By Michael Slezak
June 09, 2009 at 07:25 PM EDT

Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List has always been funniest when its titular star is at her most pathetic — cluelessly hosting home-shopping programming, enduring countless local media appearances in a desperate attempt to sell concert tickets — so you’d think it might be problematic that as the brassy redhead heads into her fifth season, she’s got two Emmys, widespread critical acclaim, and the ability to sell out concert halls across the nation. And that’s why it’s such a stroke of genius that Griffin is now focusing her attention on stalking true A-listers to learn the secrets of their success. I mean, what better way to downgrade your rising star than by placing it next to a real-live supernova?

Last night’s Las Vegas encounter of the Bette Midler kind proved just how far Griffin has to go before she can upgrade her status to the penthouse suite — and hilariously so. Take that scene on the elevator, where Griffin asked Midler to hide her water-bottle label, to avoid any additional licensing expenses for the Bravo network. “If anyone’s cable, you are,” quipped Midler with a good-natured laugh that nonetheless summed up the differences in the two women’s careers. Or how about that visit to Midler’s Caesars Palace gift boutique, a far cry from Griffin’s method of having her assistants tack her T-shirts to cork boards in the lobbies of the venues she plays. (“When I’m around you, I look like I have class,” howled Midler.) Not to worry, D-List fans: Our gal may be flirting with an upgrade to C+ or B- status, but she’s not too big for her reality-show britches.

It helped, of course, that Midler played her superstar part brilliantly, gently dissing Griffin’s cameo appearance at her Vegas concert — “I have to say, though, the little bit? Not so great.” — and later asking, “Kathy, what are you gonna wear when you’re burning in hell?” It’s those kinds of put-downs that bring out Griffin’s best zingers (“I don’t know, but I’ll have a good gay pick out something red and fabulous.”). And of course, there was that fame-struck woman on the Vegas strip, completely ignoring the star of the show and stating directly and catatonically into the camera. “She broke the fourth wall like on Moonlighting with Cybill Shepherd,” Kathy quipped.

And really, it’s Griffin’s ability to always dig deep and come up with another self-deprecating or absurd pop-culture observation that makes her the best celebreality star on television. I howled when Griffin admitted the way she was planning to spin her brief phone chat with the legendary Stevie Nicks — “I will be telling my friends I met, I hung out with, I had a meal with Stevie Nicks.” — and loved the way she described choreographer Toni Basil as dressing “like a cookie.”

I’m hoping that for the remainder of the season, Griffin steers away from bits like that stay at a Holiday Inn Express, a not-funny-enough and totally scripted contrivance that (outrage alert!) let three tasty cinnamon rolls go to waste. With brilliantly disinterested assistant Jessica having “moved on” (sniffle) we’re left only with Tom and Tiffany as semi-mute members of Kathy’s posse. Sure, it’s always funny to see Griffin (and Midler) humiliate the befuddled “tour manager”/token straight guy, but no one’s going to be quoting Tom or Tiffany the morning after the show, right? Good thing there will always be funnier non-celebs in the wings, like the NARAS receptionist who couldn’t stop laughing after mistakenly introducing our star as “Kathy Griffith.” As long as unexpected indignities like that lurk around every corner of Griffin’s fameosexual journey, then D-List will remain must-see TV.


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