Standup legend Joan Rivers on her loyal
gay following, her (one) face lift, Cher,
Rosie O’Donnell and Anne Murray
the risk of sounding overly-simplistic, I would argue that human beings
can be divided into one of two categories. There are those who love
Joan Rivers and those who hate her. And virtually always, gay men fall
into the former category.
my puzzled straight friends often ask? Well, because Joan Rivers is
the original survivor. She’s hilarious about it--her self-deprecating
wit is, in my estimation, one of the most brilliant protective shields
ever devised. True, she can be a bit abrasive, but hey, to me that’s
simply part of her charm. Not everyone agrees, clearly. Former talk-show
host Rosie O’Donnell took shots at Rivers last week on Entertainment
Tonight, calling Rivers “frightening” and saying Rivers
looks like “an alien” after too much plastic surgery.
from such pettiness, Rivers has lived through great personal anguish,
from her husband’s suicide to her nasty falling out with late-night
ogre Johnny Carson. You’ve got to hand it to the woman, she’s
resilient, having reinvented herself umpteen times, from standup comedienne,
to actress, to film director, to playwright, to bestselling author,
to talk-show host, to make-up entrepreneur (among many other vocations).
Cripes, Saint Joan’s done just about everything, including recently
pausing for the Mirror to plug her Just for Laughs gala from her London
Ritz Hotel suite.
Joan Rivers: Hi babe, what’s going on?
Well, I’m interviewing you ...
JR: Who is this?
Matthew Hays, I’m a journalist in Montreal…
JR: Oh, I thought you were Matt, my personal assistant
Uh ... no.
JR: Okay, I’ll talk to you. I’m doing the
comedy thing in Montreal. It’s going to be fun.
of the gays
M: Why do you think gay men have such a strong connection
JR: Because I’m a strong woman, because I didn’t
get there easily. They were my first audience. They were the first ones
to get it. Whatever “it” was. And they’ve still been
there for me. They’ve been there for the ups, there for the downs.
They’ve been there for everything. It’s all strong women--it’s
Liza, it’s me, it’s Bette Midler. You know that.
You’ve made a career out of trashing others. Have you ever done
a routine about someone that you’ve regretted?
JR: No… actually, the only one I ever worried
about was Elizabeth Taylor. And I called her and asked her through a
friend if it upset her, and she said, “It doesn’t get me
at all.” Everything I say, what is so horrible when you’re
talking about people who make $20-million a picture? Come on, let’s
get real here. All publicity is good publicity. I used to do a thing
about Cher in my act. We had a blow up of Cher from one of her albums
and she had this outrageous outfit on. I used to bring it on stage and
throw it down and then I’d say, “That’s your favourite
position!” Then it got old and Cher got cold. She came to see
me and she was furious that I’d taken it out of the act. The smart
ones know that if you’re mentioned in an act it means they know
who you are. And that’s the truth.
You’ve certainly been resilient over the years. Were there any
points you felt like walking away from the business?
JR: Walking away from the business, never. Ups and
downs, every single fucking day. It’s tough, it’s a mean
business, it’s not a friendly business to anyone, unless you’ve
made the connections. I never made the connections, because I think
comedians have to be outsiders. I have one friend who’s a very
famous comedian, and he told me one day that he was going riding this
weekend with Jackie Onassis. And I thought, “Honey, you’re
finished.” And indeed, his career took a nose dive. You’re
always an outsider--so there’s no one there to help you. It’s
all about numbers. When you’re hot, everybody loves you. Right
now I’m in London, and I’m the hit of London. Amazing reviews--you
can check. So everybody loves me again.
M: One of the most surprising things to me is that
you’re a Republican…
JR: How can you not be? How can anyone not be? How
can you live in a country when you can not say the Pledge of Allegiance
anymore? Insane people have taken over the Democratic Party. They’re
mad. They’ve taken over the asylum. To be worried about what the
terrorists were eating at Camp X-ray, I think you’re beyond insane.
They’ve just blown up New York.
Your beloved dog Spike died just three days before Sept. 11. It must
have been a tough time.
JR: I was on the Regis and Kelly Show that day. We
got the first feed. People were walking up the street covered in white
ash. It was such a surreal experience. Also, though, I’ve never
seen New York gather together in the way that it did. It was amazing.
Are there any limits to self-deprecating humour?
JR: I think the audience lets you know. I never think,
“Ooh, dare I say this?” You just know. I don’t know
if there are any limits. Tragedy plus time equals comedy, is definitely
People have said that there are a lot of parallels between Jewish humour
and gay humour. It’s about survival. Do you agree?
JR: Sure. But I don’t analyze stuff that much.
If it’s funny, I say it. All I know is “Ooh! That’s
funny!” All minority groups are funny. WASPs are just not funny.
They have nothing to be funny about. It’s a stupid cliché.
M: Do you feel anyone’s said anything about you
that’s out of bounds?
JR: Oh totally. You just go, “Go to hell.”
All this stuff with plastic surgery has reached a point of insanity.
I’ve had my face done once, I’ve had it tucked once. Which
is not so bad for 60-odd years. But I’m the only one who’s
talked about it. I’ve talked about it on my show, I’ve talked
about with my audiences. I always say to them, “Better a new face
coming out of an old car, than an old face come out of a new car.”
Get your priorities straight! People say to me, “How many plastic
surgeries have you gotten? 20? 30?” And I’m like, I work
all the time, when did I do it? Look at my schedule: if I did it, I
healed over night.
Did you hear the remarks Rosie O’Donnell made about you on Entertainment
Tonight? She’s been pretty harsh.
JR: I’ve been just as harsh back. This woman
who said, “I’m GAY!” No shit. You know something?
It was not a happy group backstage. Talk to people who work with people
and you’ll find out what they’re really like. It’s
that simple. I’m not going to go any further.
Do you think it’s annoying that she took so long to come out?
JR: I think it was stupid. And I think it was hypocritical
to say I love Tom Cruise. Let’s get real here. How hypocritical
can you be? To play that game when she wanted to get people to like
her and watch the show. “I’m in love with Tom Cruise.”
Yeah, right. And meanwhile, we all knew who she was going out with.
And she only came out and left the show when the ratings plummeted.
She’s a very smart woman, but if she wants to talk harshly about
me she can, because I talk harshly about her in my act. I talk about
her coming out, and she says, “I have a big surprise for you!”
And I’m like, yeah? I thought you were going to say you were straight?
A woman who has 185 pant suits--I have my suspicions. She can talk about
me all she wants. Look at the source.
You’re notorious in Canada because when you had Anne Murray on
your show you came right out and asked her about all those lesbian rumours.
JR: Yes, but who cares? Who cares? It’s so stupid.
Don’t make me swallow you’re straight. In the closet, out
of the closet, whatever. I’m not going to out you. But do not
make me hear that you’re in love with Tom Cruise. And that’s
why you’re not married because you’re in love with Tom Cruise.
I hate hypocrisy of any kind.
Who are the young acts you love?
JR: Margaret Cho is wonderful, seen her many times.
Kit and the Widow I just played with and I think they’re so smart.
Chris Rock is hardly young anymore but I think he’s beyond brilliant.
What’s the worst part about dating someone in your 60s?
JR: Finding someone with a pulse.
Thanks for the time.
JR: It’s been wonderful. Sorry I thought you
were my assistant in the beginning. I have a darling gay assistant called
Rivers hosts the Just for Laughs gala at 7:30pm on Wednesday, July 17
at Theatre St-Denis. Acts include Larry the Cable Guy, Margaret Smith
and Irwin Barker