A Quick Chat with Joan Rivers

There’s little question that one of the most lively panels during the early days of the TCA tour was the one dedicated to Joan Rivers’ new TV Land series, “How’d You Get So Rich?” Or, if you read my coverage of the panel, you may be more familiar with it as “How’d You Get So Fucking Rich?” But, y’know, that’s Joan for you. You can learn just about anything you need to know about the concept of the series by checking out the link to my panel coverage that I just offered up (though I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s a new episode of the series airing tonight at 10 PM EST / PST), but after she held court before the crowd of critics, a few of us actually had a chance to speak to her one on one for a few minutes each.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, were it a contest to see who got the best pull quotes out of Joan, Joel Keller of TV Squad – who preceded me in speaking with her – would have taken the victory (she hadn’t been aware that David Tutera was scheduled to have his own TCA panel, but when he brought it up, she let fly with her thoughts on him in her usual forthright manner), but I still managed to get a couple of good lines from Ms. Rivers about “Z Rock,” “The Celebrity Apprentice,” and “Rabbit Test,” and the closing moments of our conversation will live in my memory forever.

Bullz-Eye: It’s a pleasure to meet you.

Joan Rivers: And it’s a pleasure to…well, we’ll see.

BE: (Laughs) I’ve got only got a couple of minutes, but I’ll do my best.

JR: Ask whatever you want.

BE: You were talking earlier about your continued relevancy, and I just wanted to say that I’m a big fan of your work on “Z Rock.”

JR: I love “Z Rock.” Love “Z Rock”.

BE: How did that gig come about? How were you pitched the show?

JR: They sent me the pilot. Did you ever see the pilot?

BE: Yes.

JR: Can’t get funnier. “Stick a Statue of Liberty up your ass.” I mean, I laughed out loud. They said, “Would you do an episode?” I said, “I want to be on it.” I asked them, literally, and that’s how it started. Every time I’m in town and they’re in town and we get together, they put me on. I love the boys; I think Lynne is a genius. And, of course, I can’t remember the other comedian who is so brilliant on it, but…you know, the one that plays the gay…

BE: Oh, right, the bar owner. (Writer’s note: the comedian’s name is Big Jay Oakerson.)

JR: Oh he’s so good. He’s so good. It’s just a joy to work with them. And it’s improvisation. I come out of Second City, you know.

BE: So when you did “The Celebrity Apprentice,” was it always going to be you and Melissa, or did they approach you first? Or even her first?

JR: They approached us separately, but somebody was very smart. There was no mother/daughter team that really works. I think it was the smartest thing they did. I think it brought such another color to the show. The mother/daughter dynamic was obviously one of the high points of the show.

BE: Well, my wife was cheering you on the entire way.

JR: Isn’t that nice?

BE: Yeah, I was in the other room working, and she’s yelling, “You’ve got to come watch. Joan’s got to win! If she doesn’t win, I’m going to need some help!”

JR: (Laughs) Oh, that’s so great. That’s so great.

BE: Was there ever any point where you thought you might not win?

JR: All the time. I did not know, and…no one believes this, but we sat down (during the finale), and I still did not know. I thought he was going to say, “Joan, you’re very good, but you’re too emotional. And Annie (Duke) plays it tough and that’s what business is all about.” But it’s not what business is all about anymore. After Bernie Madoff, no. You play honorably. It’s not lie and cheat and steal to get your way. It’s get it right or don’t get it. So I truly didn’t think I was going to win. And she thought…she stood up. Go watch it. He goes, “Annie,” and she stood up…and then he goes, “Sorry.” It looked like she had osteoporosis. She shrunk.

BE: Joel (Keller from TV Squad) brought up your appearance in PBS’s“Make ‘Em Laugh” special a minute ago.

JR: Yeah.

BE: Did you see the entire special?

JR: I just watched parts of it. You know what the best part of that was? W.C. Fields. He can still make you laugh. And Fanny Brice can still make you laugh. When they’re good, they’re good. I love watching the ones to see why they were great.

BE: Is there any comedian who you would consider one of your peers, who didn’t make it as big as you always thought they should have?

JR: Yeah, there are a couple that didn’t make it as big as I thought they should. David Brenner, I think, should be further along, because his mind is a great mind. There’s a girl named Lynne Kop…uh, from…I’m very bad on names, but from “Z Rock.” Lynne….

BE: Oh, right, Lynne Koplitz.

JR: Right. She is so ready, you know, like a full bloom. And she’s not getting that recognition, and it kills me. If I had a late night show, she would be on it so fast. Yeah, I think she deserves recognition. Lily Tomlin, I think, she went into movies. She took a different turn. I think she was one of the incandescently wonderful on stage.

BE: How do you look back at “Rabbit Test,” which you wrote and directed in 1978?

JR: It’s funny. I think we got a very short shrift. You look at “Borat” and you look at “Brüno” and go look at “Rabbit Test.” It’s just as silly and funny. And the critics…we had one of the mothers in the film, she was having gas, but she took the meal, she wanted to be nice. So she sprayed it with Lysol, and then brought it out. Every critic said. “This is disgusting, this is terrible.” We were too soon. Too soon.

BE: Do you have any idea if it will ever see the light of day on DVD?

JR: Um, probably…not.

Joan’s assistant: Everybody asks that question.

JR: That, and “The Girl Most Likely To…” (which Rivers wrote) is another one that got lost in the shuffle.

BE: Well, it seems like if it does come out, you’d be ready to do the DVD special features.

JR: Oh, you’re damned right. You’re damned right.

BE: And last one, since I know I need to wrap it up: have you ever found it hard to be able to keep your risqué edge in standup, being a female comedian?

JR: Not now. The only good thing about…I said this before, but the only good thing about age is that I get out there and I say I’m working better than I ever worked. That started about seven years ago in Edinburgh. I just said, ‘Oh, what, am I going to censor myself?” I’ve been fired, I’ve been broke, I’ve been bankrupt, I’ve had to go to court to get my name back, I’ve been publicly humiliated. Screw all you. Now I’m going to tell you what I really think about Jennifer Aniston, that little miss boo-hoo. So, no, I don’t censor myself at all now.

BE: Actually, when I was watching your panel, I changed my Facebook status to read, “Joan Rivers is on stage. She has dropped at least seven f-bombs in the last 60 seconds. She is awesome.”

JR: Oh, that’s very sweet. But, you know, fuck is in the vernacular now. It was good enough for Shakespeare. When Jane Fonda can say “cunt,” it’s over. It’s done.

BE: Well, thank you very much, Joan.

JR: You said you’ve got a wife…? Where is your wife? Where is home?

BE: Home is Virginia, and wife will actually be arriving any minute. In fact, I should be getting a phone call from her any time now, saying that she’s at the airport.

JR: Great. Are you going upstairs to your room or staying down here?

BE: I am going to go check out the next panel, whatever it may be.

JR: Oh, I was going to send that to your wife. (Gestures to a rose in a vase, sitting on a nearby table)

BE: Well, I won’t refuse that.

JR: Want to run it up to your room?

BE: Sure.

JR: Run that right up to your room. Trust me, you’ll get lucky tonight.

BE: (Laughs) Thank you, Joan.

JR: Oh, sure.

Remember FUN? from Mitchell Squires on Vimeo.


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