Louis C.K. has a great joke about how he connects with old ladies because they’re on their way out, so they just say whatever. He might have been talking about Joan Rivers, minus the “on their way out” part.
You can still rely on Rivers, who turned 80 this summer, to call bullshit on just about anyone and anything in Hollywood. Who’s going to stop someone who’s still one of the biggest names in comedy after more than 50 years in the business?
Amazingly, she might be busier than ever. Whether it’s through her show Fashion Police on E!, Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best on WEtv, guest appearances, or her incessant touring schedule, she’s always part of the conversation.
Her latest venture is a web chat show called In Bed with Joan, where she invites fellow comedians and other celebrities over for a candid chat. I recently had the chance to chat with the comedy legend over the phone while she was on the road and talk about her new show, her staying power, and how audiences have changed.
So you don’t use a fake name at hotels anymore?
Oh it’s so stupid. You just say to the hotel, “I’m expecting these calls, so put them through.” I never use fake names. You know it’s usually the morons that nobody wants to talk to who are so worried about it.
I mean it’s people that are such third rate performers, and you go “Why, you should be glad someone would want to call you?”
You’re one of the most well-known comics out there today, why are you doing a web chat show?
Because that’s where life is now. It’s all about social media and the internet. I look at my grandson and he’s on his iPad and he’s on his iPhone and he’s reading books that are, unfortunately, no longer hardcover books. And I love that; it’s the Wild West out there. I can say what I want on the show, I can ask the questions I want, and it’s just so much fun. And there’s nobody coming to say “Well, we’re the network, and we’d rather you not do that joke.” There’s none of that. It’s all new and wonderful.
How did you decide on the format of doing it in bed with you?
I did Chris Hardwick’s show and I just had such a good time with him and I love interviewing people. You stretch people’s surface and you find out things you just don’t ever think you would have. And so, I just wanted to do it. We were doing Joan Knows Best, the reality show. The first two episodes we did for In Bed with Joan were literally done for the reality show and then I liked it so much. I said, “I’m going to do it on my own and we can start doing it with everyone.” It’s amazing who showed up.
Yeah, I was looking at some of the episodes and you definitely have an eclectic mix of guests. Podcasts are generally so comedian-heavy in terms of people being…
Let me tell you something, the most fun in the world is to interview a comedian. You talk to them and they get it. I am so tired of all these beautiful girls, these vapid girls, and these vapid men and you say something and then you have to say, “No no no, that’s the joke.” But with a comedian, that’s a joke, they know it’s a joke.
Who have been some of your favorite guests so far?
Oh, there’s so many. Anthony Jeselnik. I was crazy about him.
Yeah he was great. I liked the Eric Andre episode. That was interesting.
Oh, I thought that was great. Yeah, he was fantastic. It’s just nobody has disappointed me, and how lucky is that? I also think that because it’s such a crappy looking set, everybody relaxes. You really see this awful room and the awful bed and they think, “Well, nobody is watching this piece of shit.” [Laughs.] They’ll tell you the truth.
When do you shoot it?
We usually shoot it after I come back from doing Fashion Police. So I have hair and makeup already. And we do the wine, which I think is very important. It’s good to have wine and snacks so everybody is feeling good.
It loosens people up.
Yeah, totally, totally.
One of my favorite things about the show is how you can get your guests to say or admit to things they might not want to be made public, like with your “Sit Dead or Alive” segment. And you’ve never been the type to pull punches, is that something you feel like you’ve earned over the years?
Well, I always was outrageous. Of course, outrageous now isn’t what was outrageous back in 1970. I love the segment we do about the apologies. Also, the one about telling somebody off. I think that’s great because it's always someone that was mean to you in high school or the teacher that said that you weren’t going to amount to anything.
Was there ever a point in your career where you worried about what you said about other people in show business?
I’ve never been in the inside group, ever. I always feel my whole career is like I’m talking to friends; that’s how I do it. And so I just talk the way I would talk if you and I were sitting together and not saying, “Did you just say Lady Gaga?” So I never worry about what I say about Julia Roberts because she’s never invited me over for dinner, so who cares? Too bad. Gee, Miley Cyrus doesn’t like me. Oh well, there goes that Christmas card. [Laughs.]
Lets talk about your standup for a little bit here. Your act has been consistent over the years. How have audiences changed from when you first started? Are audiences dumber? Are they smarter?
