Join us for a Live Chat with the legendary Joan Rivers this Monday, October 25th at 6:00 pm EST to talk about her acclaimed documentary, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” her extraordinary, ground-breaking career and what she has planned next.
Available now on Xfinity On Demand, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” takes viewers on a year long ride with legendary comedian Joan Rivers in her 77th year of life and peels away the mask of an iconic comedian, exposing the struggles, sacrifices and joy of living life as a ground breaking female performer. Film critic Roger Ebert called the documentary “one of the most truthful documentaries about show business I’ve seen. Also maybe the funniest.” “Her energy is a thing to behold,” added EW’s Owen Gleiberman. “She’s the comedian as teller of uproariously toxic, gutbucket truths as surely as Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor ever were…”
Joan Rivers says she’s gratified the film was so well-received by critics and audiences earlier this year, but other than that, she doesn’t particularly care whether people like her or dislike her after seeing the movie.
For the 77-year-old icon, the most important thing is whether people continue to buy tickets to see her perform. The legendary comedian, who has spent a lifetime (and made a fortune) at the pinnacle of the entertainment business (since breaking through on ‘The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson’ in 1965), insists she still lives with the constant fear that her career could dry up and go south any minute, though to the rest of us, that hardly seems likely.
We spoke to her about the precariousness of a career in show business and the documentary.
What do you think of the film? Do you think it portrays you honestly? Rivers: Oh, absolutely. People keep saying things like, What did you learn about yourself? Nothing. I learned I’m right-handed? I mean, I have a big ass? I learned nothing. I think they did a wonderful job and [producers/directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg] did a wonderful job because they weren’t sycophants and this wasn’t the sixth comedy thing they had done. They had never done a comedy documentary before. They had done one on Darfur [‘The Devil Came on Horseback’], they came at it looking at it really like outsiders.
So when you saw the finished product, did anything about the way you came across surprise even you? No. I thought I may have picked other things in my act to [show in the film] that I liked better than the ones they put in, you know, that kind of thing. No.
One of the recurring subjects is your appointment book, and your anxiety when you open it up and see dates in which nothing is scheduled. What’s the status of the appointment book now? Is it full? It is beyond full, which is great. But as you know, that can disappear tomorrow.
True enough, but when we think about a celebrity like you, we who are not in show business find it easy to conclude that your fear about your career disappearing is unfounded. Nonsense.
How is it nonsense? Why shouldn’t we think that? Here you are, still going strong. I’m still here because, as I say, I just about take anything that’s good for me. I work [but] I don’t know what I’m doing next year. You don’t know. You don’t know when the [the economy can turn sour] and people aren’t buying tickets anymore and there are all kinds of things that happen. Everybody I bump into says to me, ‘The road is terrible.’ The Wall Street Journal had a big article two weeks ago on how bad the road is for tickets. You don’t know in this business. Melissa and I just did a new reality show that starts in January. It’s going to be called ‘Joan and Melissa: Mother Knows Best?’ with a big question mark. It’s going to be for WE. And it just wrapped. And I think it’s terrific. Now, is it terrific? I don’t know. Are people gonna find WE? I don’t know. Are they gonna pick it up? My show, ‘How’d You Get so Rich?’ [on TV Land in 2009] . . . We got great numbers the first year, great numbers the second year, we don’t know if they’re going to pick it up the third year. Who knows?
Can we assume that you’re pleased that ‘A Piece of Work’ received so many rave reviews and positive press? Oh, my God, it was like a gift coming down from Mount Olympus. We were in shock, we went to Sundance and we figured they’d all say, ‘Nice, interesting . . .’ [but] we won awards and they stood up. We got standing ovations. It was a joy and a thrill.
Was it a joy and a thrill to actually make the film or was it annoying or otherwise difficult to do? The only annoying thing was wearing that stupid battery pack all day.
You wear that on your back, clipped to the waistband of your clothes, right? And that adds inches to your waist.
In other words, it makes your clothes bulge out? Yeah! What’s the old joke about the two Muslim women? ‘Tell me the truth, does the bomb make me look fat?’
Your friend Don Rickles made his own documentary [2007’s ‘Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,’ directed by John Landis]. Did that inspire you to make your own? Not inspired me, but I knew I didn’t want a documentary like that, like Don’s, with all his friends saying how wonderful he is.
One of the most riveting sequences in the documentary was your on-stage confrontation with an audience member who took offense at something you said and really heckled you. And you really put him down. Yes, that was wild. I get so few hecklers. Sometimes I get people who want to joke along with me ’cause they feel they know me so well. And so my retort to him was so strong because I was in such shock.
In retrospect, do you feel you were too strong? Well, you’ve got 4,000 people out there who have paid to see you and you cannot let this continue. You must stop a heckler because they didn’t pay to see the heckler. And you’re gonna ruin their night.
Then your goal at that moment was to stop the heckling without stopping the show. Exactly.
Do you think you succeeded in that instance? Oh, yeah. That happened in the middle of the show. So by the time [the audience] left, they had a wonderful time. And that’s my goal every time I go on stage. If you’ve gotten dressed and gotten a babysitter and parked your car for money, you damn well better come out of there saying this is the best show I ever saw.