: She's, like, cutting a steak. And God love her, she's cold as ice. And I do think she's killed people. Now, I can't prove it. But would you cross her?
GREENE: You can hear it on the podcast It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders.
(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "CARGO CULT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.