Yes, her new solo show that she’s bringing to the Wilbur Theatre next weekend is called Joan Rivers Broke and Alone . . . In Boston. Hard to believe — wasn’t that her on the Academy Awards red carpet a couple of months back, surrounded by fellow super- and sub-novae, resplendent in something swell? Yet over the phone from her New York office, she insists she’s serious about that title. "My accountant tells me I’m broke every two minutes. And we’re all-lll-llll alone."
Much about Joan Rivers hasn’t changed. Her trademark rasp is still reminiscent of a diamond-dust nail file ripping through silk velvet. She’s still "Can we talk" Joan Rivers — a phrase she copyrighted at the behest of a "moron lawyer." ("Now I can sue Verizon," she cracks.) But after the 1987 suicide of husband/manager Edgar Rosenberg, which followed the implosion of her talk show on Fox, she’s had a remarkably resourceful second act. In 1990, she went into business with QVC and launched a jewelry line. Since 1996, she’s been the head cop on E!’s Fashion Police, and she and daughter Melissa have been a regular double act doing fashion commentary at crème de la crème awards shows. (In 1994, they also received the ultimate Hollywood tribute: their very own movie-of-the-week, Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story.) Now she’s launched a skin-care line, and she’s collaborating on a yet-to-be-titled play set backstage at the Oscars.
But she bristles mildly at the suggestion that what she’s been doing is "reinvention." "It’s new things," she insists. "New things are happening — it’s called trying to make a living." At 70, she continues to build new and younger audiences. Performing live is still a charge for her, much as she wrote in her brutally honest 1991 memoir, Still Talking: "The ultimate high, the ultimate happiness, is when the audience is standing up at the end of the show and they won’t let you go and you love them and they love you and you put your arms out to them and they love you more and you walk off and you’ve got to go back, and you say to them, ‘I love you,’ and they call out, ‘We love you, Joan!’ Once you’ve had that, you spend the rest of your life trying to keep it coming."
Broke and Alone premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has since played in London, Australia, Los Angeles, and New York. She finds that her old rules about stand-up still apply. She’ll size up the front row, distinguishing among women on dates, women with their husbands, and women on their own. "Everybody’s there to enjoy themselves. Why are you sitting in the front row if you don’t want to be talked to?"
Although her show will have a format, there’s still plenty of room for the star to improvise. "I go on stage with tons of cue cards all over the stage — ideas on what I’d like to talk about. Yes, there are going to be certain points you’re going to hit on. I sort of know where I’m ending, but you’re all over the place."
Current events and celebrity culture are, of course, hot topics for her, as is the world of fashion, which she follows both for her QVC business and for her red-carpet commentary. "I want to know what the hell is happening. Though on the awards shows, it doesn’t matter whether pink is in." She occasionally hits a fashion show, "to see what the trends are. Except all the girls are so thin, you hate their guts. And you know they’re hungry and na-a-asty. That’s why the expressions are so sour."
Which leads to another topic that prompts Riversian exasperation: whiners. "Everybody’s a whiner. I’m so bored with it. This whole society has turned into a whining society." She switches to a singsong falsetto: "It’s not my fault. I’m not happy." And then, in her own authoritative voice, she concludes, "Just stop it. Just get on with your life."
Joan Rivers Broke and Alone . . . In Boston is at the Wilbur Theatre, 246 Tremont Street in the Theatre District, April 29 through May 1. Tickets are $42.50 to $60; call (617) 937-ARTS.
Issue Date: April 23 - 29, 2004
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