The word “legend” is bandied around within the entertainment field these days in terms of the seemingly instantaneous success some stars of today achieve, and can be equally applied to other celebrities who gain maximum exposure for little effort put into honing their craft.
But, to really get the definition of what a true hardworking entertainment legend is, one has to look no further than comedienne Joan Rivers, a pioneer in the comedy field .And no, that doesn’t mean she arrived on the scene in a covered wagon-although the self deprecating wit for which Rivers is famous for would probably relay it to that.
This funny lady came into her own at a time when the field of stand up comedy was mostly male dominated, save for Rivers and her predecessor, Phyllis Diller.
“Fortunately, I’m a lesbian,” she quipped before continuing about the testosterone driven nature of the beast. “It’s still male dominated, and stand up is a very strong field, and that’s why so many lesbians, and I’m not making a joke, are so good at stand up; it’s a very masculine, very butch field.”
Rivers chatted with me prior to her Humphrey’s Concerts By the Bay appearance with fellow comedic legend, Don Rickles, and our conversation ran the gamut from her career, plastic surgery, to which celebs would be caught in her comic crosshairs during her stand-up routine. She addressed these subjects with typical Rivers aplomb and that acerbic tongue that has defined her public persona and career.
A career that has definitely seen its share of ups and downs during her four plus decades in the biz, yet Rivers has always been able to bounce back.
“I’m at one of the lowest points, yet again.” She said candidly. “I go up and down like a yo-yo in my career, up and down, up and down, up and down. And, I just keep coming back because I love the business and I just keep moving forward. I think everything is almost like a test, nobody ever said it was going to be an easy ride.”
One constant of her career is that Rivers has been delivering her brand of caustic celebrity dressing downs as a staple of her act for many a year, which is a fortunate inclusion, as she explained.
“Brad and Angelina twenty years ago were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and twenty years before that it was Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.” She stated. “I mean it repeats itself over and over and over, there will always be tramps! In the 50’s, there was Joan Collins, there’s always been a slut around.”
But, there are certain changes to the industry that do not sit well with Rivers.
“The only trend which I don’t like, are reality shows. I find them boring, and I find the people that become ‘stars’ out of them aren’t necessarily really stars,” she lamented about the state of Hollywood today. “Star quality went away with high heels and dressing up. In the old days a star looked like a star, nowadays, I really don’t want to see a star pushing a stroller in cut-off jeans. A star should not look like Lindsay Lohan in a t-shirt with a hood. And there’s no glamour – glamour is gone.”
And, Rivers knows of which she speaks, as she all but invented the red carpet couture query of “who are you wearing?” when she comfortably slipped into the role of star greeter for high-end events for E! and subsequently for the TV Guide Channel. Now, those words may not be slipping out of her mouth anytime soon.
Her latest stint covering red carpet events for the TV Guide Channel has come to an unceremonious end, with Rivers and her daughter Melissa being replaced by former “Dancing With The Stars” contestant Lisa Rinna. Unfortunately, Rivers was not able to discuss anything about the parting of ways with the cable channel. Although she did state she has a “deal pending.”
Another thing that gets under Rivers’ skin is the fact that she has not shied away from advocating her use of plastic surgery, yet she is ironically taken to task for doing so in a town obsessed with youth and appearance.
“It’s ridiculous, because they have all done it.” She answered with her atypical bravado. “When “Ugly Betty” (star America Ferrera) won her Emmy last year, and she stood there and said, ‘This is for all of the girls that have inner beauty and that’s what counts;’ and none of the women (in the audience) could cry because they’ve all been so Botoxed! And, it made me laugh, because they were all applauding. Why are you all applauding? You’ve got fake breasts, fake faces, fake everything – and you’re all going, ‘that’s right, that’s right, inner beauty!’ It’s a business of looks and, of course, everybody does anything and everything to make themselves look better, that’s what it’s about. But, the hypocrisy of (them) saying I’ve done nothing makes me laugh. But they all do it, show me a woman over 60 who doesn’t have jowls, and she’s a liar when she says she’s done nothing.”
As far as her own experience with improving her outward appearance, Rivers had this to say.
“I’ve only had two (surgeries), and everyone thinks I’ve had 175, because I am the only one that talks about. And, it’s funny, the only ones who talk about it are comediennes; Goldie Hawn talks about it, Carol Burnett talks about it, I talk about it. I guess it’s just the ones that realize that we have more than that to offer.”
With her pedigree in talk shows, starting with her guest hosting “The Tonight Show” in the ’80s, which she parlayed into two “can we talk” vehicles for herself, (“The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” and “The Joan Rivers Show”) and a recently vacated seat on “The View”; one has to wonder if Rivers would have an interest in filling Rosie O’Donnell’s seat on the morning gab fest?
“I’m on the short list, but I really don’t think they need two little old ladies, they’ve already got Barbara.” She said jokingly, before addressing O’Donnell’s departure. “I think that Rosie was a breath of fresh air for “The View,” and I think they were foolish not to make a better deal and keep her.”
Even if entertaining the morning masses doesn’t materialize for Rivers, there is another type of audience that she is always happy to see at her shows, and that is a gay one. And, that is a fact which pleases the comedienne.
“I think they just like strong women who are very upfront,” she said of her gay appeal. “They usually get everything. I always want my gays in front, and I always say, ‘if you’re gay, get in front!’ Because 60 gay men in an audience and you’re set, it’s just neat and you’re going to have fun, and that’s really the truth.”
This interview was first published on June 7th, 2007