Joan Rivers Better Work

Thanks to Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, rapt audiences are learning that there’s a lot more to Joan Rivers than E! red carpet critiques, QVC jewelry, and plastic surgery punch lines.

BY Brandon Voss

June 24 2010 7:25 PM ET

JOAN RIVERS 2 X390 (IFC FILMS) | ADVOCATE.COM

Did you lose many friends to the AIDS crisis?
A lot, a lot, a lot. I was doing my talk show during part of that, and one day we did a big thing on AIDS. I said, “Let’s put up pictures of my friends who have died.” And it just didn’t stop. I was so upset, because you don’t realize how many you lost until you really start to line it up. It was awful. It was a death sentence back then. When someone called you up and said, “I have AIDS,” it was over. My hairdresser, Jason Dyl, was wild and crazy. The minute he heard about it, he said to me, “That’s the end for me.” And it was. We didn’t know what to do, how to treat it, so he used to put on rubber gloves to do my hair. It was a horrible, black time. Don’t get me started.

Growing up in New York, what was your earliest exposure to gay people?
My mother had a very dear friend who was gay, but it just wasn’t talked about. When I got out of college, I was asked to come down to Lord & Taylor and help them change the windows on Thursday nights. I didn’t get any money for it, but it was a huge honor, because their windows were the most beautiful in New York and very noticed. I know it sounds stupid, but it was like being picked to be in the inner circle. Anyway, everyone down there was gay, and I had the best time. That began my lifelong affinity with gay people.

Who was your first gay friend?
An amazing man named Dick Eastwood, who worked in the window display department at Lord & Taylor. We’d go through Lord & Taylor — he’d dress me up and send me out on dates in borrowed clothes.

When did you first feel love from the gay community as a comic?
When I got into the business, I started working at night in all the clubs in Greenwich Village like the Duplex. There’d always be these little groups of tables of men that just got it more than the others, so I began to want to make them laugh more than the others. I didn’t seek it, and there was no plan; it was just a natural thing.

Who’s the most important gay person in your life today?
A friend of mine who lives up in Connecticut. There’s one couple and two single men up there that I just adore. You know, Connecticut is the reverse of the Hamptons: You don’t dress up, you don’t wear makeup, and it’s very underplayed. So we’ll say things like, “I come up here to see nobody!” Then we all get together and have dinner.

Fran Drescher recently said she’d been married to a gay man for 21 years. Have you ever unwittingly dated a gay man?
Well, I wittingly dated a gay man named Michael, who was a wonderful writer. We got very angry one night because somebody said to me, “Why are you going out with him? He’s gay.” So we said, “Let’s announce our engagement tonight.” We didn’t really date, but I was engaged to Michael for a while. I adored him, but we all knew, of course.

It’s easy to fall for a gay friend.
It is easy, and there are also many gay men who have fallen in love with me. If you’re together long enough, there’s a moment in almost any friendship when you look at each other and go, “Well, maybe.” And then you go, “That’s stupid. This ain’t gonna last.”

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