INTERVIEW: Darhling… can we talk? It’s Rivers in full flow

Rivers taken ill
The late great Joan Rivers pictured in 2012.

It’s the week before the 2008 Oscars and Joan Rivers is noisily noshing on a protein-packed broccoli and cauliflower salad. “Sorry about all the loud chomp, chomp noises,” she loudly chomp-chomps down the phone from New York.

“I’m shaping up for the Academy Awards. Those red carpet photographers can be so cruel!”

The scathing 75-year-old’s vegetable-based health kick is in complete contrast to the unhealthy outbursts she launches into as host of her pre-Oscars fashion show on entertainment channel E! Joan’s Golden Hanger Awards, offering the self-styled chief of the fashion police a chance to defrock stars who think stockings and sandals are last word in silver-screen chic, has become as familiar a fixture at Hollywood’s annual love-in as Tom Hanks’ tears.

Not that Joan reserves her barbed asides for the stylistically stunted. In fact, when it comes to crucifying fellow celebs, there are many Rivers has crossed.

The chatty, catty comedienne has cheesed off the likes Yoko Ono and Madonna, while iron-lunged Maria Carey blamed a bout of bulimia on Joan’s jibes about her weight. She even publicly deflowered English rose Kate Winslet, suggesting, “If she just lost five pounds, Leo would’ve been able to fit on the raft!”

On stage, Joan doesn’t so much stand on ceremony as trample all over it in her size nine stilettos and make it beg for mercy. “I’m an on-the-edge comedian, so anything goes,” she says matter-of-factly. “Things you say to a friend you should be able to say to an audience. If people take offence, they don’t come back.”

File photo dated 05/03/2006 of Joan Rivers arriving on the red carpet at the Academy Awards
File photo dated 05/03/2006 of Joan Rivers arriving on the red carpet at the Academy Awards

Joan’s eager to return to her adopted hometown. “I’m in London every six weeks at the moment to promote my jewellery and skincare products on QVC. I enjoy the pace of the city and the amazing daylight. In Manhattan, skyscrapers block natural light out. And I’ve even mastered your agile tongue. One of my English friends taught me to say “brilliant!” and “good for you!” You Brits are much kinder than Americans. Once they love you they always love you. Americans love you, then hate you, then love you again.”

With Joan Rivers Results Skin Care, you can smooth away the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in just weeks (or so it says here). Results, needless to say, are more dramatic with repeated use and your statutory rights are not affected. “The products are a huge success in America, so it seemed natural to sell them in Britain,” she says. “My most popular product at the moment is a face cream that really gets rid of unwanted spots.”

The one-woman Wembley Market has also banked more than $200 million from her Joan Rivers Classics jewellery collection. “Our designs have been incredibly successful,” she reveals. “We launched a giant jewellery watch recently which is now a top seller.”

Joan wears her Judaism like a badge on and off stage. Indeed, her celebrated catch phrase “Can we talk?”, which the US government has officially registered as a federal trademark, is best delivered with a Yiddish drawl.

“My family escaped the pogroms, moved to America and founded the temple in Large Mount, New York, where I grew up,” she recalls. “Religion is very important to me. I’m the matriarch of the family, so the responsibility for organising festivals like Passover and Yom Kippur falls on my shoulders. And I go to temple to keep in touch with my community. Judaism is a big part of my life and an integral part of my act. I always joke about the differences between Jews and gentiles. ”

Away from the cut-and-thrust of comedy and cosmetics, how does Joan spend her downtime? “I trek and paint!” she reveals. “Drop me and my dog in Scotland or the Lake District any day of the week and I’d be the happiest woman in the world. Hiking across the countryside and meeting new people is my idea of heaven!”

After more than 50 years on the frontline of popular culture, does Joan have a single ambition left to fulfil? “Darling! There’s so much left to do!” she screams. “I’ve never starred in a movie or a sitcom. I’m appearing on Broadway again in the fall and in concerts across the States, plus there are my shows on E! and the cosmetics and jewellery. I’m so thankful for having such a such an active and exciting life.”

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