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Photograph: Charles William Bush; Photo Illustration: Jamie DiVecchio Ramsay

Joan Rivers | Interview

…about wealth, plastic surgery, Madoff-and Snuggies versus Slankets.


When we get Joan Rivers on the phone, she’s between a morning’s work on a doc about her life and an afternoon at QVC. The 76-year-old reels off the other activities occupying her since her Celebrity Apprentice win: The Comedy Central Roast of Joan Rivers (hosted by Kathy Griffin) and her new TV Land show How’d You Get So Rich?—plus book writing, touring and blogging. “I’ve gotten through the hurdle of age, that terrible ten years: ‘Oh, too old,’?” Rivers says. “I’ve now become an icon. Well, woo-woo-woo, I’m ageless now.”

Time Out Chicago: Roasting Joan Rivers? What can anyone say about you that you haven’t already said about yourself?
Joan Rivers: They’re all going to do—you know they’re gonna do age, plastic surgery.

TOC: Have you seen any of these roasts? They can be kind of vicious.
Joan Rivers: Please. Let ’em be vicious.

TOC: With the TV Land show, what are the most interesting ways that the people you met made their money?
Joan Rivers: The Slanket, which is a blanket where you put your arms through. This is a college kid in Maine who was cold and didn’t want to get up to change the TV.

TOC: That’s different from the Snuggie?
Joan Rivers: The Snuggie is a copy of the Slanket. The Slanket’s the original and the better one. I know all about this now.

TOC: Aren’t they both just holey blankets?
Joan Rivers: Better material. There’s one woman whose husband left her. She was a real princess and didn’t know what to do, but she was good at makeup. She now is the largest manufacturer of camouflage makeup for armies and navies.

TOC: How’d you come up with the idea for the show?
Joan Rivers: How many times have you driven—where are you now? You’re in Chicago. You’re driving a car and you go, “How’d they get so fucking rich?”

TOC: I always just assume they’re crooks.
Joan Rivers: Well, you want to go in and say, “How’d you do it? How do you have this big house? Who are you?” It’s about people that made it in unusual ways. It’s a great time to put a show like this on, when everyone’s going, “Poor me, poor me.” You go, “Wait a sec, whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, you can still make a fortune.”

TOC: Speaking of: What’s with your QVC line? Is it just a moneymaker?
Joan Rivers: God bless QVC. It’s feast or famine in showbiz. There’s years when you go, “I can’t pay my bills!” And there are years when you go, “Everyone gets a fur coat!” But QVC came to me when nobody was doing it, when it was a dirty thing to do, and it’s been my rock. And the fun of designing jewelry is like playing with a Barbie doll!

TOC: You had some serious debts following your husband’s suicide—was that also the motivation for it?
Joan Rivers: Well, at that point anything was a—my husband went really berserk his last year, mentally had problems, and invested terribly. The joke is: Venus de Milo manicure shop, diet spas in Darfur. I was left with no husband, no job and no money, and a lot of debts. And QVC, God, came out of the blue.

TOC: And all those debts are paid.
Joan Rivers: Paid them all off. I was a good girl. I was stupid. I should’ve gone into bankruptcy! At this age, I don’t believe in honorable. My biggest regret is I’m not dating Bernie Madoff. We could’ve spent that $62 billion together!

TOC: You could’ve shown him how, huh?
Joan Rivers: “Oh, Bernie, Bernie, come on! Bigger house!” [Laughs] “Sweetheart, I can still see you in the bedroom. We gotta get a bigger room!” [Laughs]

TOC: Let’s get into politics for a minute.
Joan Rivers: They bore me.

TOC: You voted for Obama, but you’ve been a lifelong Republican, right?
Joan Rivers: I am for anyone that will give me lower taxes, stop all this stupid spending. Whoever promises me that gets this chicken’s vote.

TOC: No matter what else comes along with it?
Joan Rivers: Who cares?

TOC: What about Bush Junior—did you actually vote for him?
Joan Rivers: I voted for him, I think, the first time. Second time, I didn’t. But again, he promised me lower taxes, that cutie pie.

