Joan Rivers slashes her way through gay marriage, Chaz (Bono), Miss California, and much more.
By Blase DiStefano • Photo by Charles William Bush
Comedian Joan Rivers, who turned 76 last month, has been considered a gay icon since the ’60s. Did I say “comedian”? I forgot to mention: Emmy winner; Grammy, Tony, and Drama Desk nominee; best-selling author; film director; talk-show host; radio host; jewelry designer; and businesswoman. She was recently named winner of Celebrity Apprentice , an NBC reality show hosted by Donald Trump, and her new TV show, How’d You Get So Rich?, premieres August 5 at 9 p.m . on TV Land. And a couple of days after that, on August 7, Rivers brings her funny self to Houston’s Hobby Center for one show only. I talked to this genuinely nice and constantly funny lady by phone soon after she arrived in Toronto, after flying from London. After being on hold for some time, I was finally put through. I apologized for being late, to which Rivers said, “Nonono, don’t be sorry. I’ve just come from the Ritz Hotel in London where they have that impeccable service, and I’m here 20 minutes and already there’s no room service and the operators aren’t working. So it’s not you. Trust me. It ain’t you, sweetheart.” And we’re off.
Blase DiStefano: How about we start with current events?
Joan Rivers: . . . We all hope Obama’s going to be good, and we hope Michelle’s arms will be nice and she’ll keep on hugging first heads of state, but who knows? We all have many hopes and dreams. And we all hope Hillary will come out of the closet.
[Laughs] On to gay marriage . . . I must say I was appalled to learn you’re against it.
I don’t wanna give gifts. All my friends are gay. It’ll put me in the poor house. Nonono-nono. I’m very vocal about it. And my friends would expect good gifts. If all my friends got married, do you know how much that would set me back? God. And then they’ll have children. I’ll have to buy those little stinkers gifts. It goes on. Then they get a second home. And then the divorce. And which one are you going to stay with? It’s a nightmare.
[Laughs] So what do you think of Chastity becoming Chaz? [Cher’s daughter, Chastity Bono, is transitioning from female to male.]
I think she’s going to have a lot of towels to change, from “Her’s” to “His.” [Both laugh] I think it’s great, if that what she wants. Truly, seriously–go for it. I’m sitting here on this side of the mountain and it goes in a wink. And if that’s what she wants, my God. Fabulous.
And Cher must be just spinning. She said she couldn’t care less about gay or straight, but it is so public, and it’s your child, and you just wish you could do it quietly. I think it’s very healthy that she came out and said it. I think it’ll encourage a lot of other people to do the same thing.
I read that you’re moving from New York [to be closer to her daughter, Melissa, and grandson, Edgar Cooper] to the same state in which Carrie Prejean [Miss California] lives . . .
Oh please. Her 15 minutes are so gone. She’s got maybe a minute and a half left. She better hurry.
Wasn’t she recently fired?
[Donald] Trump let her go. You know, just because you’re pretty doesn’t mean you have a brain. And they shouldn’t let these girls talk. In the old days, the studio system was so great. They’d dress ’em up and send ’em out, and they didn’t say a word.
You think that was better?
Much better. You still had the illusion. It was like when Tom Cruise began to talk, when his PR people changed. And he was jumping on Oprah’s couch, and you go, “Oh God, someone grab him!”
[Laughs] What would you say to Melissa if she came to you and said, “I think I’m a lesbian”?
I would say, “Unless it’s a very rich girlfriend, I’m not interested.” [Both laugh] Unless she owns her own major motorcycle company, don’t bring that dyke around! [Both laugh]
What if little Edgar Cooper turned out gay?
Do you know how great that would be? What’s going to happen to me when I get old? Nobody’s going to say to me, “Ooh, tell me, did you ever meet Judy Garland?” I’m going to be so alone at 90. How great to have a grandson to say, “No, no, don’t shut the old bitch up, sit me next to her! Did you really see Marilyn Monroe’s costumes?” [Both laugh]
How is little Edgar?
We call him Cooper, and he’s just fine. He’s an athlete. I don’t know where that came from.
Oh, my goodness, really?
Oh please, it’s so boring. He goes to all these stupid games. Yuck. “Cooper, what are you doing? Let’s sit home and play show tunes.”
Over July 4, I’m taking him to the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum . And I’m so excited, but I just know he’s going to hate every minute of it. But Gramma’s so much into theater, he has to love the theater. He has to. That, or truly turn against us. One of the two.
[Laughs] I hope it’s not the latter. In 1973, you were quoted as saying, “After white wine, I’ll kiss anybody.” What about now, in 2009?
Sonia Sotomayor? Suze Orman?
Anybody. After white wine? Please. I’ve expanded it now to, “after Diet Coke.” [Both laugh]
Do you still drink white wine?
I love white wine. But I’ve switched for health. They take all the fun out of everything. You’ve got to go, “Oh s–t, I’ve got to have salmon, I’ve got to have this. . . .” It’s just so unfair.
But you do eat well, don’t you?
I try to. I try to. They’ve been following me around–I’ve been doing a documentary for the last year. The cameraman and the soundman are both vegans . And it’s so boring, I cannot tell you.
