Two years ago, I was nervously waiting for Joan Rivers to arrive for rehearsal with local musicians the Flynn had hired as her musical back up. I expected a feral tigress; instead I welcomed a kindly grandmother type, chicly dressed in black.
She got right down to work. Going through musical cues, the comedian told the band, “I really like you, but when the show starts I might not be so nice. Don’t take it personally.” At one point, she explained, “I will fall down and beg you to help me up, but don’t make a move. It’s funnier that way, and I like funny.”
Local comedian Jason Lorber had been invited to perform a short warm-up set. After his sound check, Rivers told him, “Don’t worry if you bomb, the audience is here to see me.” Not the most reassuring praise for a fellow artist.
After the rehearsal, I handed Ms. Rivers her check in an envelope that she immediately opened. “It’s the right amount, thank you,” she said with a smile and a wink. This was an artist who knew her finances.
Hours later, her raspy, foul-mouthed brilliance came alive on stage. My jaw dropped as she began her barrage of insults: telling the old people to leave, attacking the obese, and chiding the lesbians who didn’t love her as much as the gays. Nothing was off limits, and the audience at first seemed uncomfortable.
Within a few minutes, however, we relaxed as she goaded us to “Oh, grow up!” and laughed at things no one else would dare talk about in public. This brash idiosyncratic icon was in top form, demonstrating her life-long mantra, “Life is tough, so you better laugh at everything.”
After the performance, she had agreed to do a ‘Meet and Greet’ with Flynn supporters. Instructions were precise: visitors were to stand in line and Ms. Rivers would pose for photographs. And that she did, smiling for each and every photo-op until the last person got their memento.
What an honor it was to present this legend. Fifty years ago she broke down the male bastion of comedy on mainstream television. Then, through personal tragedies and professional setbacks, she continually reinvented herself: day-time talk show host, shopping network maven, celebrity apprentice, reality show star, and red carpet fashionista. “Can we talk?” was always her invitation as she tackled societal taboos with irrepressible chutzpah.
On her way out of the Flynn that evening, she turned to me and sweetly said, “Thank you for bringing me to your beautiful theatre. Hope you will have me back.”
You are most welcome Joan Rivers. You were such a fierce artist, a comic genius with unstoppable determination. Thank you for all the laughter you allowed us.