The comedienne pulls no punches in her solo show

“Can We Talk?”.

There are a lot of funny women – then there’s Joan Rivers.

Irreverent and iconoclastic, definitely not politically correct, cosmetically enhanced and improbably glamorous, the trailblazing comedienne was there before Ellen and before Rosie, before Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffin, almost before Phyllis Diller and Carol Burnett.

She’s still here. Her one-woman show “Can We Talk?” is her latest frontal assault on movie stars, politicians and whoever else stands in the way of her crystal-clear social wisdom.

Throughout her four-decades-and-counting career, Rivers made the parents of baby boomers laugh on the old Ed Sullivan Show, emerged as a dangerously hip comic since her 1965 debut on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” later gathered around her a whole new cult with her own late-night hosting duties, and is now a hit on college campuses with kids who get her fresh, toxic humor perhaps better than anyone else.

“I’ve always been cutting edge,” Rivers says in her trademark raspy, rushed delivery. “It’s always been that way. You have to remember I’m always on Howard Stern,” she adds, referring to the recently censored radio host, “and I play colleges all the time. They get me.”

Rivers started as a shlump but became an elegant, bona fide babe in her forties: She has an in-your-face honesty about plastic surgery. “I turned a little bit better when I got the money,” she says. “As does everybody. Look at Carol Burnett. Look at Uma Thurman.” Who knew?

“I’d rather get out of an old car with a new face than get out of new car with an old face.”

It doesn’t faze Rivers that the celebrity Web site has named her the “third scariest-looking celebrity” (after New York socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein and “Can’t Stop the Music” star Bruce Jenner). “I haven’t had that much done.”

Rivers is at least 70 – “You want to know my real birthday? You find it” – and a grandmother. “But I’m not grandma sitting at home with a book. When people come up and ask me, “Aren’t you thrilled to be a “bubba”?’ I ask them: What is your problem?”

She was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky, in Brooklyn on June 8, 1933. Her first taste of the stage came when she was at Barnard College, where she starred in almost all their student productions and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

“You can always tell a Barnard girl,” says the proud alumna. “Her parents know she’s either going to land in jail or be very, very successful.”

She took a job briefly in 1957 as a buyer for a department store, and even more briefly married the boss’ son, James Sanger. On her own after her 1958 divorce, Rivers committed herself to show business and never looked back. She married Edgar Rosenberg in 1964. Their daughter Melissa made Rivers “the happiest woman” when she gave birth to Edgar Cooper Endicott, Rivers’ first grandson, in 2000.

As a charter officer of the Fashion Police and scourge of the red carpet at the Oscars, Rivers says, “I was the first to ask, “What are you wearing?’ And now everybody does it. I think every designer in America should dress me for free.”

She wrote and directed the motion picture “Rabbit Test” in 1978, a cult favorite that made possible the later vogue for the” Airplane!” movies. “My husband said we were always about three years ahead – what can you do?”

Rivers authored “Having a Baby Can Be a Scream,” the first of her eight bestsellers, in 1974. She then immortalized Jewish princessdom with 1984’s “The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abromowitz.” Her stand-up act, truly a play-in-progress, was a hit at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and that same season in London’s West End.

When Rivers’ husband, Edgar, died in 1987, she threw herself into both show business and social activism, becoming national spokeswoman for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and speaking out for civil rights.

“Seriously now, this gay marriage debate,” she says, “How dare they? It is insane that with two men you can’t get on his health plan and he can’t get on yours, that you can’t make life decisions. How dare anyone decide against that?

“Besides,” she adds, now in her stage persona, “why should straights be the only ones to endure the hell of divorce?”

(c) 2004, The Miami Herald.

Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

Joan Rivers

AP-NY-03-29-04 1115EST

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