Q&A: Joan Rivers on jokes, politics, death and Barbra Streisand
The slaughter-all-sacred-cows comedienne Joan Rivers, 78, is on WEtv's "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?," hosts E TV's Fashion Police and its award show specials and is celebrating her 20th year of selling her line of jewelry and clothing on QVC. Rivers, who lives on the Upper East Side, will be reading from and signing her 11th book, "I Hate Everyone. . . Starting With Me" 7 p.m. Tues., June 5 at the Union Square Barnes & Noble, 33 Ea. 17th St.
In your new book, you make jokes about cancer, death, disabilities, Anne Frank and the residue left on Jackie Kennedy's pink suit after the JFK assassination. Is there anything you consider in bad taste?
Life is so damn short. If you don't make fun of everything in it, you're in trouble. One day your friend is fine, the next day she has MS. One day your cat is fine, the next day it gets run over. You know what I mean?
Yet, the book is filled with backhanded compliments for New York. You equate the smell of urine in the air here to "night blooming jasmine."
I love it! It's the only city in the world! I'm a New Yorker born and bred!
You started out playing a lesbian on stage with a crush on a character played by Barbra Streisand. Will you be going to her October concert at the Barclays Center?
Not at that price, I won't! I love to hear her sing, but I'll listen to a CD.
So your objection is not to going over the bridge to a borough.
I'm Brooklyn born and bred! It's just too expensive.
They say you're worth $50 million. What are you saving it all for?
What are you talking about? I work every day! I pay my taxes. I've never owned anything! I don't have the house in the Hamptons. I'm a salaried person. I've never gotten a residual in my life: I'm not Jerry Seinfeld.
Reports say that you blamed Fox Television for firing your husband, Edgar Rosenberg, shortly before he killed himself. But I also read you identify as a Republican. So where do you get your news?
First of all - nobody cares! That's so last year's news. That stuff about (Johnny) Carson? (He was reported to be upset with Rivers, who had worked for him as a writer, when she was given a show in his same time slot.) The young people don't even know who Carson is these days. I'm not a Republican. I'm a nothing! I think they're all a------s. They all should be ashamed. They've spent the last two years spending all this money campaigning and for what. I vote, but for the last three elections, I voted for the lesser of the evils. Every day I get the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Post and I always have some news on in the background.
The way you grind out jokes one after the other in your new book is pretty impressive. What's your process for producing so much material?
This one I'd hardly call a book. It's a rant. It was so much fun to write. I just sat around with Larry Amoros and we'd laugh about every subject in the world. Like, "I hate those fast drivers," or "I hate those drivers who talk on cell phones," and off we'd go. Of course I have a notebook, and I have notes all over the place.
Your language is pretty salty for a gramma. Do you drop f bombs with your grandson?
Hey, we're all very different with our families than we are on stage. Jack Benny was not really 39 or cheap. I don't walk around the house saying f---. I'm like the Three Faces of Eve.
You are indeed versatile. You have this middle American persona on QVC and then you take no prisoners in other arenas. Who is the real you?
Who cares? You know what I mean? I love my life. I love QVC. I love performing. I love my family. I love it all. Everyone is different in public than private. When you're doing an interview, even if you're in a bad mood, you probably decide to be nice to make a good impression. When you first meet anyone, you don't really meet them: You meet their ambassador.
Are you liking your pal Howard Stern on America's Got Talent?
He's brilliant! He should have done this year's ago. He's the kindest, most talented, most compassionate man. I'm just crazy about Howard.
You've made so many mean digs at so many people. Have any of them ever come back to bite you?
I don't know. I don't read anything negative, because negative doesn't help you. I'm sure people say all kinds of terrible things about me!
What comedians are you admiring right now?
Sacha Baron Cohen - he's so brilliant. Woody Allen - just look at his body of work. Sarah Silverman, Kathy Griffin - there are just so many.
You're so ruthless about mocking the toll the aging process takes on the human body and also so incredibly vain about resisting it yourself. How do you get by never wearing glasses at age 78, anyway?
I have contact lenses in. I wear them when I need them, which I've done for more than 25 years since my day time talk show. I'm used to them. But when I read at night, I use glasses.
And what are you reading?
Unbroken (A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption), that new Lyndon Johnson Biography (The Passage of Power) and my secret pleasure is Ann Rule (the true crime writer).
In your new book, you say there's nothing worse than a boring death. So how do you plan to go out?
I hope I go out on stage while I'm performing. I want to make it to 31 minutes, get the check and everyone goes home happy. The audience will have something to dine out on.