Joan Rivers may have once told National Public Radio audiences that Barack Obama was off-limits for comedy because "we still have such high hopes for him." But that time has long since passed, Rivers now says.
"Nothing and no one is off-limits permanently," she says in an interview. "It's all a matter of timing. By the time I get to Wichita, I'll probably even have some material on the Haiti earthquake. Life is tough and the only way we have to survive it is to laugh."
Rivers, who crashed through the male-dominated stand-up ranks in the 1960s to become Johnny Carson's favorite guest host and made a career out of asking "Can we talk?," will bring her act to Wichita's Orpheum Theatre next Thursday. At 76, she still goes out on the road a couple of times a month "to stay fresh."
"I try to go out for two shows every other weekend around the country and I am in a local club every Wednesday, no matter what, because I love live performance," says Rivers, who has also just signed on for another season of E! Network's "Fashion Police." She and her daughter, Melissa, have perfected acerbic (and hilarious) red carpet commentary on celebrity couture hits and misses.
"Fashion should be made fun of — especially when somebody takes it too seriously. Come on, Victoria Beckham, lighten up, already!" she says.
For herself, Rivers, who has graced more than a few best-dressed lists over the decades and has launched her own designer jewelry and beauty products line, prefers "anything that goes with varicose veins — or basic black with lots of accessories. Thank God for Coco Chanel. She made it so easy. You can't go wrong."
Rivers is hands-on about her jewelry collection, which she sells on QVC, because she designs what she would wear: "Whatever you see me in is mine, unless it's real," she jokes.
The daughter of a Russian-Jewish immigrant doctor, the former Joan Alexandra Molinsky grew up in a posh New York suburb and graduated from Barnard College with degrees in English and anthropology. She worked as a fashion consultant at one point, a writer/proofreader at another and even led tours around Rockefeller Center. Then a friend took her to see controversial comedian/activist Lenny Bruce and she says she had an epiphany.
She knew what she wanted to do, but for all her smarts, drive and chutzpah, she was still a woman tackling a man's field. Like her rare contemporary, Phyllis Diller, she broke through by making fun of herself — from relationships with men to insecurities over her looks and, later, her cosmetic nips and tucks.
After toiling for a decade in low-rent clubs, she got her break with Johnny Carson, who first elevated her to permanent guest host, then never spoke to her again after she got her own late-night talk show on the fledgling Fox network.
She's written 10 books, including three autobiographies.
"I am a writer who became a performer, like Woody Allen, Dick Cavett and Bill Cosby," she says. "Every show is different because every audience is different. I love it when the audience is so great that you go off on tangents with them and play around. Every now and then, you get a difficult audience. But I keep punching through to the end. I'm not gonna give up on them."
While she is a self-professed workaholic, Rivers is adamant that she have one week twice a year of uninterrupted "grandma time" with her 9-year-old grandson, Cooper Endicott (Melissa's son).
"We go to Disneyland and do other activities like normal people. That's the basis for families and I insist on it," she says. "Cooper finally caught on about three years ago that his grandma is recognized by a lot of people. He asked me why and I said it was because I make people laugh. He thought about it and said, 'That's nice.' Tough crowd."
If you go
Where: Orpheum Theatre, First and Broadway
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
How much: Tickets $68, $55, $38 (mezzanine), $22 (balcony); available at Select-A-Seat at 316-755-7328 or www.selectaseat.com.