Joan Rivers has never been one to question her actions. But today, she’s doing just that: “I’m listening to Katy Perry and I don’t know why.”
Besides being a firework herself, Rivers has little in common with the ubiquitous pop tart. There’s this, though: They’ve both kissed a girl and – as the legendary queen of snark (and facial reconfigurations) admits in our recent chat – liked it. So much, in fact, that she’d be up for some more lez loving. But for now Rivers is focused on promoting her wacky reality show, Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best, now in its second season on WE tv.
In our interview, Rivers dished on the new installment (what if her daughter Melissa actually were a gay man?), how her humor’s always been “gay,” and her face – before she redid it.
I’m a big fan – but I’m sure every gay man tells you that.
No, no. No gay men tell me that.
I don’t believe you.
Well, every now and again.
You know, I’m glad this isn’t a face-to-face interview because, since you’re a member of the Fashion Police, you wouldn’t approve of my outfit today.
You wouldn’t approve of what I’m wearing right now, either! I’m wearing a stolen hotel bathrobe. One of those white bathrobes that say, “Don’t take these.” Somewhere along the line I did.
Do you always take things from hotels?
Yes. Always those little shampoos, little soaps, all those cute little things. Sewing kits – you can’t get enough of those! (Laughs)
Which celebrity needs a little more gay fashion influence, and a little less?
Oh, I don’t know. Every week it changes so much and Melissa (Rivers), the exec producer, throws a hundred pictures on the table and you start from scratch again, so it’s always changing.
You’ve been doing press interviews for a long time. You must get the same questions. What are you sick of talking about?
No, you get different questions because they come from different people. It’s like an audience: always different every night. That sounds funny, but it’s true.
What are we in for with the second season of Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?
There’s an uber-WASP friends of ours who turns Jewish; Melissa breaking up with the boyfriend; taking (my grandson) Cooper to New York, and he gets lost. All of which is true. Things happen that are just fabulous. If you liked the first season of Joan Knows Best, you’re going to love the second season.
You get more plastic surgery during the first episode, Skintervention. And Melissa does not approve.
No, she totally doesn’t. But you know, it’s a business where we all have to look good. You look at anybody – I mean, Jane Fonda running around with a whole new face and body and pretending she’s done that through eating apples? You wanna go, “Oh stop it!”
You didn’t get that face from eating apples?
I got this face from eating artichokes and apples and having a great diet. Yeah, right. All the above – plus a great doctor!
And the freebies you take from hotels.
That helps, too. That makes you happy.
What do you think you’d look like without plastic surgery?
I imagine I’d look a lot like my sister, and that worries me – because she looks good! (Laughs)
You’ve wasted all that money, Joan.
It could well be. I could have myself really nice outfits.
What don’t they tell you about plastic surgery?
Oh, I don’t know. I don’t listen. I have a friend who wanted to know everything the doctor was going to do. I don’t want to know. He doesn’t ask me how I write jokes and I don’t ask him how he operates. The less I know, the better.
Right. That’s with a lot of things. Like Katy Perry.
I’m trying like hell. She’s very pretty but I don’t get the music.
You’re not in a teenage dream?
No, not in a teenage dream. (Laughs)
What do you listen to?
I hate to tell you: show tunes. You could sing it and I could tell you where it’s from. Yeah, show tunes my whole life. My housekeeper goes, “Ew, here comes the score of Bells Are Ringing. Err!”
Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best is in its second season and –
It’s done. Thank god! But things never stop happening, that’s the trouble.
With you they don’t, because you’re a workaholic.
Yeah, you’re right. I just went down to Williamsburg, Va. with Judge Judy and I thought, “Where are the cameras?” It might be in the third season. Things are always happening.
You recently joked about wishing you could replace Melissa with a gay son. How would the reality show be different if that were true?
Well, it’d be a lot of different. We’d have a whole episode devoted to Judy Garland. There’d be nothing to discuss here.
Maybe even a whole season.
A whole season on, “Was Judy happy?”
What does Joan know best?
Being a good grandma. (Cooper) will appreciate me after I’m dead a lot more. Right now I’m grandma, but later on when he’s in college with his friends, he’ll get how fun grandma was. She was not cool – that’s the wrong word – but she was crazy.
Is anything off limits when the cameras are rolling?
