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A Talk with Joan Rivers

Joan album 1

Joan Rivers died today following complications from a minor throat procedure where she fell into a coma on August 28.  “It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother,” her daughter, Melissa, said in a statement. “She passed peacefully at 1:17 p.m. ET.”

Joan visited and performed in the valley many times.  Her last visit to Arizona was last November when Joan appeared in a special charity show, Joan Rivers Comic Pain Relief at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Before the show, I had the opportunity of talking with Joan.  She was extremely accommodating, complimentary, and in true Joan Rivers fashion, she was open to anything I wanted to ask. “Go ahead, ask what you want,” she announced, putting me immediately at ease.

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Did Joan recall the first time she used her trademark ‘Can We Talk’ expression?

“Oh, absolutely,” she declared.  “I didn’t know I was saying it.  It’s really what my whole act is about.  It really started when Elizabeth Taylor blew up to be the fattest thing going.  There was a picture of her and a car and she couldn’t get out of the car.  She was so heavy at that point.  And I talked about it.  I was the first person to discuss it, and they (the audience) would stare at me, and I said, can we talk here?  And that’s what you say to a friend, and that became almost my buzz word, because it’s like saying, are we going to tell each other the truth or do you just want me to do some stupid stewardess jokes?  And my act is always about that.  I do a lot of very close-to-the-bone humor.”

I told Joan I remembered her Elizabeth Taylor standing-in-front-of-a-microwave joke that she used in her act during the eighties.  “Yes,” Joan responded with a hearty laugh.  “Yes. She shouted, hurry, hurry.  She put on a yellow sticker and school kids tried to board her.  She was a very good friend of a mutual friend of ours, Roddy McDowell, who is Melissa’s godfather, and I said to him, ask Elizabeth – you never called her Liz – ask Elizabeth if I’m doing too many jokes about her, and he said he asked her and she said, tell Joan it doesn’t hurt me where I live.  She always thought she was extraordinarily beautiful.  She was one of those women who whether you were five hundred pounds or three pounds, men gravitated to.  And so she never had the sense that she’d gotten fat.  To the end she thought she was the most beautiful creature in the room and how lucky is that, huh?”

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Keeping in mind that a lot of Joan’s act was name-dropping and picking on celebrities, I asked her if there were any celebrities she could name who to this day will not talk to her.  “Oh yes, a lot of them,” she said with a dismissive wave.  “Gwyneth Paltrow, that idiot.  When she’s standing up and able to stand up due to lack of food – she’s usually too dizzy, they carry her on – she has not forgiven me.  You know something, when you weigh three pounds and you name your children Apple and Orange and Grapefruit, you’re an idiot.”

Over the years, Joan Rivers has made several live, in-concert albums.  I told her that the one album I found the most entertaining also had the most entertaining cover; a group shot of the royal wedding with Prince Charles and Lady Diana and Joan as one of the guests.  “It was Joan and Diana’s wedding picture,” Joan laughed.  “They put me in.  They took one of the guests out and put me in.  And if you really go back and look you will notice I’m the only one carrying a gift for them.  I bought them a blender.  I love the picture.  They had to dress me up, and I was standing there happy.”

Joan Royal family

I pointed out that she was the only one in the picture who looked as though they were enjoying themselves.  “Of course,” agreed Joan.  “I was the only one who had the class to bring a gift.”

The subject of late night television came up, and before I could get to a question, Joan jumped right in.  “Jay Leno, that garbage,” she declared.  “He’s never let me on his show.  Never, never allowed me on his show, so he can go to hell.  But luckily, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Letterman, all the others have, so it’s ok.  You should read the new book on Johnny Carson.  It’s amazing.  It’s sensational.  Everything is true.”

Having had a late-night talk show of her own, not to mention she was once a permanent fill-in for Johnny Carson, did she miss interviewing?  “Oh, very much,” she said. “ I love interviewing to the point that I’m now doing on the Internet a show called In Bed with Joan which has gotten picked as one of the six best Internet shows.  All I do is sit in my bed and people come in and they sit on the bed with me and we talk.  I love interviewing.  You find things out that are extraordinary from people that you don’t have any clue until they sit down.  You think, well, this is a stupid Victoria’s Secret model and then you find out that this is a girl whose mother was killed by the Russians and who crawled through mud to get to something.”

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Besides the USA, Joan Rivers also had a massive following in Gt. Britain.  I asked if she ever altered her act in order to be understood by a foreign audience.  “No,” she replied.  “My husband was English, so I said, well, Edgar thinks I’m funny so they should think I’m funny.  I go over there every two years and do a big tour all through the British Isles.  I’m crazy for Ireland, for Scotland.  I could retire there tomorrow if I had a warm coat.  And London has the best theatre in the world.  I love them and they love me.”

And finally, speaking of audiences, I asked Joan if it had got to the point in her long career where she knew how certain audiences in a certain area were going to respond to the act.  “Areas don’t count anymore,” she explained.  “We’re really one global village. We all see the same movies, we all have the Internet.  In the old days they’d say, you’re going down to Texas, so be careful, don’t say this, don’t say that.  That’s gone.  I think older people are in shock at me because they think I’m going to be doing, you know, memory lane stuff, and I’m now working on Fashion Police which is a very young audience, very young and very smart.  I’m very current.  I swear, I carry on, I talk about things I probably shouldn’t talk about, and that’s the way it goes, you know.”

Joan Rivers was 81.

(Pictures taken from the 2010 documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work)

Posted in Interviews

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