Joan still sparkling

Jewish Telegraph, August 2004

JOAN Rivers often looks in the mirror and thinks how lucky she is. Then again, she says she feels even luckier if it’s a dark mirror.
In a career spanning almost 40 years, Joan has been at the top of her field in comedy . . . and has forged a multi-million pound career as a jewellery designer.
And she’s about to launch a double-pronged attack on the UK. Next week, Joan will start recording a six-part advice series for Channel Five, followed in October by a 10-show tour.
The first episode of the Five series features an 80-year-old woman addicted to pornography.
Joan was born in Brooklyn, New York, as Joan Alexandra Molinsky on June 8, 1933.
She was married to James Sanger from 1957–58 and to Edgar Rosenberg from 1964 until his death in 1987.
Joan describes her childhood as ‘‘great. A wonderful American childhood’’. The daughter of Russian immigrant parents, Joan started her career in tawdry clubs, Borscht Belt hotels and Greenwich Village cabaret.
‘‘My parents were very upset about me going into showbusiness,’’ she said. ‘‘They didn’t understand it. They both came to America as children and were educated in America. They were totally American — although my father’s mother was an old lady in a black dress.’’
Joan says everyone in her family was funny and, as a fledgling actress, she was always trying to make her agent laugh.
‘‘If you are funny, people will love you till you die,’’ she said. ‘‘You become like an old friend. The most fun you can have is in front of a live audience. There is nothing like it; it’s like going to a party.’’
When I asked her what if the jokes didn’t get the required reaction, she replied: ‘‘It feels like going to a party where everybody hates you.’’
Joan — who describes herself as a comedienne who is Jewish rather than a Jewish comedienne — first came to attention in America in 1966 as a writer on TV show Candid Camera. She ended the 1960s by starring in That Show as the writer and star. British audiences fell in love with her at the start of the 1980s.
At the height of her fame on this side of the ocean, London Weekend Television staged An Evening with Joan Rivers and Friends Salute Heidi Abromowitz.
‘‘I wasn’t too surprised by my fame in England,’’ she says. ‘‘My husband was educated there and we all watch the same films and the same television shows. We all know Michael Jackson is an idiot and that J-Lo and Ben split up.’’
In the mid-80s, Joan’s catchphrase, ‘Can we talk?’ was everywhere — but amazingly she didn’t even realise she was saying it.
‘‘People come up to me and say it all the time,’’ she reveals. ‘‘I try to include it once in my act.’’
In 1990, shopping channel QVC launched the Joan Rivers Classics Collection of fashion jewellery winning an ACE Award from the Accessories Council in 1997 and achieving more than $200 million dollars in sales.
‘‘Everything in life is an accident,’’ she said. ‘‘Someone bumped into someone and asked if I’d like to do it. I always liked to paint and draw so I realised that I could design jewellery.
‘‘I’m surprised at how it took off. I get such a thrill when I see a woman on the street wearing a watch I designed. When I was at Buckingham Palace I saw a few pieces of my jewellery.’’
Joan was back in the public spotlight last week when she made jokes about terrorism.
She mocked reports that the Citigroup building in Manhattan was a terrorist target, saying: ‘‘I hope it goes down. It’s so ugly. I’m helping them load them (bombs) in.’’
And she was unrepentant when I spoke to her. She said: ‘‘The building is an eyesore. They must be the first terrorists with taste. It must have been a slow news week.’’
Her weekly routine at the Fez club in New York also included the rant: ‘‘Jewish women will never be terrorists. ‘Does the bomb make me look fat?’
‘‘A Jewish woman will never put a bomb in a Gucci bag, after all the men she slept with to get it.’’
Joan and her daughter Melissa hosted Sky channel E!’s red-carpet events from 1996 to 2004. Her new catchphrase became: ‘‘Who are you wearing?’’
Last month, Joan signed an $8 million contract with the TV Guide Channel to host award show specials with her daughter Melissa.
Joan said: ‘‘Melissa is very bright and charming. She has her own show and is a terrific worker.
‘‘She had a hard time before people realised that she’s good on her own. People either love me or hate me and she had to deal with all the flak from that.’’
But Joan wasn’t too thrilled when Melissa followed her into showbiz.
‘‘I was in shock,’’ she said. ‘‘We had a great life and there is so much sh*t that goes down in the business and we made sure she saw all that when she was growing up.’’
Melissa proved how popular she was when she finished second in America’s version of I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here.
‘‘She had rats down her pants,’’ Joan said. ‘‘I couldn’t believe it; it was awful. But I was so proud of her.’’
Despite conquering most of the world, Joan has amazingly never been to Israel.
Joan, who observes Jewish holidays, revealed: ‘‘When Melissa was young, my husband and I didn’t want to fly together. And since then I’ve always been too busy.
‘‘Then again they’ve never booked me. I’ve done enough benefits for Israel in this country. George W Bush is a great supporter of Israel, but people close their eyes to that.’’
One of Joan’s pet hates is rude celebrities. Tommy Lee Jones and Russell Crowe are two that spring to mind immediately for her.
‘‘They don’t realise how lucky they are,’’ she said. ‘‘I also hate people who shout at their limo drivers.’’
Amazingly Joan — nicknamed Nana Newface by her grandson — is a big fan of Ali G.
‘‘I liked him even more when I found out he was Jewish,’’ she laughed.
‘‘I’m very excited about the show,’’ Joan said. ‘‘I performed it in the West End and at the Edinburgh Festival last year.’’
She’s also planning to do some sightseeing when she visits — with the Lake District top of her list.

Jewish Telegraph deputy editor and arts editor. Email Mcohen@jewishtelegraph.com with your Jewish arts stories