A conversation with Joan Rivers
Editor’s note: In 2006, then-Lifestyles Editor Katie Scarvey interviewed Joan Rivers. Here’s a condensed version of that story.
By Katie Scarvey
Joan Rivers is one of the hardest working people in show business.
At 73, the raspy-voiced comedienne, the daughter of Russian immigrants, is still busy and in demand. She’s acting, doing stand-up, designing and promoting her jewelry and cosmetics line, working for charitable causes and sometimes outraging people with her outspokenness — she raised eyebrows recently with her assertion that Mel Gibson, in the wake of his drunken anti-Semitic tirade, should die.
She’s well known for her red carpet fashion commentary (“Who are you wearing?”) with her daughter Melissa.
Refreshingly forthcoming about her extensive plastic surgery, she’s made it part of her stand-up act — her grandson, she’s said, calls her “Nana Newface.” She recently appeared on the edgy TV plastic surgery drama “Nip/Tuck” as herself.
Because Rivers has an appearance in Charlotte next week, I had the opportunity to talk to her on the phone.
She was charming and funny and as outspoken as you might expect. The conversation ranged from Kirstie Alley (who “used to be such a fatso”) in a bikini on Oprah (“good for her!”) to her lingering anger over her husband Edgar’s suicide in 1987 (“I don’t want my ashes mixed with his.”)
Clearly, Rivers still loves show business — don’t expect her to fade quietly into retirement.
Do you think that you’re responsible for celebrities dressing better on the red carpet?
No question … the stylists’ union should get together and send my daughter and me a huge basket every year.
Nobody was doing what we were doing (when we started), nobody was out there on the red carpet.
I do much more of an interview type program now on the TV Guide Channel. I get to ask more than just “Who are you wearing?”
They all look good. The old days were much more fun.
Fill in the blank: Most women would look better if _______
(She hesitates) … they lost five pounds.
That sounds so wrong. That sounds so wrong to say today. But America has gotten very chunky, including me. I’ve gained five or six pounds in the last couple of years. It goes up slowly. I read that the average office worker now gains three pounds a year.
You’ve reached a place in your life where one would assume that financially, you’re pretty comfortable. So what would you say to someone who asked why you’re still working so hard, still out there hustling?
I make a lot of money and I spend a lot of money. I live a high life and I love it. I send relatives through college, I’ve lived a very good life, but I never owned anything … and that’s where the money is in our business.
So you still enjoy what you do?
Oh yes, my God! I love my life, I love performing. I performed last night and will perform tomorrow night. I adore performing. I love the writing, the directing. I just love the whole nine yards.
I’ll never leave it. Why would you leave something you love so much?
You’ve said that there is not one female comic who was beautiful as a little girl. Is that still true?
Absolutely. Who knows what humor comes from? I think it comes from insecurity. I think very beautiful people aren’t good in bed. They don’t have to be.
What is the height of happiness for you?
If my daughter’s happy; I’m happy. That’s truly the bottom line.
I know you do a lot of charity work, including being the national chairwoman for Cystic Fibrosis. How did you get involved?
It’s always something personal. My husband’s secretary, her niece had CF.
You’re also involved in Guide Dogs for the Blind.
My mother at the end of her life was going blind. It’s a very scary thing. Guide dogs really free them up.
Nobody knows about it, but I’m also the national chairwoman for osteoporosis, very unglamorous. I work with the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla Parker Bowles).
I hear you really like Camilla Parker Bowles.
I’ve always liked her. What you see is what you get. She’s very down to earth; she’s funny. She is what she is and you love her for that.
On her honeymoon she wore the same coat, every day, in all the pictures. Diana would have been in 72 different outfits. She’s a very real person..
What would most surprise people to know about Joan Rivers?
That I’m not very “on” when I’m not on stage. I’m very wild on stage. My act is very out there. I scream about everything and break every boundary you can break. And then you get me at a dinner party — if I don’t know you and you’re not my good friend, I don’t open my mouth.
What is your biggest regret in life?
I really don’t have any. I would have done some things maybe differently, but I’ve pretty much done what I wanted to do.
You’ve always rolled with the punches.
What is the alternative?
Can you give me some quick thoughts about some celebrities? Paris Hilton.
Lucky. She’s done nothing. She’s a product of our times, (that) you can do a sex tape and you become a star … nice, a nice thing to show your daughters. And you wonder why your society is in such bad shape.
What she’s doing is wonderful (adopting children from Africa), but there are a lot of starving kids on this continent. Why don’t you go into Appalachia?
He’s said what he is, and that’s fine. Now die, who cares? I think it’s much better this way (since he’s openly expressed his anti-Semitic feelings). I think it’s nice to know who your enemies are.
Very much a loose cannon and I think somebody better control him fast.
What do you want people to say about you after you’re gone?
I couldn’t care less. But before I’m gone, I want them to say, “Hire her.”