COMEDY

Can she talk

>> Standup legend Joan Rivers on her loyal
gay following, her (one) face lift, Cher,
Rosie O’Donnell and Anne Murray

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by MATTHEW HAYS

At 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.

Why, 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.

Aside 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.

Mirror: Hi Joan…
Joan Rivers: Hi babe, what’s going on?

M: Well, I’m interviewing you ...
JR: Who is this?

M: Matthew Hays, I’m a journalist in Montreal…
JR: Oh, I thought you were Matt, my personal assistant ...

M: Uh ... no.
JR: Okay, I’ll talk to you. I’m doing the comedy thing in Montreal. It’s going to be fun.

Queen of the gays
M: Why do you think gay men have such a strong connection with you?
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.

M: 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.

M: 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.

Those crazy Democrats
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.

M: 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.

M: 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 true.

M: 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.

Drastic plastic
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.

M: 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.

M: 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.

M: 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.

M: 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.

M: What’s the worst part about dating someone in your 60s?
JR: Finding someone with a pulse.

M: 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 Matt. :

Joan 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

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