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Joan Rivers Always Knew She Was Funny

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There is one man in particular she’s interested in. “He’s coming in February. He’s taking me to the dog show.” She laughs.

“Very, very rich,” says Marjorie.

“He’s from Oklahoma City,” says Rivers. “So it’s over already.”

And then she takes it a step further, paints the picture a little darker. “He’s a man in his seventies and he’s going to meet a very beautiful young woman in her fifties who will move in so fast, and he will feel so good, and she will show him a picture of her twat and it’s finished.”

Later that day, after a packed screening at the festival (“Listen to them laugh,” Rivers had said backstage, her eyes lit with joy), Rivers comes into my room and her mood has changed. “This is why everything sucks,” she says. “At the end of the day, no such thing as, ‘Ain’t it going great?’ We came here, we’re the toast of Sundance, Melissa calls me up beyond happy” about the good reviews for her new book about lessons learned on the red carpet. “The next call is from this man, who I have had dinner with three or four times and really clicked with. He asked me to save the week of February 14 because he’s coming in. Now he says, ‘Coming with a lady I’ve met that I know you will love as much as I do. Can’t wait to spend the week with you!’ My God. How about that? Nothing is ever a hundred percent. There’s no such thing as ‘everything is going great.’ ”

On the last night in Utah, Rivers and her entourage are going to dinner at an Italian restaurant to celebrate her assistant Jocelyn’s birthday. The snow is really coming down, so Jocelyn decides we ought to take the shuttle bus into town. Too dangerous to drive. “The diva is going out in style,” she says to her boss. “You can overrule us, but we all feel it’s the safest way.” We arrive at the restaurant and Rivers immediately begins to kvetch and worry about where we are going to be seated. But as soon as we settle at the table—a big round corner table with a beautiful view of the snow falling on the side of the mountain—her mood lifts. She ignores her mints and actually eats her dinner. She also knocks back a couple of glasses of red wine and before long is on a serious roll, telling funny stories and teasing the waitress (“You are never going to meet a man with that butch haircut”).

As we await the arrival of the birthday cake, Rivers launches into a story about a night in the early nineties when she performed at a big star-studded televised Comedy Central event at Radio City Music Hall. What I remember most about that night is how great she looked, how nervous she was in the limo as she ran her lines, and how she roared through her set and the audience went nuts. I have never once heard her brag about a performance. But now, at dinner, she is telling the group, “I walked in there and killed.” The disappointing part was what happened next. “They wanted to do, like, an original-cast moment. They wanted to put me up there with the Greats and the Has-Beens, you know what I’m telling you? I thought, What don’t you understand here? Don’t you put me out there with Phyllis Diller and Milton Berle. I was so angry that I wouldn’t stay for the finale. Into the limo!” She pauses. “But that night was a big night in my life.” And then she says, more quietly, “I was at such a low point then. And they were all coming over to me, all these comediennes, and each one has their own little show and I don’t. And they were all”—mockingly—“ ‘Thank you, Joan. I wouldn’t be where I am but for yoooou.’ ” She takes a big gulp of her wine. “You want to say to them, ‘I will show you how it’s done, pussycat. Follow that.’ ”


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