I try to never look back. Mad Men is not my favorite show—who cares what went on in the 1960s? I love right where we’re living, and I find it hilarious. My act is all about current things: Lady Gaga and Tiger Woods, tweeting and twatting. That speech Tiger Woods gave was so stupid. You know there was a girl under the podium the whole time.
If you read the paper, you’re going to get angry at something, and there’s your topic for the night. But sometimes I’m a little too ahead of the times. I make a joke out of anything that’s awful—that’s how I get through it. I started doing 9/11 jokes on 9/12. I’m doing Haiti jokes now: My cousin was the first Jewish woman to be pulled out of the rubble; they found her in the collapsed Neiman Marcus, and she survived for 12 days buried alive on four packs of Sweet’N Low. Half of the audience will think it’s hilarious, and half are going, “This is a terrible thing that’s happened—how can you make a joke about it?” My approach is much stronger now, because I’m angrier.
It takes a while to get going in comedy, to find out what you want to talk about. I’ve always talked truthfully: I hate children, and I say it. Don’t send me a Christmas card with your ugly child on it that I have to say is adorable. You have to be honest with your audience, and that comes with just being honest with yourself, which comes with age.
Comedy has never been a boys’ club. If someone is funny, they get through. If my dog had seven great minutes, she’d be playing Madison Square Garden. There are more women going into comedy now because they realize they can, and that they can speak more honestly, which makes them funnier. Now you can talk about your sex life. I was on Ed Sullivan’s show seven months pregnant, and I wasn’t allowed to say I was pregnant. I had to say, “Soon we’re going to hear the pitter-patter of little feet.” But a lot about comedy hasn’t changed: Jay Leno is still boring.
Joan Rivers has been performing stand-up since the 1960s. She’s the host of TV Land’s How’d You Get So Rich? and the star of a documentary about her life, Joan Rivers: a Piece of Work, which will be in theaters this summer.
Originally published in the May 2010 issue of More.