InDepth InterView: Joan Rivers Talks JOAN & MELISSA: JOAN KNOWS BEST?, FASHION POLICE, SALLY MARR Revival & More
Today we are talking to a veritable legend in her own time - arguably the most influential and recognizable female stand-up comedian of all time, the one and only Joan Rivers. Opening up and revealing her trademark, impossible-to-top wit all the while, Rivers and I discuss many aspects of her life and career, with a particular focus on her many current projects - most importantly, the third season of her smash hit reality series JOAN & MELISSA: JOAN KNOWS BEST? on WE TV. What will happen when Joan, Melissa and company visit colonial Williamsburg? What illicitness will they discover on Willie Nelson's former tour bus? Will Joan get arrested for protesting her book being banned at a big national retailer (hint: likely!)? Answers to all these questions will be arrived upon on Saturday night. In addition to all about JOAN & MELISSA S3 and the current series-high ratings run of FASHION POLICE, Rivers and I take a look back at many of the remarkable figures she has encountered and worked with over the course of her career - among them: Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Woody Allen and many more - and she generously shares candid backstage stories and remembrances as only she can. Of paramount interest to theatre fans may be the announcement of a revival of her original play Sally Marr... AND HER ESCORTS, which she will be reviving in a special weekly pop-up theatre space on Broadway later this year. Also, as if all of that were not enough, Joan gives us the 411 on her new uncensored web series, IN BED WITH JOAN, as well as her cute new pet lover's web project, MY FAT PET. Plus, her fashion forecast for 2013 and best current trends, favorite films of awards season, thoughts on Broadway today and her picks for the best shows to see as well as much, much more awaits in this career-spanning conversation!
JOAN & MELISSA: JOAN KNOWS BEST? airs Saturdays at 9 PM EST on WE TV. Visit the official site here.
Joan Rivers... And Her Escorts
PC: I have to say that this year's Fashion Police Oscars special was the best ever - and I've never missed one yet.
JR: Thank you for saying that. We have a good time - a really good time - every single week.
PC: JOAN & MELISSA is better than ever this season, as well.
JR: Yes! I love doing JOAN & MELISSA! I just love it. It's a joy to be able to do both.
PC: And you even kiss a woman this season on JOAN & MELISSA!
JR: That's right! Can you believe it? I'll do just about anything for ratings! [Laughs.]
PC: You, Jane Lynch, Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin all at the same table - an unforgettable convergence of talent.
JR: I know, I know - legends! I have to tell you, though, the stuff we didn't show for that episode - the stories going way back many, many years with Lily and I and Jane and her friends; it was just a great, great night. I'm so happy we got it on the show.
PC: Aren't we all! What stories were told?
JR: Well, it's just amazing to think of all the years Lily and Jane have been together - and they are both so smart! Wonderful, wonderful women - all of them at that dinner. As I said, it was a great night - just a great night.
PC: You need to find a partner like that - I'm 28 and straight, what about me?
JR: Oh, honey, I can find you someone right - you'd have to reverse the numbers for me to be eligible! [Big Laugh.]
PC: Too bad. Last time we spoke you said you wanted to marry Stephen Sondheim - does the offer still stand?
JR: For Steve Sondheim? I'm still waiting for the call! Still waiting, Steve! [Laughs.] Maybe I should give up already!
PC: Tell me about what we are going to see on this week's JOAN & MELISSA - you go to colonial Williamsburg, do you not?
JR: We do! We do! I mean, have you ever been to colonial Williamsburg?
PC: I have.
JR: Oh, isn't it great? It's fabulous.
PC: It is.
JR: It's wonderful, but it was a little weird, too. But, I have to tell you: ugh, our trip - it was a total mess!
PC: What happened?
JR: Well, first of all, we went on Willie Nelson's old tour bus and the toilet broke! We get on the bus and then the first that that happens is the toilet breaks - we honestly didn't plan any of what happens. You'll see on the show. It was a great, great trip though - a lot of fun - and it makes for a good show, too!
PC: I bet! Did you find any goodies left behind by Willie?
JR: No, but I know what you mean! [Laughs.] I think the driver was a remnant still left over from Willie Nelson - and Steven Tyler; he's another one who had that bus for a while.
