Friday, February 28, 2014

[Arts Insider] Joan Rivers: “That’s Life!”



“(That) I’m still there…and still relevant!”
— 80-year-old Joan Rivers’ answer to Today’s Woman’s question: 'What career accomplishment has given you the most joy?’

March is Women’s History Month, which explains why, when speaking with Joan Rivers’ publicist over the phone last month, I was passionate about wanting a phone interview with the 80-year-old show business legend, whom I’d last interviewed when she was in the area four years ago this month.

“I really want to speak with her,” I enthused to the publicist, “because whether you’re a fan of her ribald style of stand-up or not, this woman deserves some respect for having made and continuing to make extraordinary career leaps decade after decade.”

To that end, when Rivers answers the phone for our interview a week later, the first subject I bring up is wanting to know her gut reaction whenever female comics say ‘Thank you!’ for Rivers’ path as a trailblazer.

“It gets me very upset,” Rivers begins, speaking in a quiet yet declarative tone. Why? “Because I’m still in there slugging it out. So don’t put me in that ‘You broke the ground for us; that was then, this is now’ category. Because I can still break it with one hand behind my back if you don’t move out of the way.”

That expression, no matter how heartfelt, always feels like a hint that she should retire, Rivers says. “So I’m always shutting them down very fast,” she adds, now speaking at a rapid-fire pace, naming comics Sarah Silverman, Whitney Cummings, and Lena Dunham (of HBO’s Girls series fame) as examples. Rivers’ gut reaction to hearing ‘thank you, trailblazer,’ she reveals, is to instantly shift into competitive gear and want to fire back, “Let’s all go on stage together and see who can win!”

Rivers pauses a second, then muses about why her competitive streak remains seemingly inexhaustible.

“I think I’m working the best I’ve ever worked, and I think part of that is because you reach a certain age and you just…don’ I love what I do, and I think I do it well. And there’s no fear of ‘Will I lose the job?’ or ‘Will the audience like me?’ It doesn’t matter.

“I’ve lost jobs…and had audiences that didn’t like me. And because all that goes behind you, in a way, it takes away a lot of the fear,” she explains.

Speaking of her competitive streak, in 2009 at the age of 75, Rivers competed on (and eventually won) the second season of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. Although, I tell her, I recall it being at least four or five weeks into the season before Trump’s face-to-face boardroom comments went from the quizzical ‘Aren’t you tired, are you keeping up with all these younger competitors?’ to becoming matter-of-factly admirable, i.e., ‘Wow, good for you, Joan!’ and ‘You never tire!’

“Yes,” Rivers concurs, chuckling at the memory. “One of the reasons I’m not tired then or now is because I love what I am doing. And that makes all the difference in the world. I’m just as enthused about this business today as I was when I started out doing stand-up in the mid-'60s. Just as excited about it,” she repeats, “and I think that’s the difference.

"You never say ‘Oh, I’ve got to get up and go to work,’ but rather, ‘I can’t wait!’”

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., as Joan Alexandra Molinsky, Rivers isn’t anything  like her take-no-prisoners stand-up persona in real life.

“I’m very quiet in person,” she concurs. “I’m very much an observer, not a chatterbox, which is what I think my friends like about me. My very good friend is an extrovert, and I think she loves that I just laugh at her and am happy to do so, honey. (Laughs) I’m happy to have someone make me laugh.”

The discussion then turns to Fashion Police, the popular hour-long weekly fashion report on the E! Network that Rivers returned to co-host (and of which her daughter Melissa Rivers became the executive producer) four years ago after a six-year absence. The show is now number one on E!.

“It’s been a great last four years … thank you, God," Rivers says. But she says she feels sorry for her daughter, who lives with her in Malibu, Calif. "We’re two strong women, and I’m always telling her ‘you’re doing this wrong,’ or ‘you’re parenting wrong,’” Rivers admits. “It’s very tough, but what I find really amazing is that, after four years of living and working together, Melissa and I are still talking.

“I’ve gone up and down so often … and every time you think, ‘OK, this is a good year,’ something crappy happens,” she says. “But that’s life! There’s a wonderful old movie called Middle of the Night by Paddy Chayefsky. And the hero at one point says, ‘Life is problems… when you’re dead, there’s no problems.’ And I quote that to Melissa a lot: Life is problems… that’s part of life, and that’s OK. We’re alive.’”

What Becomes a Legend Most?
  1. Within months of getting her big break in 1965 by debuting her stand-up on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Rivers became a household name. Her stand-up comedy signature question ‘Can we talk?’ is a federal trademark.
  2. Her Late Night with Joan Rivers talk show (1986-87) helped launch the Fox Network in 1986, and made Rivers the first woman ever to host her own late night talk show.
  3. Won an Emmy Award in 1990 for ‘Outstanding Talk Show Host’ for The Joan Rivers Show, the daytime TV talk show running for five years (1989-93.)
  4. Since the launch of “The Joan Rivers Classics Collections” of jewelry on the QVC network in 1990, sales are over $750 million dollars to date.
  5. Responsible for the huge popularity of televised show business Red Carpet events today, thanks to the never-before-asked, “Who are you wearing?” point-blank fashion question Rivers would ask the stars, and which she began doing in 1994 during the 2-hour period lead-in to major show business award shows.
  6. Wins in 2009, at the age of 75, season 2 of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice reality series competition.
  7. Subject of the much-lauded 2010 documentary feature, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
  8. Since Joan’s return four years ago (after a six-year absence) as co-host of Fashion Police, (E! Entertainment network’s weekly Red Carpet after show), the show’s become the network’s #1-rated show.
  9. Launched in March of 2011 the WETV Network reality series, Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? — which shows the day-to-day ups and downs of Rivers and her daughter Melissa Rivers, co-existing at Melissa’s Malibu, Calif. home.
  10. Launched in March of 2013 In Bed With Joan, a 30-minute, no-holds-barred web chat show on the YouTube channel, in which Rivers interviews a different guest from her bed each week.
  11. The average age of 80-year-old Rivers’ over 2 million Twitter followers is 22.

WHEN: March 21 @8pm. *Mature content.
WHERE: Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway
TICKETS: Starting @ $35
CONTACT: 502.584.7777 or or Kentucky Center box office-in person or drive-thru.

Gioia Patton is an Arts & Entertainment celebrity profiler and in concert photographer.

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