Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” has been very well received here at Sundance. The film presents a sharp, funny and often quite touching portrait of Rivers, who at age 75, still struggles with both her insecurities and her ability to find steady work. Though as enthusiastic as the audience was for the film at a screening yesterday, Rivers upstaged herself at the Q&A afterwards. Following a standing ovation, she spent nearly 20 minutes responding to a slew of compliments and questions, putting the audience in hysterics a good two dozen times. The entire Q&A is available here, but indieWIRE has also decided to break it down for you into a list of the 10 things we learned about Joan Rivers during it.
This feature was originally published as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” opens in theaters this Friday and will have its New York premiere Wednesday evening at NewFest, NYC’s LGBT Film Festival.
More on the film here at indieWIRE in a recent interview with the filmmakers.
1. Joan Rivers wanted to make a ‘real documentary’ with “A Piece of Work”
“If you’re doing a documentary,” she said. “Then it should be a documentary. If you want to see everybody ass-kissing you, go watch Bravo. Everyone says wonderful things about you. And that’s not a real documentary. That’s stupid.”
2. She thinks being funny is genetic. And she thinks Salt Lake City is not funny.
“Humor is all DNA,” she said. “You can’t teach it. My father was funny. My grandmother… they tell me stories of funny things she did in Russia. My grandson is very funny, and so is Melissa [Rivers, her daughter]. And then – thank god I was born in New York, where they laugh. I mean, if I was born in Salt Lake City…”
After a mix of boos and laughter, Rivers continued. “I mean, it’s lovely. But you know what I mean!”
Later, a man in the audience stood and said to her: “I’m from Salt Lake City and I mean this with love… Fuck you!”
3. She keeps a collection of dead people’s ashes.
“I have a little bit of all the people I really love up in my closet,” she said. “Because I love them, and now I have a little bit of each of them… I have my hairdresser… I obviously have [my deceased husband] Edgar… I have all my dogs… I have a little bit of my mother… I have Vincent Price and his wife. All the people that meant a lot to me… And when I’m cremated – and I hope I’m dead – I’d like them sprinkled in there.”
4. She regrets things she says all the time, and exemplified by recently making Haiti-related jokes.
“I regret [things I say] all the time,” she said. “I work in this place in New York every Wednesday night. And everything… I mean, I’ve been doing Haiti jokes.”
After the audience collectively said “whoa,” Rivers said: “Well you gotta laugh at it, its so terrible! Their biggest import was – you know – AIDS.” Nervous laughter followed. “See,” she said. “I just think ‘let’s laugh.’ I mean, we still gotta work hard, but that’s just the way we deal with it.
5. She thinks if you’re a female comic starting out – go for the gays first.
“You know where you go first,” she said to an aspiring female comic in the audience. “The gay community. If you are a girl performer, start there. Because they will laugh. They get it. And then they move out.”
6. She tweets.
“I never thought I was the brightest one,” she said. “So I worked a little harder. I’m tweeting today for Sundance. I have prepared all these stupid little jokes [for Twitter] and I’ve been doing that for a month and a half.”
7. Her former manager burned the only copy of her first appearance on The Tonight Show:
“A manager I broke with burned it,” she said, and then deadpanned to wild applause from the audience: “He’s dead.”
8. Jack Paar didn’t like her.
“I was on once,” Rivers said of “The Jack Paar Show.” “And that was it. He didn’t like me. He went back stage afterwards and said ‘I don’t believe a word she said. And he drew a line through my name.”
9. She’s delighted by NBC’s recent problems.
“I’m delighted,” Rivers said when someone asked her what she thought of the current NBC late night fiasco. “I’m black-balled with NBC. They should all go fuck themselves. I hope they’re miserable.”
10. Johnny Carson never spoke to her again after she left “The Tonight Show.”
“I was so hurt,” she said of her fallout with Carson. “He was the first one I called [when she found out she was leaving ‘The Tonight Show’ for her own FOX series]. I wanted to make sure he knew before the press did. I didn’t want him to get a call telling him. So I called him, and told him, and he hung up on me. And I called again, and he hung up on me. And then he said ‘she never called.'” He never spoke to me again. 20 years.”
Rivers said she actually left ‘The Tonight Show’ because she was having issues with the folks at NBC.
“They weren’t renewing my contract,” she said. “They were taking their time. So when we left and went to FOX for 15 times the salary… At one point you just gotta say ‘I’m going to move on.'”
Rivers started to cry as she then recalled how much Carson had done for her career and how hard it was to lose contact with him.
“Do you know the loyalty I had to that man,” she said. “And when Edgar [her husband] – and I met him through Johnny – killed himself, I never heard from him. He never wrote me a note. Nothing… It kills me.”