Joan Rivers Taught Us to Be Bitchy to Celebrities but Nice to People

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
Sept. 4 2014 3:22 PM

Joan Rivers, National Treasure

The viper-tongued vixed taught us to be bitchy to celebrities but nice to people.

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The discarded diaper wreath left us in need of a little humorous garnish. Joan to the rescue, again! Before you could say, “Borscht Belt,” Joan had faxed through some thigh-slapping holiday one-liners, which covered a banner we draped across the back of the window, much to the delight of passersby:

“My idea of a stocking stuffer is Shelley Winters.”

Ba-dum-bum.

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“I really got into the Christmas spirit this year. I hung a wreath on the neighborhood flasher.”

Ba-dum-bum.

“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house/ There was still nothing happening under this blouse.”

Back then one of Joan’s comedic leitmotifs was her sex life, or absence thereof. When she wasn’t bemoaning the lack of activity under her blouse, she was voicing her loud and proud commitment to plastic surgery. Joan basically invented the contemporary enthusiasm for “getting work done.” (Decades later she remains its most vocal, and visual, proponent and has appeared on three—count ’em—episodes of Nip/Tuck.) Joan is, after all, the woman who famously holiday-gifted her staff with “the plastic surgery procedure of your choice” in lieu of a ham.

Joan is an unconventional, rule-breaking, self-invented, wildly creative superfreak who has used her scrappy outlier wits to claw her way to the top, and when I say top, I mean, Versailles. Can we talk … about Joan’s apartment? For many years Joan has lived a life of old-school Brooke Astor-ish glamour on the Upper East Side. We are talking soaring baroque splendor, chintz and gilt, and an unbelievable level of upholstered squish. When it comes to living like a star, Joan kicks it old school. In the late ’90s I ran into Joan on the street and eagerly showed her a picture of yours truly in the latest copy of People. (I wanted to make mamma proud.) It was a folksy close-up of my bloke and me stir-frying our dinner in a grody old frying pan in our as-yet-unrenovated kitchen.

“Where the fuck is this dump you are living?” admonished Joan, in a kind and caring manner, “Oh, please! You need to trade up, honey.”

Joan is the wind beneath our wings. She genuinely wants everyone on Earth to be as successfully squishy as she is. She is encouraging to all those around her. Ask Joan for a blurb or a quip and you get it the same day. When Joan had her radio show in the ’90s, she regularly allowed me to come on air and shill my brains out. Watching her enter the recording studio was always a treat. She would walk through the hallway, with her Dennis Basso sable slung nonchalantly over her shoulders, dumping candy and nibbles on everyone’s desks as she passed. Once a Jewish mother …

Joan, please don’t die anytime soon. We need you more than ever. We need you to help the Twitter generation understand that a well-timed comic jab is not “hating” but rather a much-needed antidote to all that celebrity mishigas.

Fortunately for all of us, Joan appears in no danger of going anywhere or slowing down: Fashion Police is raging (E! is airing a week of episodes from June 10 through 15 in honor of Joan’s birthday); Joan and Melissa just got picked up for a fourth season; and Joan’s Internet chat show, In Bed With Joan, is—and I got this directly from the lady herself, so therefore it must be fact—“an unexpected success.”

I reached out to Joan this week to find out how she was dealing with her impending octogenarianship. Sidestepping any mentions of adult diapers, she reassured me that everything was just great. She is getting used to the fact that, whenever she climbs into a limousine, “a line of black town cars falls in behind me with their lights on.” Regarding her actual birthday cake, she already has a strategy: “I don’t plan to blow out my own birthday candles, as I'm scared the plastic in my face will catch fire.” Overall, Joan sounded very much at peace, by which I mean at peace with the fact that Melissa has elected not to overspend on the big occasion: “Instead of a cake she is going to have Peter Dinklage jump out of a muffin.”

Ba-dum-bum.

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