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What's Up Magazine

Reflecting on Joan

Sep 05, 2014 12:03PM ● By James Houck
The news of Joan Rivers’ death this week sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry. Love her or not, Rivers’ off-the-cuff, often racy, and always piercing ruminations on the rich and famous, fashion, and, well, life itself, branded her a comedienne ahead of her time and certainly one of the most dynamic female performers for nearly a half-century. Her comedic presence was not only enduring, it was downright hilarious. And if you didn’t laugh with her, you likely laughed at her; she was also a natural at self-deprecation, often riffing on her non-natural features.

I had the opportunity to speak with Joan several years ago, preceding her performance at the historic Avalon Theatre in Easton. When we spoke, she was between appointments in New York City and though busy as she was, she exemplified the consummate professional by entertaining all of my questions. And she was entertaining.

Reading through the following transcript of this interview (unabridged at that) suggests that Joan was the life of the party, no matter where or what she was doing. During the time of the interview, she exhibited that raw energy, that joie de vivre, that, no doubt, carried her from 1965, when she got her big break on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, until her death on Thursday at age 81. She will certainly be missed, but not forgotten.

Our Interview with Joan Rivers, February 2010

What’s Up?: Hi Joan, how are you?

Joan Rivers: I’m very, very happy today. I can’t wait to be in Easton, Maryland on the 23rd of April.

WU: So you’re gearing up for a big spring tour?

JR: Oh, I don’t do big spring tours. I do little, tiny spring tours.

WU: It looks like you have a few dates on the calendar.

JR: Well, I love coming to Maryland. Maryland in the spring is beautiful. That’s how I pick my gigs [laughing].

WU: Well hopefully it’s a little warmer come April than now. We’ve been slammed with this never-ending snow.

JR: Well, you’re going to have your cherry blossoms then.

WU: So what kind of show are we going to be able to expect from you. How do you develop your show?

JR: My show is always what it’s been about; it’s my concert that I do in England, then in San Francisco, and Chicago, everywhere. It’s about what’s going on in the world and what’s going on in my life.

WU: Mostly topical humor.

JR: It’s just about everything. It’s like asking George Carlin, ‘what do you talk about?’ or Robin Williams. We’re comics, we talk about everything.

WU: Do you ever tailor your performance to a specific audience?

JR: Never. There’s no such thing as a specific audience anymore. We’re all on the Internet, twitting and twatting, and tooting. We’re all Facebooking and we all watch the same thing. Even in Europe, people watch the same shows.

WU: How do you think the landscape of comedy has changed in the last 20–30 years?

JR: It’s one big village; absolutely one big village.

WU: Are there any contemporaries you admire today?

JR: I don’t admire anybody [laughing]. Everyone is the same. But I do love Lady Gaga. She knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s very talented. I worked with her a little bit in Greenwich Village when she was starting, about four years ago, and she was a smart girl then, and she’s a smart girl now. I love her.

WU: And what do you think of her fashion?

JR: Fabulous! That’s how we all know her. She’s the Bjork of this generation. And Bjork was the Elton John of her generation. Everyone forgets that Elton used to come out in top hats, crazy gloves, and big glasses. And that’s why we all watched Elton.

WU: So we’re seeing one big progression.

JR: Who do we remember? We remember the ones that are different. Cher, for example. And then there’s talent to back it up.

WU: And you recently got back into critiquing the red carpet.

JR: I do the Fashion Police, which is the next day. So when the Oscars are on Sunday, I’m on Monday. And I talk about everybody, which is so much more fun than interviewing people that will not tell you anything.

WU: You did that for the Golden Globes, right?

JR: Yes, we started this year with the Golden Globes, SAG, Grammys, and then the Oscars.

WU: What fashion trends, good or bad, have you seen?

JR: The bad; well they all have their stylists and so they all look very much alike and that is very boring. But some of the trends were ruffles; they were also trying to do prints. But a long dress and print, really doesn’t work, and you must be very rich to wear one [laughing].

WU: Do you incorporate the trends you see into your own product lines?

JR: We’re always involved in trends. Right now, this is the year of the phenomenal necklace and big earrings. They’re bigger to the point of just insanity now.

WU: Big, statement accessories are what you’re forecasting for the year.

JR: Big accessories, simple clothing. If you’re over 25, you can go two or three inches above your knee, but don’t go 17!

WU: When developing your collections, do you take inspiration from whatever moves you or do you really develop based on forecasting?

JR: We’re a 20-year-old business, so we go to all the shows, to Europe, to Vicenza, to Milan, we see something, and then design off that. It’s a real business.

WU: Did you recently attend Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival?

JR: I did. I was there for the documentary they did on me.

WU: How did the idea of a documentary come together?

JR: Well, I never turn anything down and somebody came to me and said, ‘we want to do a documentary on a year in your life.’ And so they just followed me around for a year.

WU: What was that experience like?

JR: Great! I got very close to them, really liked them, and was very sad when it was all over.

WU: Did the idea grow out of your experience on reality television in Celebrity Apprentice?

JR: Oh no. I’ve been in the business for 42 years. I’m used to having cameras. And I just loved that the documentarians were serious; and so they went at it with a very different approach. And I loved that.

WU: Was there anything you wouldn’t allow them to film?

JR: Nothing. Once you say they have the right to come in, they can exercise that right.

WU: Were there any moments you wish the crew hadn’t captured?

JR: Actually, there were moments I wished they had captured. But I didn’t have anything to do with the editing or the selection.

WU: Was the documentary well received at Sundance?

JR: You look it up [laughing]. It was received phenomenally well. We thought they’d like it, but they adored us.

WU: The next season of Celebrity Apprentice is about to start. Will we being seeing you along the way?

JR: I probably will be doing a few drop ins. But it’s not my show this year, which makes me very sad because I loved doing it. I really loved that show.

WU: For better or worse, what was it like to get to know the real people behind their celebrity images when you were on the show?

JR: It depends on the person. Some you like, some you despise. Herschel Walker I adored. Chloe Kardashian is a sweet dear girl. Some of them you like, some you find to be trash; like everything. Garbage is garbage in every society. But Dennis Rodman was really wonderful. Sweet, darling man.

WU: Eccentric but nice?

JR: Melissa [Joan’s daughter] would say, ‘get on the Dennis train and have a good time.’

WU: Well, we’re on the Joan train now. We look forward to having you visit.

JR: I look forward to coming there and the nice thing is that I can drive home that night. It’s worth it. When doing a show, it’s wonderful, it’s beautiful, it’s great. And then you can get in the car and be in your own bed that night. Win, win, win.

WU: On a fun, final note, when, if ever, are we going to see you reprise your role as Dot Matrix in a new Spaceballs movie?

JR: Well they started to do a whole series for television and we did voice-overs for it last year. And Mel was involved, and something is happening with it.

WU: Joan, it has been a pleasure speaking with you.

JR: I cannot wait, and I’m not making a joke, cannot wait to be in Maryland. Maryland is a beautiful state; I can’t wait to get down there. And please make sure every gay man in Maryland shows up. Gay men make a show. If you get six gay men in the first row, everyone will have a fabulous time!

– James Houck