PC: Were you a fan of Steven Tyler on AMERICAN IDOL? Do you think Mariah Carey is underwhelming with her largely ineffectual insights thus far?
JR: Oh, I love it! I love it when they are up there and they don't know what they are talking about! Are you kidding me?!
PC: That's hilarious.
JR: I think it's so great! I do! I love it. In all honesty, though, I have a deaf ear for music so I can't really speak to how good or bad their judgments are, you know what I am saying? People say to me, "Oh, so and so is flat," and I have no idea how to tell any of that.
PC: So, you are a fan of Nicki and Mariah to an extent, then?
JR: Oh, yeah - I love watching them interact with each other. I think that's the real show, anyway, isn't it?
PC: It is. Do you enjoy Nicki Minaj's outrageous fashion sense? What do you think of the acrylic hair she often wears? Will she bring it back?
JR: Oh, you know what? Have a good time! Have a good time. Everyone takes fashion so seriously! It's fashion - enjoy it!
PC: On the topic of your many current projects: I just saw the first episode of IN BED WITH JOAN and I have to say it is hilariously spectacular - and pretty awesomely graphic!
JR: Isn't it funny? I think so, too. Thank you for saying that, though. And, let me tell you, every week it gets better and better and better and we come out with somebody new every week, too. We are having such a good time with it. I'm glad you really liked it.
PC: You and Sarah Silverman discussing SNL now versus then, back in the wild Belushi-era days, was just fascinating.
JR: Oh yeah. Wild times, great times - but great to talk about them most. That's what really makes them so great, you know?
PC: Undoubtedly. Kelly Osbourne will be coming up on IN BED WITH JOAN, as well, correct?
JR: Yes, my dear Kelly from FASHION POLICE will be on the show soon.
PC: And Kato Kaelin?
JR: Yes! Kato Kaelin! Can you believe it?! They are all coming up. So, you know, it's IN BED WITH JOAN and all you have to do is go to InBedWithJoan.com and you can get it. How easy is that? And it's free!
PC: It's a great side project that you are clearly enjoying then?
JR: Oh, I adore it. It's so much fun - and you have no one to answer to!
PC: A definite boon.
JR: Yes. And, you get to talk to who you want to talk to and you get to ask the questions that you want to ask and there is no time limit - however long the interview lasts, it lasts.
PC: Another privilege afforded by internet-based media.
JR: It's so great. I have to say I am just having the best time with it. I should have started doing this ten years ago.
PC: Were you a bit technology-phobic back then?
JR: Well, you have to remember, my generation is not the technology generation like you, Pat. I mean, who are we kidding?! I still use landline phones - I still like them the best. I do.
PC: Thank goodness for HD technology, too: JOAN & MELISSA: JOAN KNOWS BEST? is now in its third hit season on WE TV. How great!
JR: Yes! Yes. I am so, so happy we get to do JOAN & MELISSA all the time - it's a lot of fun to watch, too, isn't it?
PC: Of course. This season has some of the best episodes yet so far.
JR: Oh, this season has been fantastic - and we're only two episodes in!
PC: You look great and your clothes have been beautiful this season. Where did you get that cherry-themed jacket in Episode 3?
JR: Oh, the one I'm wearing on the episode this week? Yeah, I love that one, too - it's gorgeous. I think that's either Dolce & Gabbana or it's from my own Joan Rivers Collection. I'm not sure, but it's one of the two.
PC: Speaking of Dolce & Gabbana, I adored your remark on JOAN & MELISSA that they are the only team you follow.
JR: It's true - they are! I don't watch sports. [Laughs.]
PC: On that note: What did you think of Beyonce's Super Bowl halftime show, though?
JR: Oh, well, I thought she was fantastic! I thought she looked fabulous and she has just handled it so, so brilliantly. You know, when she started out she was just in this little trio [Destiny's Child], and, then, with her mother and everything, and, now, look at how she's grown! Beyonce is so smart - she doesn't miss a trick.
PC: Your documentary, Joan Rivers: A PIECE OF WORK has set a new gold standard - her LIFE IS BUT A DREAM seems so guarded and unrevealing in comparison.
