Joan Rivers puts her wits and cosmetic surgery on display at the Alys Stephens Center.
Born Joan Molinsky in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933, Joan Rivers changed her name at the suggestion of a talent scout when she began working comedy clubs in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. By 1965, she was working as a gag writer on the TV show “Candid Camera,” which employed hidden cameras to film everyday people on the street in setups that were designed to garner shocked reactions (such as trees or cars that talked to the unwitting subject ). Although Rivers is known for abrasive, brash humor that focuses on insults and self-deprecating remarks, her stage persona in no way represents her true character, as reflected in a recent phone conversation. At age 77 she’s not slowing down. In 2009 she starred in—and won—”Celebrity Apprentice” and in 2010 returned to E!’s Red Carpet to critique Oscar night fashion. She currently hosts E!’s “Fashion Police” with Kelly Osbourne. Rivers will appear at the Alys Stephens Center on Sunday, December 12, at 7 p.m., as part of the ASC Holiday Comedy Show. Alys Stephens Center, Jemison Concert Hall, 1200 10th Avenue South. Tickets: $20–$65. Details: www.alysstephens.uab.edu.
Black & White: I was surprised to learn that you worked on “Candid Camera” in the 1960s.
Joan Rivers: Yep. I think that was the original reality show. A lot of us came out of that show —Lily Tomlin worked there, George Carlin.
I also didn’t realize you were in the film The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster. How did you come to be cast in that?
They saw me working a nightclub and liked me. They wrote the part in for me, which was exciting. That was the first movie I ever did. I remember thinking what on old guy Burt Lancaster was, and he was 45 years old! I remember thinking, “God, this old guy—what’s he doing here?”
Are you ever offended by comics?
Oh no, no. I think comedy should be a little offensive. To be funny, you’ve got to step out of the box. Somebody’s always going to get offended, but that’s good. Comedy should always be making a point and making people aware of things.
It’s impressive that you were the first permanent guest host to fill in for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
I was the first woman guest host, and then the first permanent guest host—man, woman, or child.
What type of show will you be doing in Birmingham?
It’s a standup-style show, very simple. I come out and talk to the audience for an hour, hour and a half. I talk about everything that annoys me; everything that is right and wrong with society, I discuss. It’s funny, I hope . . . they’re all funny!
You were one of the groundbreakers among female comics, weren’t you?
Well, they’ve been around for years but I was one of the first that wanted to look nice on stage. Before me was Phyllis Diller, and she always looked like a clown. But I was single and I wanted to get married, so I was trying to look as nice as I could on stage.
On “Fashion Police,” you’re working with Kelly Osbourne. Have you met her father, Ozzy?
Kelly is adorable. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her father, but I’m not so sure it is (a pleasure). I think it may be a little bit of an act with him, because she talks about her father grounding her and driving her to school. It sounds a lot more normal than you think it would be.
Pee-wee Herman was your first guest when you had your talk show on Fox (“The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers,” which premiered in 1986)?
Yes. He’s back now, he’s back on Broadway. He is so funny. It’s about time they forgave him. I mean, all he was doing was picking up a guy in a theater. So what? Don’t worry about that, there’s a lot worse things that can go on. I loved being on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” too.
Did you and Sam Kinison make up after he failed to appear on your show after you had promoted his appearance all week?
Oh yeah. Now there’s a talent that shouldn’t have died. He got over drugs and got married and everything was tip-top and terrific, then he gets killed in an automobile accident. He was so funny and so brilliant.
Were you on “Hollywood Squares” when Paul Lynde was there?
Now you’re mentioning names that nobody’s going to know, except the two of us . . . Paul Lynde was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. But a mean guy. He was a bad drunk.
You’ve had a few facelifts. What is your opinion of Mickey Rourke’s face job?
All the men wait too long to have facelifts. Women are smart, and they do it when they need it. Men wait until they are really desperate and then they look like they went into a wind tunnel. They figure it’s sissy. But it’s a business where you have to look good; our business is all about that. And as you need it, you do it.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I watch a lot of old movies, I’m a big old movie buff. I love dogs, I’ve got three now. I don’t understand anybody that doesn’t have pets, something to make you have a home.
Any new shows on the horizon that you’ll be in that you can tell us about?
My daughter and I have a reality show coming called Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? (It premieres January 2011 on the WE network). &