"Can we tawk?"
Joan Rivers' signature line, inflected with her New York accent, says a lot about her comedy: She's confessional, daringly open about her personal life and scathingly honest.
"Can we talk?" is her way of telling her audience: It's just you and me here; we're in this together, and I'll say anything. Which may be the key to her long-running success.
Born Joan Molinsky in 1933, she grew up in Brooklyn. One of her first stage roles was during the late 1950s in a play opposite Barbra Streisand.
Rivers gained national attention on "The Tonight Show," appearing first with Jack Paar in the '60s, then becoming a regular guest host for Johnny Carson. When Rivers launched a late-night show for the Fox network in 1986, Carson became furious and ended their friendship.
Rivers' husband, Edgar Rosenberg, produced Rivers' late-night show, but when Fox fired him, Rivers quit. A few months later, in 1987, Rosenberg committed suicide.
Last year, a documentary titled "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival and received rave reviews.
Rivers is now filming the second season of a reality show with her daughter called "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?" on the WEtv network. One episode features Joan barging into the bathroom where Melissa is taking a shower to try to convince her to pose nude for a magazine.
Rivers spoke to the Press Democrat while en route to an appearance near Niagara Falls. She performs Friday at the Uptown Theatre in Napa.
Q. I want to start with "Joan & Melissa." That was the most shocking shower scene since "Psycho." Did Melissa know that was coming?
A. No, we're trying to make it as much as possible absolute reality. There are too many reality shows that are so non-realistic these days. I knew what I was doing, but she had no idea in hell.
Q. Has she forgiven you for that?
A. Oh God yes. I'm her mother, you forgive your mother a lot.
Q. And you honestly wanted her to pose nude?
A. Absolutely. Melissa's got a beautiful body, and believe me it goes. She might as well do it now while she looks great.
Q. You make fun of yourself. Is that the way to making fun of everybody else?
A. Oh, no, but I do make fun of myself because I think I'm an ass — — . The key to my humor is that I tell the truth. I've always said onstage what I say to my very good friends in private. That's the whole key. My thing now is that blind people should not have apartments with views in New York; that's stupid.
Q. What's your plan for the Napa show?
A. I'll get onstage and we'll talk. I'll talk about everything that annoys me, and bothers me, that I find insane or funny, and I'll probably be very drunk because I'm wine-tasting that morning.
Q. Who are your comedic heroes?
A. The only one is Lenny Bruce. Genius, genius, genius. Broke the whole mold of what you're allowed to talk about. He changed comedy forever.
Q. You've been open about things that few people talk about: plastic surgery, your husband's suicide. Are you trying to give people the courage to discuss topics they wouldn't otherwise talk about?