JR: Oh, Beyonce's documentary? It was like: "OK. Aha. That's nice... but, wait, I didn't learn anything!"
PC: She didn't even really discuss her pregnancy.
JR: Alleged pregnancy!
PC: What do you think of that bizarre video of her stomach appearing to pop in during that interview while she was pregnant?
JR: Oh, we talked about that on FASHION POLICE. It was like: "Wait a second! Hold it!" I don't know...
PC: It was unusual. What do you think of her contemporaries like Katy Perry and Rihanna?
JR: Oh, I love Katy Perry! She's very charming. Miley Cyrus is really very happy being Miley Cyrus, I think, so, you know, she can go to Hell. [Laughs.]
PC: Is it true she is too afraid to appear on FASHION POLICE?
JR: Well, I don't think she would have that much to say, frankly, anyway. She's just happy to be Miley Cyrus. But, one I am really sad about is Taylor Swift - she's started to wear really great clothes all of a sudden!
PC: She won't be giving you much more material, then!
JR: No, she won't - she looks fabulous.
PC: She has said Broadway is a big influence on her, so maybe she should try some Liza-esque Halston soon?
JR: Well, all I know is Halston better not work on her himself - he's dead!
PC: Unfortunately so. Did you ever get to meet Halston, one-on-one?
JR: I did. I knew him, actually - I was the first to wear a caftan on TV; on THE Johnny Carson SHOW. I'll never forget that. Never.
PC: Wow. A major fashion moment for the books!
JR: Yes! It was. It was.
PC: Did you ever loan it to Allan Carr?
JR: [Big Laugh.] Oh, my God, Pat, you're bringing up names that I haven't heard... names that haven't been brought up in a long time!
PC: Given his infamous Oscars telecast, how did you find this year's quite controversial, but undeniably successful show went?
JR: I thought this year's Oscars was very, very good. I know that everybody was mean to Seth MacFarlane, but I thought it was a very good show this year and he was a great host.
PC: Do you think the "Boobs" song crossed any lines?
JR: Listen, all those girls have all shown their breasts and they've all been photographed doing it - and more - and now they're offended? Pssshhh!
PC: It's hypocritical. Jamie Lee Curtis and Geena Davis both have come out against the telecast quite vocally.
JR: Yeah, it's so stupid. I mean, you photograph them showing everything - Anne Hathaway comes out of her car without panties and everybody sees her vagina, but now you're upset that we dare to say we saw your boobs? Please.
PC: On the topic of LES MISERABLES, as an avowed theatre fan, what did you think of the film adaptation?
JR: I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I watched it at a friend's house - ha, ha, ha; I think it's always important to throw in things like that. [Stuffy Voice.] "I viewed it at a private screening, you see?!"
PC: I do.
JR: I really did see it at a private screening and I was with a group who all thought they were going to hate it and we all ended up just adoring it. We all loved it.
PC: It got big rounds of applause at an early screening I attended in New York.
JR: It deserved it. The only thing is that I think they should have brought Marni Nixon in for a few things - she could have helped a few of the people, I think.
PC: They pulled it all off singing live on the Oscars, though!
JR: They did - you're right. I thought they were all very good on the Oscars. I loved the whole Oscars ceremony - I love that they had a little more flavor to them this year.
PC: Barbra Streisand famously appeared this year and I was curious if you could recount your experiences working with her on an Off-Broadway play, DRIFTWOOD, back in 1959.
JR: Of course I will. What do you want to know? I can tell you that it originally started off being written for Geraldine Page and Ralph Meeker, who, then, apparently read the script and turned it down.
PC: Geraldine Page didn't dig it?
JR: Well, apparently she was a good reader!
PC: It wasn't the best play, I take it?
JR: It wasn't the best. She was smart not to do it. So, we did it Off-Broadway - Barbra was still in high school at the time, so you can imagine how many people they tried to cast in it first.
PC: It wasn't a hot property, I take it?
JR: It wasn't. So, Barbra got the part and they couldn't find a guy to play one of the parts, so I said, "Why not make them lesbians?" And, so, that was it - that's what we did.
