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There are few folks who can work seasoned Manhattan partygoers into a tizzy. Joan Rivers is clearly one of them. At the Elie Tahari-hosted New York premiere of the new documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” the famed comedian had the likes of Sarah Silverman, Brian Atwood and Bob Balaban craning their necks for a better view as she posed on the red carpet at the Angelika Film Center.
“I’m so excited about this, you have no idea. I’ve been counting the days,” said Chris Benz, blushing like a schoolgirl.
The film, which opens June 11, follows Rivers over the course of a year, juxtaposing the humorous (clips from her stand-up gigs) with the poignant (a heart-rending narrative of her husband’s suicide).
After the screening, guests including Nina Griscom, Celerie Kemble and Boykin Curry, Joanne de Guardiola, Marjorie Gubelmann and Tamara Mellon headed to a party at Elie and Rory Tahari’s apartment. Between greeting her fans, Rivers chatted with WWD about keeping it real, subbing for Meryl Streep and why she’s a snooze of a lunch date.
WWD: When the directors, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, first approached you, did you have any reservations about signing on?
Joan Rivers: My immediate reaction was, “I won’t do it unless we do a real one.” Because I’d just seen the one where we learnt nothing about Vogue and whatever her name is.
WWD: Anna Wintour?
J.R.: Anna Wintour. And I’d also seen the Valentino one and was very disappointed in it, because, again, you didn’t really learn about him. And you didn’t really learn that much about the fashion industry. So I said if we’re going to do it, we have to learn a lot. And so I went for these girls. These girls, they did one of their movies on Darfur….I was the natural next challenge.
WWD: Would you say this is the most vulnerable you’ve ever allowed yourself to be in the public eye?
J.R.: With comedians it’s, “I paid my five dollars, make me laugh.” So yes, they’re seeing a side of me that they wouldn’t ordinarily — nor should they ordinarily — see. You pay to see me, you’re paying to get rid of your troubles and have fun. You really don’t want to hear that my mother died last night or whatever.
WWD: Toward the end of the film, you said you consider yourself an actress more so than a comedian. But most of your fans think of you as a comedian. Is that something that bothers you?
J.R.: Not at all. It is what it is. My life is so great. I’m not Meryl Streep. But it’s OK. I’m having the best time making people laugh and that’s great, too. Now if Meryl dies, God forbid, unexpectedly, I can take over.
WWD: Really? “Sophie’s Choice”?
J.R.: I would have been so great in it because I would have done it in a Jewish accent. I would have added a different dimension.
WWD: You come across as a workaholic in the movie. In retrospect, have you made any sacrifices that you regret?
J.R.: You look back and you think probably some of my romances, a lot of the men in my life — certainly since my husband — have always been in a second position. “I love you very much, but I am going three days now to England to perform. Want to come?” It was a lot of want to comes. You look back and think, Maybe my life would be different. Maybe there would be someone sitting here if I’d gone the other path. You don’t know. Life is all choices.
WWD: You spend so much of your life entertaining people — do you ever feel tired by the expectation to always be funny?
J.R.: I feel that when I’m invited to a dinner party. Because you know the hostess is thinking, “Oh, Joan will take care of that end of the table.” And I’m so not funny in real life unless I really know you. Unless I’m with real friends, and then, of course, you’re laughing and carrying on. But when I don’t know you, I’m not going to walk in and make six wisecracks when I’m standing in Blaine’s [Trump] apartment or Lily Safra’s apartment or poor Nan Kempner. Nan Kempner stopped asking me to lunch because I was so boring. She used to give these great lunches; she had me twice and then she realized, “She’s a bore.”