Joan Rivers compares Fox to an old ex-boyfriend, explains carrying friends' ashes
Joan Rivers is the only multi-millionaire who can admit she got a reality TV show out of moving cross-country to live with her millionaire daughter, and still leave you laughing about the absurdity of it all.
But that’s the 77-year-old showbiz icon’s stock in trade: from her award-winning, emotionally raw documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, to the exhaustive amount of standup gigs she insists on booking every year. For more than five decades, Joan Alexandra Molinsky Sanger Rosenberg has mined the most painful moments of her life and turned them into entertainment, making herself bulletproof to shame or criticism in the process.
Fans tonight can see her take it to another level, documenting the process of leaving her beloved New York for life in Los Angeles with daughter and longtime TV partner Melissa Rivers for the WE cable channel show Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?
On Friday, she’ll cut up for Tampa Bay audiences live with longtime pal Don Rickles.
My conversation with her started on a familiar note: The controversy kicked off when the Fox News Channel’s Fox and Friends morning show dumped her as a guest after she criticized conservative hero Sarah Palin (one of the show's producers has since said it was a mistake and she should have been rescheduled; cynics smell a publicity stunt coming a mile away).
Deggans: The last time you tangled with Fox, you blamed them for canceling your late night talk show and driving your husband to kill himself. Why can’t you get along with Fox?
Rivers: It's my second job I’ve been fired from by them (laughs). Age makes it all funny. You look at (Fox owner) Rupert Murdoch’s appointment book and it says "Tomorrow’s my fourth wife’s birthday and its time to fire Joan Rivers again."
I just thought, for you, Fox is like that ex-boyfriend you never quite get out of your hair.
R: Can I say that? Give me that quote. That’s a great quote.
Go right ahead.
R: Fox is like an ex-boyfriend you can never get out of your hair (laughter). But who would think, as Melissa said, with all the world situation and everything going on, that’s what they’re upset about? That a comic said something against Sarah Palin, and that’s who they’re gonna ban from Fox? We were told it came from much higher up … that somebody high up really was an a--hole. (See Joan talk more about it here.)
D: So, tell me about how you wound up touring with Don Rickles.
R: I love him. I think he gives a master class in comedy. I mean, I go on first usually ‘cause I get out early. Don finally figured that one out. Usually they always fight … "Who goes on second?" I wanna go on first. I’m home and in bed, and Don is still going, ‘So you’re a hockey puck.’
D: I expected that each of you could do a tour on your own. Is this more about spending time with a friend?
R: Well, we reach a certain age and every day is a gift. Every day that you wake up and everything is fine? I mean, we all know the ending. This is not a surprise ending here.
D: I was surprised to see in your TV show that you came to Melissa’s house carrying the ashes of all these friends and family who has passed away, including somebody you didn’t know. Did you ever find out who it was?
R: Uh, we’re not sure (laughter).
D: Joan, this is kinda morbid, isn’t it?
R: No, no, these are my darling friends, and when I move, they move with me. I just feel it’s very comforting, you know. I have a ghost in my apartment, and I know she keeps me well. I know Mrs. Spencer is happy to have me here. You know, several years alone, I know that I have Edgar’s ashes and I have my old hairdresser, Jason’s ashes, and I have my dear friend Tommy’s ashes, and Vinny’s ashes. I’m comfortable. Here are my friends.
D: Have you written in the will who gets you?
R: When I end up cremated, I want everybody tossed in with me … and all my dogs. Melissa’s gonna need two days to sprinkle that crap.
D: So, would you have made this cross-country move if it wasn’t for a reality show?
R: Oh, yeah. The move was made before the reality show. Melissa and I have been … people have always been asking us, do a reality show. We’re such a natural … mother and daughter, two generations. This is a time now, you know, when everyone’s moving back in. The New York Times had a huge article, I think, three weeks ago on downsizing, moving back with parents, so it was natural. And then people say, what’s it like to have me, Joan Rivers, a very strong woman, move into a very strong daughter’s house? And suddenly you’re not boss anymore. You’re the guest in the small room.
D: You didn’t take too well to that (laughter).
R: She gets really upset whenever I say I’m in the Kunta Kinte suite because it’s downstairs (laughter), or I’m going to sleep now. Gimme a canary. I wanna put it in ahead of me. (laughter) She gets so angry.
D: Do people … you know, I’ve seen critics, I’ve seen what people have written, and some people think it’s kind of unusual that a mother and daughter would work together this much.
R: Well, then they’re stupid. I think … I couldn’t care less. How wonderful .. how wonderful. It’s a family business. Why don’t you tell Johnson & Johnson, the family business, not to use their kids? Tell Donald Trump not to use his kids. I mean, you know, it just happened, and it’s a great dynamic and … Melissa, by the way, is an amazing producer. She’s producing The Fashion Police, which is why The Fashion Police is such a hit.
D: Let's talk about the film. We’re not used to seeing comics make themselves as vulnerable as you did in A Piece of Work.
R: You know who enjoyed it the most? People in the business. Al Pacino said to me, it’s a wonderful film. Robert DeNiro had a friend of his watch it three times because they’re writing a film about a comic. Diane Keaton called me, and I don’t know her, to say it’s a wonderful film. Dustin Hoffman ran up an escalator to say to me, I loved your film. It’s really hit people in the business.
D: Because they see themselves in what you do?
R: I think because nobody’s ever said "I’m scared. I’m frightened."… Nicole Kidman … I don’t know if you’ve seen the film.
D: Oh, yeah.
R: Well, there’s one scene when my manager says, Richard Pryor … he was telling him, I’m gonna do this for you and that for you and this for you and that for you, and then Richard Pryor said to him, “But, Larry, what am I doing Monday?” What am I doing, Monday? And I bumped into Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban at the Critics Choice Awards, and they said, we loved the film and we now say to each other – that’s our family pet, you know, our password – “Yeah, but what are we doing Monday?”
Thanks to Times staffer Barbara Moch, who transcribed this interview.