PC: That was very progressive for 1959, even Off-Broadway.
JR: It was. But, nobody saw us because nobody came to see us! [Laughs.]
PC: What a shame! It ran for nine weeks, right?
JR: Nine weeks would be being very generous, I think! They were giving lots and lots of tickets away, hanging around on street corners.
PC: Your recollections of that era when you were on Howard Stern's show recently were so vivid. Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Phyllis Diller - would you congregate with them often?
JR: Well, we didn't so much hang out as we saw each other when we were going out or at auditions. I remember going to every single audition that I could possibly go to - for anything!
JR: Anything. You know, I was always an actress - I always considered myself an actress.
PC: What were some roles you played during that era?
JR: I was in JUNO & THE PAYCOCK Off-Broadway. I was in a play by N. Richard Nash - oh, God, I'm forgetting the title. I did a lot of stuff back then. I remember I auditioned for OUR TOWN, but I didn't get it. But, yeah, I really auditioned for everything - it was all about Broadway to me. Broadway, Broadway, Broadway.
PC: Did you ever take on a Shakespeare role?
JR: I actually got accepted to a big Shakespearean company in the Midwest and I remember getting in and being so excited, but then deciding not to go and instead I went to typing school.
PC: Do you regret that decision?
JR: Well, I did do some Shakespeare in college - I did OTHELLO.
PC: No way! Who did you play?
JR: I think I was the only Emelia in history with a New York accent.
PC: Now, that is funny!
JR: I was! I love going to Shakespeare-In-The-Park still to this day - I go to that every year and I love it. I wish I had done that once.
PC: Did you enjoy Anne Hathaway in TWELFTH NIGHT?
JR: She was wonderful! It's always wonderful, wonderful, wonderful there - she is a really wonderful actress, though, I'll say.
PC: Speaking of other theatre-loving leading ladies, have you seen Scarlett Johansson in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF?
JR: I have. I saw her in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and I thought she was fabulous - but, she's pigeon-toed. Somebody should get a hold of her director and tell them, "Maggie not pigeon-toed!" I don't know what she's doing turning her toes in like that. Maggie is supposed to show she's vulnerable, but not show it by turning her toes in. That's what I think.
PC: So, you enjoyed her performance nevertheless?
JR: Oh, yeah - I think she's wonderful in everything she does. I have been a fan since I saw her in THE HORSE WHISPERER. So, Pat, if you put in there that she's pigeon-toed in the play, make sure you say I say I think she's a terrific actress and has been since THE HORSE WHISPERER - that's how good I think she is!
PC: Not a problem! She's superb. Her Woody Allen films are terrific, as well, don't you think?
JR: Ugh - I love the Woody Allen films. She's just fantastic. Always.
PC: Did you ever work with Woody at any point yourself, having come up together?
JR: No. He's never asked me to be in a movie - ever. Isn't that funny?
PC: Not one?
JR: Not one. You know, we know each other from the Village days.
PC: Were you both out honing your stand-up material at the same time?
JR: Oh, yeah - I am always out refining and trying out new material. I am always working on material and always have. When I was at Second City, both in Chicago and New York, I would leave the show and go work at a duplex or a single - always. I was always working on material - always. I still am.
PC: Did you find you were meeting resistance by pushing boundaries - as you do still to this very day, obviously?
JR: I was pushing boundaries, but not as much back then. One of the jokes I used to do back then was: "My hairdresser, Mr. Phyllis..." and that was a big joke just saying that! You know, "I'm not marrying him, he's my bridesmaid." That kind of thing.
JR: It was kind of a shock, yeah.
PC: What are your thoughts on the neoconservatives versus the liberals that we see in this evermore bipartisan country we live in?
JR: Well, I can tell you I just did my first gay marriage - I am now an official minister/rabbi. I have been ordained.
PC: Congratulations! What wonderful news.
JR: Thank you. I did Preston Bailey's wedding recently. It was Valentine's Eve at midnight and the Empire State Building was lit up. It was so fabulous and so romantic - ugh!
PC: I can only imagine.
JR: You know, since he was involved with SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, as wedding favors they gave out pieces of Meg Ryan's old face.