I wouldn’t say they’re smarter. I wish. I wish America was getting smarter, but we’re not. What’s happened over the years is that audiences are much more accepting because it's much more un-marginalized. In the old days, you couldn’t say certain things. I’d be in Texas and literally my manager would say things like, “Don’t wear that in Texas.” So those were those days. It is, truly, a global village now. Everyone watches the same thing; everybody knows the same thing. The internet has made everything so immediate. You walk out of your house and everybody knows you’re walking out of your house if you’re Angelina Jolie. So I can talk about the same things to everybody, which is wonderful.
You perform almost exclusively in theaters and in auditoriums. Do you ever do small rooms? Do you ever get the urge to pop into a club?
I do it. There’s a little place in New York called the West Bank Cafe, and I go downstairs; they have a little theater down there, and if I’m in New York, I’m there every Tuesday night. And there’s always a hundred people. I work in the little clubs because you can really say anything. And that’s where all the really new stuff flows out and it’s so intimate and everybody’s there and it’s so young and it’s right off the NYU campus, which is just great.
So it’s mostly new material when you do those small rooms?
Oh absolutely. But I’ve gotten to the point now where I work on newer stuff all over the place. If you ever see me perform, I have big cue cards pasted all over the stage with things I want to try and things I want to talk about. I know people think like, “Oh she’s getting old, she can’t remember her act.” And I wanna go, “It’s just the opposite, you idiot!” It’s stuff I want to start talking about and not stuff that I’ve done.
Everything constantly changes and that’s what interests me. I mean, you read papers and you do this, you want to talk about what the stupid Obamacare is or you want to talk about Kim Kardashian’s ugly kid or you want to talk about whatever latest and greatest thing is happening.
We talked about your web show and how that’s where comedy is going these days. Do you feel like you really have to do all the Twitter and Facebook and everything else just to stay in the conversation and have your name out there?
I don't feel I have to. I’m enjoying it. I love it! I met Lady Gaga last night; she’s adorable. In her parents’ restaurant. Stephanie. And I couldn’t wait to tell the masses. I couldn’t wait! So I got on Twitter this morning and said, “Look who I’m having dinner with here.” I love the immediacy of it because you really feel such a connection out there with people. And just for fun, it’s the freedom that I can sit in bed and talk to someone and there’s no reason why you can’t say this or you can’t say that. It’s just a great form.
Yeah there’s no filter.
Are you the type that’s always on your phone Tweeting and stuff?
Oh yeah, definitely.
I also wanted to ask, did that whole strike with Fashion Police get resolved? I saw something about that last week in the paper. Is that behind you?
Let me explain this to you, I never thought I’d say this but E! is right. They wanted writers to take a vote before they went out and decided to strike and the WGA wanted them to negotiate to not take a vote. Well, we didn’t ask all the writers, so it’s such a stupid sloppy mess and it’s so stupid and it’s not helping anybody. And Fashion Police goes out. Learn a great lesson. Life goes on! They’ve been striking; these poor shmuck writers have been out since April.
You know, you want to go like, “You asshole, you’re stupid! Everyone get together. Calm down.” Meanwhile, Fashion Police goes on. It’s so sad in a way because everyone was screaming and ranting and raging and they were told to do this and go out and yeah, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November!
So is there any next step with that or is there any—
I am so out of it. I am so out of it. Everyone is using my name because, well, I am the name, but it’s like Jay Leno. It has nothing to do with me! I’m a WGA member, fine! You want to go out and vote! I’ll go out. You know what I mean? Take the vote, I’ll go out. But everyone is posturing, like, “My dick is bigger than your dick.” [Laughs.] I just finished a book on ants and, you know, ants when they fight each other, they stand on pebbles so that they look bigger. Isn’t that cute? And you so, you know, they’re all idiots. “I’m going to show you I’m a bigger man than you. I’m going to stand on this pebble.”
Lastly, A Piece of Work was such a great movie. I know it’s a couple of years old now, but was there anything in that movie you were glad audiences got to see that they might not have known about you?
Just that it takes work and that every talent, every comedian I have interviewed — and that has been on In Bed with Joan — they go to work! They work. Howie Mandel has 2,000 club dates a year. It’s insane. We all work at it, those of us that have stayed relevant. There’s a lot of work behind everybody, and I was glad to show that. ‘Cause people think, 'Oh, you know it’s all just working on the red carpet and getting your picture taken.' And you want to go, “No, no, no!”
No you can’t really rest on your name anymore.
No. There are too many people around you. Before you and after you.
Phil Davidson writes about, performs, and produces comedy.