ELLE Interview: Joan Rivers
The trail-blazing comedienne unlocks the door to her sordid past with the release of her documentary, A Piece of Work.
At 75-years-old, Joan Rivers is the stuff legends are made of. Considered one of the most influential comedienne’s in pop culture, the over-botoxed, somewhat undervalued and always colourful Rivers has a long and storied history in showbiz; some of it great, some of it downright shameful.
But whatever the case, the star keeps on ticking, even after a few disappointing years when she couldn’t fill her date book. Those blank agenda pages did nothing for a woman accustomed to being in the spotlight, any spotlight (QVC, anyone?) and fans were given a glimpse into just how tragic it was in her new documentary, A Piece of Work.
ELLECanada.com spoke with Rivers who, despite her trash-talking image, was sweet, gracious and reflective of a career that spans decades and keeps on keeping on.
ELLECanada.com: Did it take a lot of convincing for you to say yes to this project?
Joan Rivers: I didn’t really give it that much thought, to be honest. The filmmaker’s are my best friends’ daughters and so when Ricki (Stern) told me she wants to make this film, I said sure.
EC.com: You weren’t you concerned you might inadvertently reveal too much?
JR: No. If you’re going to do a documentary, mean it. I wanted to do it with all my heart. The film on Anna Wintour told us nothing (The September Issue), two hours of watching her walking red carpets and her dresses. All you know ifs she had full control and she is pretty. And the hair is good. “Anna is such a darling!”, “Ooohhhhh! Darling!” I was angry. I can’t believe I paid to see it and I got nothing. They came to me shortly thereafter and I said we had to do it right or we don’t do it.
EC.com: In the opening sequence when you’re having your makeup applied you’re completely bare-faced. Suffice it to say, it was a bit shocking to see!
JR: I had no idea they were getting that close. I would have killed them. But we lived together for fourteen months and the two boys who did the film I trusted. When I saw it, of course, I thought it was a great way to start. It tells you everything. This is not going to be a puff piece, a Biography Channel piece. I really wanted to see Anna Wintour cry, as a mother, with the boyfriend who she walked out on her husband for. So, yeah. Really, I would much rather have seen Avatar.
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The film show
s us how upset you are with a blank page in your agenda. You’re a success and you’re 75-years-old with money. What drives you so hard still? And how are you so brave? Have you always been like that?
JR: It’s my genetic makeup. I was always driven since I could put two words together. I’ve always known what I wanted and that I’d do it, or try dying. My
mother was very upwardly mobile and my father came from a dirt poor family, but they were all doctors and lawyers and school teachers, which was a big deal then. It’s part of the family makeup.
EC.com: Is your daughter Melissa like that?
JR: I see a great work ethic in Melissa. She’s not quite driven like I am; she doesn’t have the same attitude. Mine is insane. It’s madness. It’s madness and an addiction and a pleasure!
EC.com: Without question, you live life large. You have been known to say that you live how Marie Antoinette would have lived if she had money. When you were struggling financially, or otherwise, is this the life you always pictured you wanted?
JR: No, all I wanted to do when I was struggling was to not be an office temporary worker. Anyone is our business (the arts, writing, painting, sculpture) if you can make a living doing that, without having to do something else, then you are successful. All the rest is wow, dessert!
EC.com: One of the great moments in the film is when you’re performing onstage and joking about deafness. A man yells out that he has a hearing impaired son. You let him have it, but kept the audience sympathy without missing a beat.
JR: Obviously he had his own problems. I told him my father was deaf, which was a lie. Everybody does silly Helen Keller jokes or Stevie Wonder jokes. We’ve all done it at one time or another. You’ve come to a comedy show for heaven’s sake! You know already he was coming from a dark place. My mother’s deaf but my dad had his problems. But you have to hold the crowd or get it back if you lose it. You have an obligation to the audience.