PC: Too funny! Were you a fan of Nora Ephron's? Did you know her at all?
JR: Yes. I knew Nora and I liked her tremendously - tremendously. It is a great loss for all of us. As a matter of fact, the last time I saw her was about four months before she died and she didn't say a thing about it - didn't say a word. She didn't tell anybody until the very end.
PC: She is making her posthumous Broadway debut this year with LUCKY GUY.
JR: Yeah, that's right. What a shame, though, that it had to be like that.
PC: Unquestionably. What shows are you looking forward to most on Broadway this season? Did you see MATILDA in the West End?
JR: Yes! I loved MATILDA. I thought it was really great. What have I seen recently in New York? Hmm. [Pause.] Oh! BELLEVILLE - I loved that. I thought BELLEVILLE was just fabulous. Totally fabulous. THE RECONSTRUCTIONIST. Let me tell you: if you ever get the chance to see Vanessa Redgrave, run don't walk; she fills the stage like no actress. Incredible.
PC: The best.
JR: The best. There is a lot of terrific stuff on Broadway - and BELLEVILLE I thought was really wonderful, too.
PC: Are you disappointed in PRISCILLA: QUEEN OF THE DESERT's closing, having been a co-producer on it?
JR: Yes, I was a producer on part of that - and I was shocked it didn't work. Shocked. I thought it would run and run - I really did.
PC: It ran for quite a while, in any event.
JR: Yeah, it ran for a while but it wasn't the kind of hit that we were hoping it would be.
PC: Broadway economics are not what they were. You have seen Broadway change a lot over the course of your time in New York after all, have you not?
JR: I have, but you know what? I still love Broadway - whatever it is. There is only one Broadway.
PC: This is true.
JR: I still really love going to see shows - and I still go and visit friends backstage, too. And, you know, from time to time, I still get chills.
PC: That's the power of theatre. Do you look back favorably on your Tony nomination? Do you have any words for Diana Rigg in MEDEA - the ultimate winner?
JR: Well, listen, they gave it to somebody whose play was scheduled to close - and did close - like three weeks after the Tony Awards. So, what is that all about? You hand the Tony to somebody and their play closes three weeks later because it is a limited engagement. They would not extend.
PC: So, no love lost for the Tony Awards?
JR: No, I still love the Tonys, but I do think there should be certain rules put in place that they shouldn't award shows that are scheduled to close two weeks after they give the awards out.
PC: Limited runs should be treated differently, in your opinion?
JR: Yeah, I think so. Listen, what the Tonys really are about is PR for Broadway, anyway - that's what they are really about.
PC: Is there another Broadway show in your future, do you think?
JR: I'll tell you what - and I am not making a joke - I am coming back to do Sally Marr...[AND HER ESCORTS] one night a week. I can't do it every day because of JOAN & MELISSA filming and Fashion Police filming - and, now, I have IN BED WITH JOAN filming. So, I want to do it once a week every week in New York.
PC: Where do you intend on performing it?
JR: We already found a theater - on Broadway. It's a little theater, so it is going to be a pop-up theater for the show.
PC: Have you added new material to the show since 1994? I'd imagine so.
JR: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah - we added a lot of material. But, playing that show is my favorite thing out of everything I've ever wrote. I absolutely love it - I love doing it.
PC: Last time we spoke, we discussed the necessity for you to publish it so it could be done by other performers.
JR: I know! I should. It's a great part - oh, God, every actress should grab that part and run with it!
PC: Who would you like to see take on your role?
JR: Well, Bette Midler optioned it for a movie, but then she dropped it. I thought, "Oh! Mistake! Big mistake!"
PC: Are you looking forward to her Broadway return?
JR: I am. I can't wait to see that. I am very anxious to see the Tom Hanks thing, too - that's based on a real person. There are a lot of great things coming in soon.
PC: Did you know Sue Mengers yourself?
JR: Well, I wasn't that much of a fan.
PC: She was pretty tough, right?
JR: I'm sure to her friends she was wonderful - all the people who knew her speak very, very highly of her - but I knew her just as a very tough agent. She was a very tough lady.
