Posted on 25 June 2013.
Interview by Dino Thompson-Sarmiento, Senior Writer
Edits by Berlin Sylvestre, Staff Writer
Back in high school, instead of buying Van Halen or Journey music, I bought Joan Rivers’ comedy cassettes and at night, I’d slide it in my Walkman and laugh through the night. I don’t know what my family thought I was doing in the dark, in bed giggling hysterically, but I was only listening to the zany Joan Rivers. One of her jokes stands out most: the one about meeting Queen Elizabeth II. She said she was so nervous that she didn’t know what to do in her presence, so she licked the back of the monarch’s head because she’d only seen her on stamps! I had such a visual of that, I still laugh …
Joan welcome back to the South! How you keep up with your hectic schedule? You’re filming a reality show, you host “Fashion Police,” you do live shows, you have your jewelry collection, you’re a theater critic, you have been on “The Apprentice” twice, you’re a mother, a grandmother, and you give lectures. What’s next — “Dancing with the Stars”? How do you do it all and why?
The answer is major drugs! Major, major, major drugs! You give an old Jew drugs (as long as you wrap it a matzo ball), and I will take it.
Joan, I know your birthday is in June and you’re turning 80. How are you celebrating Joan’s Jubilee?
I’m going to call Betty White! She’ll sound older than I am. I’m praying that a nurse will answer — that’ll cheer me up! E! Entertainment did a whole week of “Fashion Police” every night, and I worked on QVC that weekend. I love to work! I worked through [my birthday]. My family is not one for birthdays. I just think it’s a little embarrassing when you’re an adult and have people go, “Ohhh, it’s your birthday!” Oh, shut up!
We have such a big staff between “Joan and Melissa” and “Fashion Police,” the QVC jewelry, and now the InBedWithJoan.com internet show. We’ll have a birthday every three days, so you watch the staff get fatter. We try to play down birthdays. If I see one more goddamned red velvet cake … *screams*
Let’s talk about your lady loving past. We know all about you and the Barbra Streisand lesbian scene back in the ‘60s, and we’ve seen you make out with a woman on your show “Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best” but what about Phyllis Diller? What was going on there – was she your mentor and inspiration?
She was lovely, but no. I had no mentor, nobody truly helped me and I’m not being angry about it. You can’t wait for a mentor; just get out there and do your own damn thing. But! Phyllis was very generous. She was never angry that another young comedienne was coming up — she was very encouraging. She was really nice and you can’t say that about a lot of people. She was a great person who had a wonderful life and I can’t say enough nice things about her.
She would go into Greenwich Village when I was starting out. Barbra Streisand was on the bill with me, and Phyllis came out and sat in the front row. It was a club called Bonsoir. She laughed loud and applauded and was so encouraging to young people.
Joan your support of AIDS & HIV issues, animals, cancer, children, disaster relief, education, the LGBT community, health, hunger, poverty, and refugees is admirable but it all started with women’s rights. You set the example that a woman can and will make it in a man’s world. What was your driving force and what advice do you have for those who are now fighting for social change and equality?
Well, if you’re talkin’ about gay men …
I think being gay now is so accepted. Maybe I’m crazy. It’s still very hard in small [cities]. If I were a gay man in a small city, I’d get out of there as soon as I could get my pumps on! Every time I hear someone say something anti-gay, I say: “Look at your family. Go tell that to your cousin over there who’s redecorating.” It’s still tough, it’s still hard, but thank God there are so many places you can go and live life and be happy. And who gives a fuck? They don’t want you? We’re outta here!
But I’m against gay marriage and there are two reasons: One, it’s costing me a fortune in gifts! I became a minister and I’m officiating a lot of my gay friends’ weddings. Two, gay marriage means gay divorce — think about it!
You’re a tough lady who has overcome many challenges and uphill battles. Can you share an intimate moment about your life when you were vulnerable but kept your chin up and kept fighting the good fight?
Every goddamn day … and the only advice I have to give is to run your own race. Don’t worry about what the guy next to you is doing, and for God’s sake go after your dreams before you turn around and go, “I’m 80?! Where did it go?!” It goes so fast, so fast.
What made your parents so hip and progressive that they supported their young daughter who searched for a career in comedy 60 years ago?
I think — and it’s a wonderful question and I’m not making a joke here — that my parents just never said to us: “Oh, you’re girls so you can’t be a doctor; you have to be a nurse.” There was never that ‘because you’re a woman’ thing. From the beginning, they said: “Do what you want to do with your life!” My sister was very smart. I was smart, but she was verrry smart and they always expected us to go out and do something wonderful. They encouraged us. They didn’t encourage me to go into acting. They would’ve encouraged me to be a brain surgeon on Mars. They would’ve said: “Yeah! You could do that.” But when I said that I wanted to be in show business, they were very, very, very, very, VERY upset. And I understand it. I look at my daughter Melissa and I wonder if she came to me and said, “I want to be a hooker,” if I’d say: “Good for you, learn some tricks! I want you to be the best hooker there is! I want you on your back, moving those hips like nobody else in the world!”
How about the dynamics between you, your daughter, and your grandson? Has that changed after the show?
Oh, it’s been wonderful! Boy, you really are a good interviewer. It’s been fabulous. I have to live there while we do the reality show and I also live there because Melissa is an executive producer on “Fashion Police.”
She’s doing an amazing job, by the way. I’ve seen her change over the years and she’s stronger, she’s found her legs.
Thank you. It’s all because of me; I take full credit for everything. It’s fun because I’m part of a household now, so I’m not something special or foreign to [my grandson] Cooper. “Oh, here comes Grandma! We have to go out to dinner.” I’m part of the fabric — that’s wonderful. We’re a real family. It’s great, great, great.
Are you going to encourage your grandson to go into acting?
No. At first, I was a little upset that he wasn’t gay — no one wants to listen to Stephen Sondheim in the house with me! He doesn’t sit at my feet and go, “You really met Judy Garland?” He couldn’t care less. Unless I told him Judy played lacrosse, he’s not interested. But [acting] is such a rough business, even for people with a lot of talent. I’d like him to find a profession with stability and there’s no stability to our profession. But again, if it’s what he really wants, then goddamnit, do it.
Thank you Joan and we look forward to seeing you on June 29th at the Atlanta Symphony Hall! Tickets can be purchased here.