Nearly three years have passed since Joan Rivers unexpectedly passed away during elective surgery, but the sharp-tongued comedian lives on in a new show coming to Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.
Joe Posa has been “doing” Rivers for more than a decade and will be teaming up with former “Fashion Police” writer Tony Tripoli for a salute to Joan, “The Bitch is Back,” opening March 16 and running through April 9.
Tripoli, who calls Los Angeles home, was head writer for E!’s popular fashion review show for five years prior to Rivers’ death. He will open the show with some of the comedian’s signature jokes and poignant stories about their time together both on and off set. Posa, a Fort Lauderdale resident, then follows with an hour of comedy, some of her signature work and also some new material inspired by current events. The duo have already performed the show in 15 cities nationwide.
“Doing the show, it’s very cathartic, like church for Tony and I,” said Posa. “We feel her presence and it’s healing.”
Just two weeks, Posa attended Rivers’ first performance in Provincetown, Mass., an event he will never forget.
“When I met her that day, I told her I always ‘do her’ respectfully. She told me she could do her disrespectfully, too,” he recalled. “When she was alive, I didn’t have to be that edgy because she was there to do that. Now that she’s not there to go there, I’ve definitely gotten edgier. She’s on my shoulder pushing me to do it. Her spirit is there to push me to go further.”
Posa has performed his act at many local bars and nightclubs, but he’s most excited about bringing the show to a theater. The new show includes a tribute video and the “fourth wall” between performer and audience offers a more formal setting.
At other performances over the past two years, hecklers would scream at Posa, “Hey, aren’t you dead?” He said audiences have had time to reconcile her death and are looking for the joy she brought to her work.
“Even now, they remember her as a trailblazer for women in comedy and how she began paving the way for so many,” Posa said. “A lot of people know she was funny and edgy and did ‘Fashion Police’ and had a lot to stay about fashion. She was always so critical and judgmental and one-sided, but she could say what people were thinking.”
Posa paused for a moment and then added, “She was also compassionate, a survivor of suicide and show business and life. That’s my approach. She related to people and with that, she was able to be self-deprecating and understand the struggles of life.”
Joe Posa and Tony Tripoli appear in “The Bitch is Back,” a tribute to Joan Rivers, March 16 – April 9 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler St. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets start are $20 - $35 at EmpireStage.com.