On Meeting and Laughing With Joan Rivers

Photo via IFC Films

One of the interesting things about nightlife is getting to meet, and sometimes getting to know celebrities.  I remember the Roxy Music lyrics, “With every idol, a bring down, it gets you down,” and it can be sort of like that. Rarely are they actually larger than life, save for their egos. Having been involved in some pretty swanky joints, I’ve met my share. I have had relationships with some that transcend the little ponds I toiled in and some that were fleeting glimpses, smiles and glad hands. I first met Joan Rivers in, I believe, 1988, at The World, a club I was director of on East 2nd Street and Avenue B. That was a different time and a very different Avenue B. Ms. Rivers’ husband, Edgar, had passed shockingly and her grieving period was extensive. Some publicist, I can’t remember who, had arranged a sort of coming out party.

The World seemed like the unlikeliest of places with its Hip Hop and House scene and its decidedly street culture. Yet there she was, all dressed up in the wrong place to be. She balked on the inside stairs until I and a few others assured her it would all be lovely, and she put on a good face—not the great one that made us laugh till it hurt. It was over soon after the photogs got their blood. I remember how frail she was, and despite all her vigor and confidence seen so many times on the little screen, she seemed to be afflicted that night with a “deer in the headlights” demeanor. She knew she was being paraded and pimped and she just did her best. I was introduced and she touched my hand as a child might. It saddened me. Saddening people wasn’t her natural state.

It was years later when I met her again. Somehow I ended up as a guest on her show. Some publicist arranged it, I suppose. The owner of Le Bar Bat, a 57th Street club, was there as well. I think her name was Joan; the lovely lady, died a few years later… too soon. Also Michael Alig was scheduled. The call was 7am, so I decided to just stay up all night and go. I brought my brilliant assistant and life long friend Kevin Crawford. They prepped me in the Green Room, asking me the questions I was to be asked, and I was all comfy and excited. Then Michael Alig was cancelled as the merger between the club I was operating with the clubs Peter Gatien was operating had come through.

Gatien’s publicist, right hand man John Carmen replaced Michael (Michael would be rescheduled). I loved Michael, but hated John Carmen and the mood changed. John’s claim to fame was his association with the brilliant Grace Jones who I will always love. John at one point was pleasant enough, as all good publicists need to be, but as he became singularly involved with the Gatien scene, I believe his worst side overtook any good he had in him. I found him to be loathsome. 

Now onstage, I sat in he chair right next to where Joan would be. The stage audience was all Mid-West smiles and best TV outfits and was lit up with a thousand TV lights. Remember, for me it was like 8am, and I had been up since like 1987. I normally craved shadows and corners. The crew were mic-ing me and drying my forehead and mumbling advice and camera position stuff when one of them said, “Whatever you do, don’t look up.” So I immediately did. A light the size of a Checker Cab blinded me. I was a deer in the headlights when Joan came on and the crowd went wild. She said a few words as I blinked and blinked trying to regain my eyesight. She sat down asked me a question and I mumbled and stuttered and missed the point, and then John Carmen talked over me and my hatred for him added to my delirium.

She broke to a commercial, put her hand too high up my thigh to be unnoticed, and proceeded to tell me a very dirty little joke. I laughed and laughed and I could see again. She looked me in the eyes and told me I would be all right… and I was. The audience laughed at my stories and Joan was wonderful and sweet and fucking funny… so fucking funny. After, she lingered for a minute and made sure we knew how grateful she was for being on her show. She wasn’t a deer in the headlights, or frail or afraid any more. 

She went on an on with her career and its trademark schtick. The thing about her, whether she was on some runway or show or whatever it was she was doing, was that she always connected with the people. She was always one of us. She could rip into someone and we would gasp as she said what we were thinking or wished we were. Sure, she said some awful, even inexcusable things, hurtful things, and yet we forgave her because she put it all out there and we knew she wasn’t really mean, just a comic letting it all out and exposing the idols for what they really were. She had a thousand hits, but the world tends to dwell on misses. She made me laugh and the last couple of nights I have been watching her moments on YouTube and other such places and I have cried tears of joy and sadness. We have lost a great one, a million potential laughs and insider insights. She had a great run and she leaves loved.

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