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Catty Oscar commentator or cable TV jewellery seller? Caustic satirist or friend of the stars? Brooklyn rude- girl or Upper East Side matron? Will the real JOAN
RIVERS please stand up? Words: Bidisha
oan Rivers has long been the scourge of American celebrity culture. Coiffed enough to withstand nuclear fallout. sharp as one of the scalpels that regularly find their way into her face. Rivers has played the game even as she has deconstructed it. Combining east coast wit on her New York radio show (from which she was suspended for a week in June for swearing) with west coast cattiness as she exposes the fashion crimes of the A-rlist with her annual ()scars commentary. throwing in major league successes on Broadway. The 'Iimig/rl S/IUH'. which she presented for 21 years. her solo shows. books and jewellery line. she has become the multimillion dollar one-woman laughter factory that America loves to be ridiculed by. Comedy fans may quake at the news of a series of one-
woman Festival shows by La Rivers. expecting 90 minutes of
caustic neurosis. But Joan Rivers represents much more than this. She is at once the naughty rich girl poking fun at her peers. the seen-it-all saloon regular who‘s been bankrupted and remade countless times. the speakeasy singer with a wrecked voice turned Big Apple streetside storyteller. the doting mother. ageing socialite and media mogul. In her life she has been rich. poor. famous. anonymous. féted and reviled. and while all these contradictory experiences are immediately apparent in her manner. appearance and voice (Brooklyn rude-girl meets Upper liast Side matron). her humour is shockingly benign.
So how does she think Britain will react to her show given some Limeys' disdain for the land of the free'.’ ‘Well. nobody likes the "nouveau-riche uncle" character. the arriviste.’ she says. ‘But truly. we wanna help everybody. although maybe we don‘t have finesse. Americans really want to be good guys. I mean. some of the liuropeans I see who come over to New York are just big ugly boors. There’s a mean streak there. which I don’t think we have.’
liven the easiest comedy target in the universe. (ieorgc Bush. comes in for some darnningly faint praise. Asked if she thinks he's good for America. Rivers gives a weary reply. ‘l‘m praying he is.’ she says. ‘1 think Clinton blew it — oops. wrong choice of words. He was such a good communicator. and the stupid man blew what could have been a great legacy. We’re hoping that (ieorge Bush will grow the way llany 'l‘ruman did. liveryone laughed at Truman all those years ago and he became one of the great presidents.‘
Perhaps Bush represents Rivers‘ gtrod-hearted-but-tinesse- deficient model of American citizenship. To many prejudiced outsiders. however. he also stands for a set of New World values which prize appearance over calibre and style over content. Rivers agrees vociferoust. ‘In what way do you think American culture is going'.’ People talk abut dumbing down . . f
I begin tentatively to answer and she leaps to concur: ‘()h! Can you give me that question again in shorter words'.’ The world is going beyond dumbing down. My Dad took Latin and never thought about it. I took Latin in school. my daughter went to a very good school Latin was no longer required. They said it was too hard. Oh. it’s so stupid. The whole world is dumb. That‘s because of television.’
It is strange to hear Rivers dissing television. Although obviously not wholly responsible for the decline in the intellectual standards of the creative industries. surely Rivers‘ famous ()scar-night fashion critiques have played a part in bringing the celebrity circus alive'.’ So either her contempt for television precludes the many successes she has had in that medium. or she willingly sets aside her principles to colludc with audiences' desire for ttnchallenging coverage.
The jewellry is probably not the stuff she sells on her QVC programme
someone like Courtney Love
to show up there in a
‘Someone said that we turned walking down a red carpet into an event.’ she admits. ‘lt‘s great. except that everybody now looks so wonderful. You wait for someone like Courtney Love to show up there in a garbage bag. and you pray. please (iod. that someone’s going to have thought that they know better than their rnillion—dollar stylist. But they don't.”
ls it possible to be too rich or too thin in this kind of milieu'.’ ‘.\'o.' Rivers states emphatically. ‘nor too young. And nobody has body fat. You know. you think you look good in your dress from Valentino. Vera Wang. Versace. You get out onto the red carpet and you think "Why bother"? Why did I sit for half an hour to have my hair blow-dried?" liach one comes and each one is perfect. You have to tell yourself. this is the top half of one per cent of the world‘s most beautiful people.‘
liven the apparent satire of Rivers‘ social cornmentating is a gentle in-joke played out among and with her equally mainstream and successful acquaintances. ‘l‘m part of it.” Rivers says of the fame merry-go—round. ‘and they’re all friends. Sarah Jessica Parker is a good friend: she really doesn’t care if I don't like her ballet slippers. .\'icole Kidrnan didn't mind. I don’t think. when I said that she was wearing this pea— green dress from l)ior that was so unbecoming. I think she survived the evening in spite of it.‘
Rivers has also turned television to her advantage in marketing her jewellery range. sold here on QV'C. The seedy. camp transmissions belie the 320011] turnover the range has netted so far. "Nobody else was doing anything like that on TV. except broken down. over-the—hill celebrities.‘ Rivers explains proudly. ‘I did it and it turned into this wonderful business. I run the company. I‘m like Joan Crawford.‘
It is this eletnent of pioneering go-gettership which makes .loan Rivers. for all the apparent contradictions of her stattts rich but r‘aucotts. cynic but celebrity. media player but madwornan in the attic. vernacular but patrician r- impossible to dislike. She has come through life's barrages with her sense of fttn. and her ambition. intact. There are still things to be ticked off on her To Do list: ‘l‘ve never been in a sitcom. I‘ve never really had a major part in a movie. I'm always the bit part that critics say was terrilic. And I‘d like to find a free antiques store. You know: you walk in. they say. “You make tne laugh. Have this for free.”
Joan Rivers plays the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 24 & 25 Aug, 1 1pm; 27 Aug 7pm & 11pm.
‘2 THE LIST FESTIVAL GUIDE 13
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