No. If you’re going to do a reality show, you have to show your real reality, otherwise it’s gonna be stupid. And they know, people are not that – well, I shouldn’t say that, because look at the Kardashians. So people are not, usually, that stupid.
Anyone you won’t make fun of?
No. If you’re in the public eye, you’re in the public eye. And you have no right to say “I’m off limits.” Nonsense. Then you’re in the wrong business. Go work at Kmart and no one will care and you can have the most private life of anyone in the world.
In the ’80s you became the permanent guest host on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Why don’t we have a woman hosting a late-night talk show on a major network currently?
Because there just isn’t anyone good enough. Somebody that was great would be on. I don’t know what that means, but that’s what it means.
How about Kathy Griffin or Chelsea Handler?
Chelsea: I’ve never seen so I have nothing to say about her. Never watched the show but once and I thought, “This sucks.” And I don’t know if Kathy would want to do it, or even has the right equipment for it. It’s a very different hat to put on.
So you’re saying it has nothing to do with gender but rather talent?
It’s the talent. That’s why I think Jimmy Fallon is genius. He’s got what Carson had. He’s a fan, he lets his people be funny; he doesn’t compete with his guests, and he just sits back and lets the guest do it. He’s amazing.
What about Ellen DeGeneres?
Ellen is the most boring white woman in the world.
But the most exciting lesbian in the world?
Oh, that’s right. I forgot about that. One of the funniest episodes of her sitcom was when she announced it by mistake over the microphone.
When I saw your 2010 documentary, A Piece of Work, I was really surprised by how much of a softie you can be.
Everybody is. You show so many different things on stage. My act is one kind of talk. In real life, I can be something else. We’re all so different in different ways.
So what’s Joan like off-camera?
I like to cry a lot.
What makes you cry?
What doesn’t? Christmas carols make me cry.
In Driftwood, you played Barbra Streisand’s –
Would you go lesbian again?
If Babs is available. She was an amazing kisser! We still both laugh because that was our first scene – for both of us. She was still in high school.
You were aware of your gay following early on, while performing at clubs in Greenwich Village. Why did you connect with gay people so instantly?
I didn’t purposefully connect with them. It was always there. I worked all through college decorating Lord & Taylor windows, and all the window display men were gay. We loved each other.
I think my humor has always been a gay kind of humor. Gay humor is the smartest humor in the world. And gay audiences make a show. If I look out in an audience and there are six gay men in the front row, I know we’re going to have fun tonight.
You used to get a lot of flack for some of your jokes – especially ones about AIDS. Is it easier to joke about taboo topics like that now?
Oh, of course. But that’s the way you get people to pay attention. You know, I did the first AIDS benefit when it was still called "gay pneumonia." We were in such danger that we had men on stage carrying guns because we got death threats.
You ruffled some feathers recently when you told the Advocate that gay actors should stay in the closet because they were committing career suicide.
You are. If I knew Tom Cruise was gay when I was a 7-year-old girl, that would’ve been it. I would’ve put my fantasies on somebody else.
Tom Cruise is gay?
Oh, I don’t think so. Do you?
You tell me. You’re the celeb guru.
I don’t know. You hear so many rumors circulating. But I think in certain professions you can’t come out and be America’s romantic idol. Ricky Martin was brilliant in how he handled his career.
But with the social climate changing, do you still believe that to be true?
You’re not talking about that. You’re talking about somebody that young girls are going to pay money to see and fantasize about. I think it’s a very difficult position for somebody to be put in. It’s unfortunate, but it’s life.
When I was a child, I was madly in love with an actor named Van Johnson – mad about him, had his picture up. In third grade I did a whole notebook on Van Johnson. Then I grew up, he was still adorable but he was gay and he was wearing mascara and I thought to myself, “If I had known then, I wouldn’t have loved Van Johnson. I would’ve fallen for John Wayne.”
So I think it’s a very difficult choice for an actor to make if he’s going to make his living as a romantic lead for young girls to adore. Or women. Well, men like to challenge women. Men love to challenge a lesbian: “Oh, I could turn her around.” That’s a good challenge for a man.
As someone who’s had a gay following for years, what do you think of people claiming that Lady Gaga and Kathy Griffin pander to gay audiences and aren’t actually genuine?
I don’t know and I don’t care. How about that? Couldn’t care less. I worry about myself. I love my gay audiences. They’ve been with me forever, they’ll stay with me forever, and I’m very happy. It’s that simple.