PC: What can you tell me about your work with Ryan Murphy on NIP/TUCK? You played quite an integral role on the show for a time.
JR: Yeah, Ryan - you know, when I appeared on NIP/TUCK that was the first time he had gotten a big guest star to do one of his things like that. So, I feel very akin to him ever since then - and, of course, he has used a lot of celebrities on Glee and all of his shows ever since then.
PC: Would you like to appear on one of his shows again?
JR: I would, but he never calls me, so I guess life will have to go on without him until then!
PC: By the way, are you a Downton Abbey fan?
JR: Oh, I am a huge Downton Abbey fan - huge!
PC: Would you agree to appear on that show in the future?
JR: Oh, I don't think they would ask me to appear! [Laughs.]
PC: You never know!
JR: I don't think I would fit - but, I would do better than Shirley MacLaine, I can tell you that!
PC: You weren't a fan of her performance on the show? She's repping for the septuagenarians, if nothing else, right?
JR: Oh, yeah - I'm just kidding. I am glad to see any of these old girls work. Are you kidding?!
PC: Are you an admirer of Maggie Smith?
JR: [Sighs.] Oh, I worship at her feet! I think she is spectacular.
PC: Have you two ever met?
JR: Yes. I've met her about five or six times and I've had dinner with her, too.
PC: What was that experience like for you?
JR: Oh, it was wonderful! She's amazing and wonderful and funny and biting and terrific and sensitive - yeah, she's the real thing. Maggie Smith is the real deal.
PC: To be a fly on the wall for that dinner! Two icons.
JR: Yeah. Yeah. She's just great.
PC: Where did you eat? Do you remember any details about the evening?
JR: Oh, it was in England - I remember that. I forgot where exactly. We ate at someplace in the theatre district, actually, though - I know that - with a good friend of ours, Carl Brown.
PC: I was curious to hear your opinions on a few of the Best Picture nominees: AMOUR?
JR: Well, I'll tell you the truth: I put it on to watch it, but the translation was cut off on the top half of the screen, so I never ended up watching it.
PC: Did you enjoy DJANGO UNCHAINED?
JR: I didn't see that one - I don't want to see any depressing movies! I'm too old for that.
PC: What were your favorite films of last year, besides LES MISERABLES?
JR: Oh, I loved SILVER LININGS and I loved THIS IS 40. I'll tell you, though - I thought LINCOLN was... [Snores.] ...boring as hell. I loved THE INCREDIBLES, though. I thought that was just great. ARGO was terrific, too.
PC: I enjoyed THIS IS 40, too - are you an Apatow fan?
JR: Yeah, I thought it was very funny - very clever.
PC: Are you a fan of Paul Rudd and Seth Rogan and that whole clique?
JR: Yes, I am. I think they are all very talented - wonderful actors, wonderful comedy sense.
PC: Even James Franco?
JR: To a point - to a point. [Laughs.]
PC: He's doing OF MICE AND MEN on Broadway, it was just announced.
JR: Then I like him more - anytime anybody does Broadway or theatre in New York, I like them more. I mean, Woody Harrelson? God bless him for bringing that play in! Tom Hanks? So happy he's doing it. Everybody who does it.
PC: What about looking ahead to, apparently, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in BETRAYAL, directed by Mike Nichols, next season?
JR: Oh, how wonderful! Wonderful. I'm anxious to see it.
PC: So, what red carpet and general fashion trends can we look forward to in 2013?
JR: Oh, I love those big blocks - I think Louis Vuitton has been doing a lot of this; big blocks of color and big geometric shapes. I think it's great - just great. I love that look.
PC: Houndstooth, too?
JR: Houndstooth - lots of houndstooth.
PC: Lots of lace?
JR: Yes, but, oh, I'm so, so sick of lace and ruffles - we've had it for years! I want something fresh! Something new!
PC: You are always fresh and always up to something new! This was divine, Joan - thank you so, so much. Congratulations on all your astounding continued success!
JR: Oh, it's always so good to talk to you, Pat - really good to talk to you. Also, be sure to tell everyone to watch JOAN & MELISSA this Saturday on WE TV! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Bye bye now.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride, WE TV, etc.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro