Can we talk? Dishing the dirt with Joan Rivers

 

Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

Many entertainment fans know Joan Rivers as the queen of the red carpet, shoving a microphone into the face of every celebrity at awards shows, asking, “Who are you wearing?” But beyond her career assaulting nervous celebs with her daughter Melissa, Joan Rivers is a show business force of nature whose career has spanned four decades.

As the subject of a Comedy Central Roast, the winner of this year’s Celebrity Apprentice, and with a never-ending tour of live concert gigs, the 76 year old comedy legend shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.

After early days as a comedy writer and standup comic in the late ‘60s, Rivers broke through as a staple on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, becoming both his permanent guest host and a Vegas headliner. As writer, director and/or star of a slew of TV movies and Broadway plays (earning a Tony nod for her play Sally Marr and Her Escorts), Rivers seems to have done it all – not to mention penning several books and now selling her signature line of jewelry and beauty products.

Rivers has experienced career highs and personal lows, including the suicide of her husband Edgar (which she explored in the TV movie Tears and Laughter).

I recently had a chance to dish the dirt with one of show business’ greatest gossips.

 Adam Sandel: Joan? Can we talk?

Joan Rivers: Yes we can, what should we talk about?

AS: Did you know that you’re on the cover of a book called Great Jews in Entertainment?

JR: No, that’s hilarious!

AS: And your picture is above Barbra Streisand’s.

JR: As it should be.

AS: Why do you think are Jews so funny?

JR:  I don’t. We certainly don’t own night-time. Leno, Letterman, Carson, Conan O’Brien… A lot of people are funny, just some of them are Jews.

AS: A lot of your material is about making fun of celebrities. Which celebrities have been a gift from God?

JR: When Elizabeth Taylor was fat, God smiled on me. Mel Gibson will be there for a long time, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Jessica Simpson are all fun – a lot of them come and go.

AS: Have any celebrities had bad reactions to your making fun of them?

JR: Not that I know of. People are stars for a reason and they’re smart. Maybe not book smart but street smart. I used to do a lot about Cher but as she became more popular I took her out of the act. She came backstage one night and said, “When are you putting me back in?” They like the attention. Now Edie Falco, an idiot, once wrote to the New York Times yelling about Melissa and me, saying that women shouldn’t change their looks or dress up. She ended up getting a nose job, losing weight and dying her hair.

AS: You’ve been a fixture on the red carpet at awards shows. What have been your most memorable experiences there?

JR: The most memorable experiences are when something goes wrong. Like Kevin Costner finding out that he’d given his fiancée an engagement ring the size of a flea.

AS: He realized this on the air?

JR: Yes, I pointed it out to him. Or Dustin Hoffman trying to carry me into the Golden Globes because I didn’t have a ticket. And I was chatting so long with Rita Wilson that Tom Hanks got us coffee and came back with it. Those are the things you remember.

AS: In the early days you were a trailblazer for women comics.

JR: No I wasn’t. There was Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields… I’m so in the mix now I never think of myself as a trailblazer.

AS: Have any women comics looked to you as a mentor?

JR: I hope not because I haven’t helped anyone. Kathy Griffin is a friend of mine, but not for that reason.

AS: Which comics do you most admire today?

JR: None. I never look at other comics. We may be talking about the same things and I don’t want to know, so I don’t go to comedy clubs or watch other comics.

AS: Do any moments in your career stand out as high points?

JR: That’s a good question, but no. I’m always working so I’ve never had the opportunity to stop and say, “Look where I am.” When I won an Emmy and got nominated for a Tony, those are high points but it’s always been a struggle. When I guest-hosted The Tonight Show it was a struggle to get good guests because they all wanted to be on with Johnny. When I had my show on Fox it was the same struggle.

AS: When you left The Tonight Show to do your show on Fox, you had a falling out with Johnny Carson.

JR: That was years ago, who cares? Besides, the man is dead. Unless someone else is buried in that grave.

AS: What’s been your lowest career point?

JR: Being fired at Fox and the president said, “It’s not because of your ratings.” It was because of a feud between my husband and Barry Diller. My Broadway show Sally Marr and my daytime talk show ended on the same day. That was a bad Friday.

AS: After many years in L.A. you now live in New York.

JR: I was in L.A. for 21 years but after Edgar’s suicide it was too painful to stay so I’ve lived in New York for the past 18 years. I’m still in L.A. every three weeks to see Melissa and my grandchild.

AS: What are the biggest differences between L.A. and New York?

JR: In L.A. everyone has seen every movie. In New York everyone has seen every play. In L.A. you need a major house. In New York you need a major apartment. Shallowness knows no coast.

AS: To what do you owe your amazingly youthful appearance?

JR [with great sincerity]: Good eating, proper nutrition, exercise, clean thoughts, and a great plastic surgeon.

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