Except for (possibly) James Franco, Joan Rivers, at 77, is still the busiest person in show business. As anyone who watched last year's mesmerizing documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work can attest, the comedy icon hates few things more than an empty page in her agenda.
The veteran comedian, award-winning talk show host, film director, author, Broadway star, jewelry designer, cosmetic company entrepreneur, and fashion commentator has reinvented herself again as a reality TV’s newest star. Besides Fashion Police, her other weekly series, on E! in which she doles out her unbridled style-savvy commentary, Rivers has the hit reality series Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? in which she has moved in with daughter Melissa and grandson Cooper. In the show, airing each Tuesday night on the WE network, Rivers and Rivers go head-to-head as two strong-willed women living under one roof. Rivers dispenses her singular brand of motherly wisdom, advising Melissa, in the first episode, to replace her sexy Swedish nanny with an ugly gay guy.
Rivers is also still courting controversy. She made headlines last month after remarks the comedian made linking Sarah Palin and the Tucson shooting caused Fox to cancel a scheduled interview. Rivers catches us up on the new series, offers strong words for Charlie Sheen, and discusses the one subject she can’t joke about — yet.
The Advocate: Congratulations, Joan, your show is a big hit.
Joan Rivers: Yes, I’m so happy. We got the highest ratings ever in our time slot, and we quadrupled the ratings of the show that had been there before. I just saw some clips from upcoming episodes and had forgotten how funny it is.
I just watched a clip from an upcoming episode, in which you try to scatter the ashes of your dead gay friend in front of Judy Garland’s former home.
[Laughs] You’ll see what happens. The new owner was not happy.
After having the documentary cameras follow you around for a year while making A Piece of Work, why did you decide to put yourself through it again with Joan Knows Best?
Melissa and I wanted to do something together and I hoped we’d do a sitcom, but the new sitcom is a reality show. They kept coming to us with these dumb ideas that didn’t really work. Finally I was moving in with her to do a play at the Geffen Playhouse and thought, My God, two women living under one roof. That’s going to be something. Indeed it was, and that’s how it came about.
What did you learn about Melissa during the filming that most surprised you?
The good things are that she’s an amazing mother. She has a very wonderful life and group of friends away from me. She has a terrific boyfriend. She has her own life and identity, which is terrific. The negative things are she’s become a Californian. It’s all eating out and sending out, and don’t dress up. Nobody makes appointments. “What are you doing Saturday night?” “I don’t know.” “What do you mean you don’t know?” In New York you know six months in advance what you’re doing every minute.