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Comedian Kathy Griffin puts Tracy in the spotlight

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Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2008 10:00 pm

If Tracy's Dry Bean Festival didn't publicize the town's name as much as locals had hoped, a visit from Kathy Griffin should do the trick.

Emmy Award-winning comedian Griffin, followed by her film crew and three assistants, one of whom is Tracy High School 2002 graduate Tiffany Rinehart, pulled into town Thursday afternoon to kick off three days of filming for her Emmy-Award winning reality TV show, "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List."

The show will air in June.

Rinehart, who was hired as Griffin's assistant a year and a half ago, has become a well-known sidekick on the reality show, which airs Tuesdays on Bravo. The show's producers couldn't pass up the opportunity to introduce viewers to Rinehart's hometown.

"She's got fans of her own," said one of the show's producers Leslie Brown.

Rinehart, 24, was surprised at the Tracy Chamber of Commerce office when she was presented with the 2008 Tracy Award of Excellence, the first time the chamber has ever handed out the honor.

Chamber executive director Dan Maloney said Rinehart deserves the award because she brought Griffin to Tracy. Griffin will perform standup to a sold out audience at the Grand Center Theatre for the Arts Sunday.

"Any publicity that's not bad is good," Maloney said earlier in the week. "At least people will know where Tracy is."

About 30 people were invited to the get-together in front of the chamber office, catered by All Day BBQ and Catering. A Tracy policeman blocked off 10th Street, which had a recently paved sidewalk thanks to a nudge from the chamber.

Near a tent the chamber set up for the event, the small crowd stood silent while Griffin stepped out from behind the wheel of an SUV about 20 minutes late.

Griffin immediately threw out a few jokes to lighten up the star-struck crowd. She poked fun of Tracy's love of beans, the Tracy High-West High rivalry, her expected stay at a local hotel and Rinehart's favorite hangouts, the Great Plate Bar and Grill and the Jack in the Box parking lot.

Griffin was appalled to hear Rinehart was in the "royal" court during the crowning of Tracy High's homecoming king and queen.

"I thought you were one of us," Griffin said. "I didn't think you were one of those mean, pretty girls."

Even though Tracy's small-town atmosphere appealed to Griffin, she did little to cleanup her colorful language around chamber and city employees or Rinehart's parents, Ron and Christine Rinehart, and her grandmother, Millie Torres, better known as Ma.

And she was hardly at a loss for the mocking irreverence she's best known for.

During the ceremony, she said, "That sounds like a made-up award," leaving the retortless Maloney at a loss for words though he managed a nervous chuckle.

When Rinehart was later asked how she felt about having an award created for her, Griffin chimed in under her breath to called it the "bull**** award."

"I often say things I regret," Griffin said with a shrug.

After all the catered beans and barbecue chicken were eaten, Griffin's film crew invited this reporter to strap on a microphone and interview Rinehart and Griffin, Barbara Walters-style.

The producers stopped filming twice to feed this reporter questions that would ignite some controversy and laughter, like what's the most embarrassing task Griffin's made Rinehart do.

"Find her panty liner," Rinehart and Griffin's other assistant Jessica Zajicek said in unison.

"Oh absolutely," Griffin agreed.

When Rinehart took the job as Griffin's personal assistant, she didn't realize she'd share the spotlight with the comedian. Rinehart, armed with a journalism and public relations degree, stumbled onto Zajicek's MySpace page. Rinehart asked her how she got the job, and Zajicek said the timing was perfect.

With the reality show taking off, Griffin needed a third assistant.

"It's kind of weird how it's all happened," Rinehart said.

The crew will travel the nation until April to film the show's fourth season. They were in St. Louis this week to film in Griffin's assistant Tom Vize's hometown.

Rinehart, Griffin and her crew said they ate at Gerard's on Thursday for lunch, and that they expected to hang out at the Great Plate Bar and Grill on Thursday night before they roam the streets of Tracy today and Sunday to get footage for the reality show's fourth season.

Contact reporter Danielle MacMurchy at danielle@tracypress.com.

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