Joan Rivers Gives Good Face
By Tim Parks
Fans of Joan Rivers are in for a very special treat, as the documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, is heading to movie houses all across the country, after it proved to be a smash hit at film festivals, including Tribeca and Sundance, where it picked up an award for editing.
However, the unedited glimpse inside of the comedy trailblazer’s (we wouldn’t have Kathy Griffin or Chelsea Handler without Rivers and her predecessor Phyllis Diller) life is a two-fold view into the outspoken legend’s inner sanctum.
This process included her letting directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg into her gorgeous apartment, and capturing unguarded moments you wouldn’t expect from the sometimes brash, but always-on-point almost 77-year-old.
“I gave them total access,” she revealed. “Otherwise, don’t do a documentary! I’m not knocking The September Issue, but tell me…what did we learn about Anna Wintour that we didn’t already know when it started? What? That she has a lot of suits?” Prior to our hard hitting questions Q & A chat, Rivers made me promise to mention the sophomore season of “How’d You Get So Rich?” which airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TV Land.
This favor was done without hesitation, as Rivers is just like you and me – she needs to find work where she can get it, and procuring and sustaining face time, work-wise, has a great deal to do with her documentary.
“But that’s everybody,” she exclaimed. “And I think that’s what makes my comedy relevant, because I do go through what everybody goes through – nobody wants to think they are going to be out of work – everyone’s terrified.”
Fret not, it’s not all darkness about her living life as an open book or “an open tome – because I’m older,” as she put it. This is Joan Rivers we are talking about after all; there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think there’s enough humor in there, God knows, and there’s enough stand-up,” she explained. “Fans, if that’s what they’re coming for, are going to be thrilled. “And I think they’re going to love seeing what I do, otherwise; seeing my grandson, seeing how I work for God’s Love We Deliver (food delivery for HIV/AIDS patients), seeing what my apartment looks like. I think it’s terrific for them to see things they wouldn’t ordinarily see.”
Something we may to get see on our TV sets with Rivers (barring “How’d You Get So Rich?” Wednesdays at 10 on TV Land – you’re welcome, Joan!) is something that she said she would do on-camera during her documentary. She stated that she’d wear a diaper in a commercial to get some, well, not face time exactly, but that all Depends on your point-of-view (add your own rim shot). Not saying no, has in effect, been one of the secrets to her longevity.
“Absolutely!” Rivers replied. “Show business is all smoke and mirrors, and wanting to please. And, anyone who takes it seriously…are you crazy? I wonder how many stars would be digging in Haiti, if there weren’t paparazzi. So boring! You’re an actor, calm down!”
Speaking of the fame game, Rivers gave us her take on the social networking aspect of ‘the biz.’
“I love Facebook, but Twitter!?” She said. “‘I’m going to the bathroom now!’ Who cares? I’d love to have a non-Twitter Twitter, and every time somebody tells you something, you could write, ‘Who the fuck cares?’ and send it back to them.”
It’s that no-hold-barred bravado that seems to land Rivers in the ‘Don’t Mess with Ms. In-Between’ category. Simply put, people either adore her or they don’t, and for the latter – it’s your loss and our gain!
“A star will get a reaction,” she proclaimed. “You know how many people you say ‘good enough’ about? Liza ain’t the prettiest, but you know what? You know when she’s on stage! That’s what it’s all about – people react very positively or very negatively to it.”
The adverse reactions her critics suffer (hopefully, they break out in rashes) may have something to do with the subject matter that she covers.
“I’ve been doing it for 46 years, I’m still not interested (in critics opinions),” Rivers stated. “Obviously what I’m doing is making my audiences, my people that come to see me, have a wonderful time, and that’s all I care about.
“I think the more outrageous the topic, the more I want to talk about it, because it hasn’t been spoken about. And the minute they say something about anti-gay marriage, I’ve got to do six marriage jokes.”
Not for nothing, but Rivers has managed to keep her fears at bay about fading away into obscurity by taking on a number of televised projects, such as TV Land’s “How’d You Get So Rich?” It’s on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. – what? I told her I’d push it so much, it may fall over a cliff, alright!
She also competed on and won the 2009 version of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” along the way she took off her gloves and, ahem, duked it out with castmember Annie Duke, comparing her to Hitler in one episode and called her “beyond white trash” in another.
So…what would happen if she met the pro poker player in a dark alley, or rather a dark trailer park?
“She would take me because she’s bigger and younger, but verbally I could take her,” she laughingly answered. “There are very few people I really hold a grudge against. Maybe Hitler, Mel Gibson and now Annie Duke.”
Currently, Rivers is enjoying walking the beat as one of the “Fashion Police” again on E! and set the record straight on her initial exit from the network.
“Everyone thought that we (she and daughter Melissa) were angry at E!” she described. “We left E! they didn’t fire us. So, it was such a big reunion when we came back.”
And if Rivers had her druthers, she would leap at the chance to do another talk show.
“Well, we got Betty White on ‘Saturday Night Live’ – so, let’s get Joan a talk show. I would kill to have a late-night show. I was hoping that they’d give me ‘The View,’ instead of Whoopi; but they didn’t need two old ladies as bookends.”
She also has gotten the greenlight for the third season of “How’d You Get So Rich?” (fourth time’s the charm, right?), a new reality show filming in July with Melissa entitled “Mother Knows Best” and “QVC, QVC, QVC.”
“And all of the concerts,” she added. “And at E! we’re doing a whole big thing again with the ‘Fashion Police,’ it’s all great!”
However, if the offers don’t come pouring in after all of her current plate-full endeavors – don’t you worry your pretty little heads, because, if there is casebook example of being a showbiz survivor, it’s Rivers.
Besides, during the downtime, it will give her a chance to catch up on The Tudors on her TiVo (yup, I got the skinny of what shows she records, which also includes “Law & Order” -“but only with Jerry Orbach” – “Seinfeld” and “How’d You Get So Rich?” that was her plug, not mine. ).
Chances are we will never see River standing near a freeway off-ramp with a sign around her neck that reads: “Will work for laughs.”
Perchance, there may be a demand for a sequel to A Piece of Work, and the funny lady already has its title and premise mapped out.
“Well, this is A Piece of Work, right?” she asked. “Probably Joan Rivers: A Piece of Shit and we would have all my enemies talk.”
Starting on June 18, you can see Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas. Log onto landmarktheatres.com for showtimes.
Beginning on June 11th, you can catch Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work at either the Arclight Cinemas, or at Landmark Los Angeles Cinemas. Log onto arclightcinemas.com and http://www.landmarktheatres.com for showtimes.
This interview was first published June 2010.