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Joan Rivers Knows How to Work It

The legendary star dishes on performing live, her reality series How Did You Get So Rich?, her new documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, and her personal pet peeves and extravagances. logo
Joan Rivers
(© Tristan Fuge)
If there is anything Joan Rivers can't do -- or won't do -- it hasn't been discovered yet. Right now, the legendary performer is doing more balancing than a Cirque du Soleil juggler: she has numerous gigs coming up -- including doing commentary for this weekend's Miss USA pageant, a two-night stand at Westbury Music Fair on May 21 and 22, and her "Gay Pride" show at the NYC's Gramercy Theatre on June 24. There's also her popular reality TV series How Did You Get So Rich?, which airs on TVLand on Wednesday nights, and the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, which goes into commercial release next month. TheaterMania was able to catch Rivers for a delightful phone chat recently about these and other projects.

THEATERMANIA: Joan, what's on your mind these days that you want to talk to live audiences about?
JOAN RIVERS: I'm always looking into the latest news to talk about. Right now, I am working on material about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. All I'll say for now is that she makes Chastity Bono look feminine.

TM: You've spent a lot of time recently in the Laurie Beechman Theatre in New York, which is a small room, and now you're going to the Westbury Music Fair which is much bigger. How does the size of the room and the kind of audiences affect your performances?
JR: The Laurie Beechman has been wonderful; it has the perfect sightlines, the audiences are great -- it's the room I've been looking for my whole life. I love being there too because for the first ten minutes, I never know what I'm going to say and we're all laughing together. Westbury is different; more controlled -- when these people come and pay good money for tickets and parking, you have to make sure you have your act together. I love being there, though, because it's in the round and I welcome the challenge not to leave anybody out. I never sit on a stool there; I think it's unfair to the audience. But I'm glad I can't really see them, because I think the audience has a right not to laugh at you, and if you're looking them in the eye, they'll feel inhibited.

TM: This is your second season hosting How Did You Get So Rich? Has it lived up to your expectations?
JR: I adore doing this show; it's the most fun I've ever had. I love it that no two stories are alike, and I love how these people all spend their money totally differently. For example, Preston Bailey, who's this amazing event designer, lives so simply but takes a $300,000 vacation. We've interviewed one guy who paid $45 million -- in cash -- for a house in the Hamptons, and one guy had 3 million dollars worth of cars in his driveway. Everyone has their own philosophy about money.

TM: Do you have a favorite story from the show?
JR: I love when it's someone who made or discovered a product we use every day, like the Clapper or the Wee Wee Pad, and you realize one person was behind that idea. And then I look around and think I'm doing something wrong!

TM: What do you spend your money on?
JR: My biggest extravagance is shoes. I don't even wear a lot of them; I just like to look at them. And I will spend any amount of money on books. And of course, I spoil my grandson.

TM: You're very comfortable with reality TV, from The Celebrity Apprentice to doing fashion commentary on all the awards shows. Is there another reality show in the works?
JR: Yes, my daughter Melissa and I are going to start filming a show in July called Mother Knows Best? It came about because I lived with Melissa during the year I was working on my play,Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, so now I am going to live there half the year with her, and her son, and her live-in boyfriend. I like him enough. And we'll see how that all works out.

A scene from Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
TM: Why did you agree to have your life put on camera for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work?
JR: I've been asked about this kind of movie before, but I didn't want a puff piece done. I watch the shows like that which are great on the Biography Channel, and it's fine for an hour, but I never really believe they're telling the whole stories. I liked the work or Ricki Stern and Anne Sunberg, who made this movie, and I knew they were serious about telling the truth. I believe in telling the truth, and it gets me into a lot of trouble. But all day, no one wants to tell me the truth, so my rule is I won't go out to dinner after 6 if you give me bullshit. A lot of friends have gone off the list because of that.

TM: How much say did you have in the final cut of movie?
JR: It's really their vision. They showed me a rough cut right before Sundance, and I sent it to Melissa, and she asked me to take out one section about my late husband Edgar's suicide, because she thought I was being too rough on him. And that was it.

TM: The movie got great reactions at Sundance and at the Tribeca Film Festival. Did you expect that?
JR: I had great trepidation at Sundance; you know there are going to be a lot of snobs and movie buffs. I was in the audience, and couldn't believe how much they liked it. As for Tribeca, I always expect New Yorkers to be the most critical audiences. That's why I didn't bring my play to New York, because I don't want to spend the rest of my life having my elevator man say "I'm sorry" every time he takes me up and down from my apartment.

TM: You see everything on Broadway. What have you been recommending to friends?
JR: Everyone should go see Linda Lavin in Collected Stories; she's just wonderful. I went wild for Red. And you can shoot me, but I liked Promises, Promises; I thought it was charming and fun.

TM: The one thing you haven't done is host Saturday Night Live. Should we start a Facebook group for you?
JR: I would love to host SNL, but I figure with my reputation, I'll be asked to do it right after Adolf Hitler.

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