Over a career that stretches well past 50 years, pioneering comedian Joan Rivers has done it all: standup, writing, movie directing, acting, reality TV, fashion commentary, jewelry design and more.
Now Rivers and her trademark raspy voice (“Can we talk?”) are coming to the Holland Center Saturday for a night of her [Note] trademark, [/NOTE] no-holds-barred standup comedy. We caught up with Rivers by phone at her daughter's home, which is the set of her reality TV show “Joan & Melissa,” in Malibu, Calif.
Question: I looked in the newspaper archive and couldn't find you'd ever been to Omaha. Is this your first trip here?
Answer: Course I've been to Omaha. I brought Omaha Steaks back to Johnny Carson from Omaha. Have them put some on ice for me, I'll bring them back with me again.
Q:I saw online that you have five one-night standup gigs in just eight days, ending here. How many do you do in a year?
A: I don't know. It varies. ... So much has happened recently. “Fashion Police” (on E!) has become incredibly popular. “Joan & Melissa” (on WE TV) is in its third year. Now on the Internet we have inbedwithJoan.com (online chat from her bedroom).I'm concentrating on TV now. In the old days I might do 100 standup dates a year. This year we'll be lucky to do 35. But performing comedy is my favorite, it's the cherry on the cake.
Q: What can the audience in Omaha expect your standup routine to be like? Is it rated R?
A: Of course. Life is R-rated. With 52 percent of women having babies out of wedlock, I don't think we need to talk about R ratings. But the show will be nonpolitical. Dick Cavett wrote a wonderful letter to me about how comedy should be nonpolitical. It will be outrageous, critical. You should shake your audience, make them remember. Not safe. You want safe, go see Donny Osmond.
Q: I'm going to quote you to yourself: “I enjoy life when things are happening. I don't care if it's good things or bad things. That means you're alive.” Is that why you keep working and traveling as much as you do?
A: I'm doing it mainly because all these things are happening in my career. We're in a business that when things are happening you enjoy them and keep them moving. Life is a movie, you can make it a comedy or a tragedy. Enjoy it. Things happen, but this too will pass. Melissa quotes Winston Churchill. She says, “If you're walking through hell, walk faster. You'll get to the exit.”
Q: I'll quote you again: “People say money is not the key to happiness. I always figured if you have enough money, you can have a key made.” I'm guessing you had that key made a while back. If you don't need the money, are you working to stay happy?
A: I do need the money. I've never been an owner of anything. I've been an employee all my life. I am not Jerry Seinfeld or Howard Stern. I don't own my things. I am a salaried employee to a lot of cable networks. Figure it out. Poor? By no means. I work because I love it, and I'm lucky enough it supports me in a very nice style.
Q: You do so many things. Has what you like to do best changed at all over the years?
A: No. It's still comedy. Although right now I'm loving doing “Joan & Melissa,” because it's terrific and funny and real. I get time with Melissa and my grandson. We're all together, and that's been great.
Q: Here's another Joan Rivers quote: “I succeeded by saying what everyone else was thinking.” You seem unafraid of controversy, whether it's making a Holocaust comment about Heidi Klum's Oscar-night outfit, or joking on “David Letterman” about singer Adele's weight. Are there any lines you draw for yourself on what you will not make a joke about?
A: The Heidi Klum comment was an anti-Nazi comment, to remind people the Nazis pushed people into the ovens. And America is heavy, spending billions on diabetes. ... We should say to ourselves maybe we shouldn't stuff ourselves with macaroni. You're damn right. Get the kids outside and playing. My generation went outside and played games. We didn't sit and eat fattening foods and play on computers. America's becoming a fat, lazy country. Adele has made millions. She can afford a dietitian.
There are no lines around my comedy. If I think it's funny, I'll say it. I'm very pro-gay marriage, for example. If it's in my consciousness, I will do jokes about it. Of course, if something is a major tragedy, you don't do it. You're feeling it still as a tragedy.
Q: You certainly joke about yourself. I'll quote you again: “I've had so much plastic surgery, when I die they'll donate my body to Tupperware.”
A: Yeah, when I meet St. Peter he won't recognize me. I might not get in.
Q: Are there celebrities other than yourself who you think should have a facelift, or who you think should not have had plastic surgery done?
A: I think everybody in this town has done something. Some -- I think Robert Redford, it's usually the men -- have been pulled out of recognition. Plastic surgery doctors need to learn to do men better. Or maybe the men just wait too long.
Q: I didn't know Redford had a lot of work done.
A: How old are you? Grow up.
Q: I read online you just had some Botox injections.
A: Botox is wonderful. Everybody likes to look nice. Cosmetics are a billion-dollar industry, and Botox takes away fine lines better than any cream. It's a wonderful thing, for women and men.
Q: Reading up on your career, I was amazed at some of what's on your resume: writing for (Italian puppet) Topo Gigio, goading people on “Candid Camera,” narrating on “The Electric Company.” I read you even played a lesbian onstage opposite Barbra Streisand. Are there particular gigs you look back on most fondly?
A: All of it becomes one happy blur. Woody Allen, Lily Tomlin, Dick Cavett, Bill Cosby, we all worked through the Village (Greenwich Village in New York) -- Streisand, too at the same time. We have a warm feeling toward each other now. It's like going to the same summer camp, or the same school, before we'd done anything important. We're all doing well now, still working. It's a nice feeling.
Q: What about the gigs you'd love to forget?
A: Very few. I'm very happy now doing “Joan & Melissa.” “Fashion Police” is No. 1 all over the world now. It's amazing. Inbedwithjoan.com is taking off. A whole new world has opened up online. At this age, to have a show on the Internet that's a hit? Wow. Crazy.
Q: This is Johnny Carson country. I know he was a mentor to you, and it hurt when he turned his back on you. How do you feel about your history with Carson now?
A: Watch “Joan & Melissa.” The sixth episode deals with that. I just did the voice-overs last night. Tell everybody to watch. It's all about Johnny Carson. Even going to visit his grave. I'm not going to say anymore. It will have just been seen when I play Omaha.
Q: Who are your favorite up-and-coming female standup comedians?
A: No idea. I'm so in competition with everybody, I do not see the new people coming up. If we're both doing the same joke, they'll think I took a joke from them. Poor Robin Williams has a terrible reputation for stealing from young comics. It's not so. Put 300 monkeys in a room, two will come up with “Hamlet.” Robin has been plagued with those accusations. You know we're all going to be doing jokes about the pope now. I bet in every comedy club this month they'll be doing jokes on the pope.
Q: You're going to turn 80 in June. Any advice to those facing birthdays with a zero in them?
A: Ignore it. I find birthdays over about 21 really stupid. Oh, who cares. Have a good time every day. People don't speak to their mother all year, then they say, “Oh it's her birthday, I'll take her out.” What about the other 364 days? It's how you feel, nothing to do with where you are numberwise.
However, this is a major birthday. I do expect major gifts. I take back everything I said.
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