TOC: But he was dumb as dirt, Joan.
Joan Rivers: Oh, so what! Why? You think Carter was smart?

TOC: Comparatively, my pet rock is smart.
Joan Rivers: They’re all stupid, doesn’t matter.

TOC: Still in the political strain: Your stock joke when you’re asked—and I’ve noticed you’re asked often—whether you support gay marriage…
Joan Rivers: Oh, totally. But my joke is: totally against it because all my friends are gay and that means a lot of gifts, and I’m not in the mood.

TOC: But the serious answer is:
Joan Rivers: Of course. Oh, do what you want. For God’s sake, let’s get down to important things. If two people want to get married, get married! They’re not hurting anybody. The Victorians had a great saying: As long as it doesn’t scare the horses, do what you want. And I absolutely believe that. Makes you happy? Get married.

TOC: So just leave the horses out of it.
Joan Rivers: Leave the horses out of it. [Laughs] Two of the happiest relationships of my friends are both gay men: One is 42 years, and one—my God, I just went to their 60th, my decorator, 60th anniversary together.

TOC: Six zero?
Joan Rivers: Six zero. My interior decorator. Poor thing is 86. He can’t even see the tassels anymore. Our house looks like shit! He’s putting in the wrong color tassels! “Louie! These are not blue! Wake up! I’m talking to you!”

TOC: But you’re still paying him.
Joan Rivers: I love him, yeah.

TOC: Speaking of interior decorating: Are you selling your New York condo?
Joan Rivers: I adore my apartment in New York. It was a ballroom that I remade, so it’s like a loft but done by Louis the Fifteenth. But my daughter wants me to come out to California a little more, so I’d like to be triangular and go L.A., New York, and I have a little house in Connecticut. So I’d like a smaller place in New York and then get another place in L.A., instead.

TOC: Buy one here in Chicago.
Joan Rivers: That would make it a square, that’d be perfect. Let me tell you about Chicago. I’m a Second City girl. I love Chicago—the first place I ever got great reviews, first place I made my own money, first place I had my own apartment that I could pay for doing what I wanted.

TOC: When were you here?
Joan Rivers: Oh, very early on, way before you, sweetheart: 1963, ’64. It was the first time I really knew I belonged in the business.

TOC: Let’s talk about the plastic surgery: Will you ever call it quits?
Joan Rivers: Not if I can look good. Right now I’m okay ’cause I’ve gained eight pounds. People say to me, “Oh, you look great. What have you done?” And you want to say, “I’ve eaten like a fucking pig, that’s what I’ve done!” I may look at myself in How’d You Get So Rich?, and go, “Oh, my God, I need some more work.”

TOC:’Cause people voice some not-so-nice opinions about your surgery.
Joan Rivers: Yeah, well, that’s their problem. Go tell that to Sarah Jessica Parker and Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore—you can’t even recognize her face anymore. Everybody does a little something to keep looking good. That’s the business.

TOC: All these Hollywood women do it, yet we love to make fun of them all for doing it.
Joan Rivers: Yes, and they all lie about it. They will tell you about their sex life. They give you chapter and verse on how much money they have. And if you say, “Have you done something?” “Nooo!” [Laughs] “Nothing! Nothing!”

TOC: They’ll tell you about sex with horses, but not about the Botox.
Joan Rivers: Exactly. Exactly.

TOC: What’s the best joke you’ve heard that you wish was yours?
Joan Rivers: Anything in the new Bruno movie. Ah! Brilliant! Oh, my darling, he just has no boundaries. He pushes to the point where even I say, “You can’t!” And then he does.

TOC: Your favorite joke you ever told?
Joan Rivers: My favorite joke at the moment is: I met Demi Moore on the red carpet, and I said, “It’s Demi,” and she said, “No, it’s De-mi, De-mi, De-mi.” I said, “I get it. Like in cu-unt, cu-unt.”

How’d You Get So Rich? premieres Wednesday 5 at 9pm; The Comedy Central Roast airs August 9 at 9pm.

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