I don’t know. They started out watching me do my show. I wrote a one-woman show, and it just grew into other things. I don’t know if they’re going to end up showing a year in my life, I don’t know. But it’s being done by a wonderful documentarian named Rickie Stern who’s won a lot of awards and stuff, so I trust her.
Any idea when this might be out?
No. God no.
I can’t wait for it .
Well, you may have to. [Both laugh]
Have you ever had a woman come on to you?
Not really, no. I haven’t had a man come on to me either. It’s a lonely life.
[Laughs] I don’t know if you know about the Kinsey Scale. It’s from zero to six, zero being exclusively heterosexual and six being exclusively homosexual. So how would you rate yourself?
Probably right smack in the middle.
You’re joking, right?
I don’t know. I never thought about it. I always have fallen in love with men, though. You can’t help who you fall in love with. And all my fantasies were always men. And yet many of my friends–Lily [Tomlin] is gay, Rosie O’Donnell, you know what I’m saying? But I’ve never looked at Rosie and went, “Oh, come on over here, good lookin’!”
[Laughs] Is there anyone that you might even consider?
Now, I would like to change a couple of gay men. But why do I know it isn’t going to happen?
These days everybody is gay, you know? A name will come up, like George Clooney. And six friends will say, “Gay!” The next name will come up and they’ll all go, “Gay!”
Well, yeah, but you’re talking to gay guys, who love to think that all the cute guys are gay.
Well, of course! It’s the same as I always think, If you’re gay, you’re going to have a great sense of humor. And if you’re gay, you’re automatically going to be the best interior designer in the world. I had a little cottage in Los Angeles that I would only rent to gay men because I always said, “They’re going to make it just beautiful!”
And they did, didn’t they?
Well, four out of five couples did. There was one, you went, These guys are in the closet about being straight! “How could you put these colors together?!”
There’s always going to be one . . .
Who ruins the reputation. [Both laugh]
Have you ever dressed in male drag?
Once, somebody took my photograph, I think for Interview magazine or something. No, I don’t like men’s clothes. I feel very sorry for men. We were talking about this last night. What happened from the 18th century when men were wearing all those gorgeous fabrics and had high heels and powdered their hair and put on all those little beauty marks? When did it go into all this boring stuff that men wear now? I mean, “Oh, you have a new tie!” Who cares? I’ve got a new dress and new shoes and new this and new that.
Who are you wearing right now?
I’m wearing the bathrobe of the hotel. And it isn’t fabulous. [Both laugh]
How do you dress when you’re lounging around the house?
I don’t. When I get dressed, you just act differently. So when I’m around the house, I’m always in a bathrobe.
So you’re real comfortable.
I have three dogs, and I’m really comfortable around the house. I can’t wait to get out of my clothes, because the heels are always high and the dress is always tight. When you’re really wearing a dress, and you have the jewelry that goes with it, you can’t relax. You’re not going to sit and read a book in four-inch Manolo Blahniks.
[Laughs] I’m sitting here talking to you, but I don’t know why, because you’re so friggin’ busy. How do you have time to sleep?
It’s a good question. I sleep a lot on planes. I just flew in from London this morning. I got on an 8 o’clock plane, and I just slept the entire way to Toronto. I’m very lucky with that.
Do people bother you a lot when they see you?
When people say something nice, it’s no bother. It’s lovely.
But when you’re having a bad day . . .
You know what? It’s your business. When you leave your house, that’s called public relations. I know how excited I am to meet somebody, and I don’t want to be disappointed. I don’t think anybody should be disappointed when they meet a celebrity. They’re probably only going to meet them once in their lifetime. I also try to look nice when they see me. Because people are always going to say, “What did she look like?”
So what are you up to during Gay Pride Month?
Being proud that my decorator, at 74, finally came out. Isn’t that sweet? And you want to say, “We all knew, Louie.” [Both laugh]
It’s so dear.
I’m so happy for him. [Background sound of ringing telephone] Do you have another call?
Yeah, I think so. Wait, wait, I’m going to put this on hold. Hold on, this is getting very complicated. [She puts me on hold.]
Hello? [Another telephone ring] Oh, f–k! Hold on. [She puts me on hold again.]
Yeah, good. He’s going to call back in five minutes. Okay.
One last question: do you remember how you became aware of your gay following?
They were always there from the beginning, God bless ’em, because I started in Greenwich Village. And they were the smartest and the brightest and the ones who were willing to go out and listen to somebody before everybody else gets you. And they were always there–and still are. Whenever I walk out . . . if I walk out August 7, and there are 12 gay men in the front row, I’m home free.
You know we love you . . .
And it’s so mutual, darling.
Joan Rivers’ one-night-only show (Friday, August 7, at 8 p.m. at the Hobby Center) benefits the youth education programs of The Brilliant Lecture Series, “a nonprofit committed to inspiring the greater Houston community, especially youth, with uplifting stories of perseverance.” Individual tickets are $25 to limited $150 VIP tickets, which include front orchestra seating and a post-performance reception with Joan Rivers. To learn more about The Brilliant Lecture Series or to purchase tickets, visit www.brilliantlectures.org or call 713/974-1335. OutSmart‘s May issue.
Blase DiStefano interviewed Kristin Chenoweth and Garry Marshall for OutSmart’s May issue.