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Joan Rivers on Her Louie Appearance, Casey Anthony, and Why a Hitler Joke Is Funny in Context

Photo: Patrick McMullan
Joan Rivers Photo: Patrick McMullan

Tonight on Louie, Joan Rivers guests as a mentor of sorts to Louis C.K., who joins her backstage at a club in Atlantic City for a heart-to-heart about making it in comedy. Even though there’s booze involved and Joan talks bluntly about blowjobbing one’s way to the top, the conversation is somehow touching and sincere. And then it ends abruptly with the most bizarre encounter imaginable. We spoke with Rivers ahead of the episode about how she got hooked up with Louis C.K., what she thinks of his work (“He’s so good, I had more fun doing that show than I’ve had since Curb Your Enthusiasm”), and where she sees him in 20 years.

Where did you work last weekend?
I worked at the West Bank Café in New York. It’s on 42nd Street and 9th Avenue and I work out all my new material there. It’s a little tiny theater downstairs: The Laurie Beechman Theater. Lady Gaga started there.

You didn’t do a big casino show?
Why do you want to know this?

Louis is a Cellar guy, and he started in alternative rooms like The Luna Lounge. Have comics gotten pickier about where they’ll perform?
No, of course not. Comedy is learning to be funny and you learn to be funny in small rooms with young audiences.

Your acting in this episode of Louie felt even more natural than The Apprentice, and that’s ostensibly “reality.”
Well I wasn’t acting on The Apprentice.

But you weren’t “playing” yourself like on Louie. You’ve played yourself before, in a made-for-TV movie you did with your daughter; how do you approach acting like yourself?
You play yourself by doing it as a role. Everyone forgets comedians are actors. There’s no question about it. A Robin Williams cannot say the same line every night for 40 weeks and make it sound fresh unless he’s doing an acting job.

How did you hear about Louis? He’s not a red carpet guy.
I hadn’t heard of him. Somebody said there’s this very funny comedian who has a show and he’s really very good. And they sent me I think his pilot and one episode. I thought they were wonderful and they said do you want to do something and they said he was in New York and I said, “Love to. Love to, love to, love to.”

Have you seen his stand up since?
No, I’ve never seen his stand-up. Now I’d love to see his stand-up.

Do you follow any standups younger than, say, Kathy Griffin?
No. I try not to, because we’re all so busy talking about the same things. I see as few as I possibly can. I run my own race.

You don’t want to be making the same Casey Anthony jokes or something?
If I go in and see a very young comic and they’re doing jokes about Glee — and I have a whole thing in my act about how I hate Glee and I have a new show called Gloom that I’m doing instead, you know, about my high school. And I’m going to go out and say, “Wait, wait…guys! I’m doing the same thing!” They’re going to say Joan Rivers took from us. So I’m very careful.

Louie is sort of a prodigious slob. Did you offer him any fashion pointers?
I think Louie needs a good fashion makeover but that will come later.

He has some of the same self-loathing in his life, but he obviously doesn’t overcompensate in quite the same way. In your doc you said, “This is how Marie Antoinette would live if she had money.”
Louie is not my age yet. In 20 years, Louis will have the big house and the beautiful cars and he’ll be living very well. It’s an age thing. I had my pad in Greenwich Village too. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Louie stuck up for Tracy Morgan.
I did too.

You’ve always found the edge for your stuff. For instance, you recently lead the audience in a round of applause for Hitler on Fashion Police. But earlier in your career, was it harder or easier for a woman to be edgy?
I’ve never thought in those terms, that’s why I’ve always been an outsider and continue to be an outsider. And Tracy Morgan, who I hear is not a very nice person, but he has every right on stage to say anything he wants. And it’s supposed to be funny, guys! And if you go see a comedian, you can’t be offended by what they say.

But the thing that really got him in trouble is that somebody put it on YouTube. How do you deal with YouTube?

You don’t. It’s out of context! I mean, out of context, I would sue myself! I would walk out on me! Even as you just said, “you lead applause for Hitler.” That was the build up to the joke. The joke was obviously about how terrible Hitler was and what he did. I don’t remember the joke. Help me.

Somebody wore a dress because of Hitler or something. I can’t remember. Fashion Police moves so fast.
I can’t remember either. But you take it out of context and people go, “What did she say?”

You were making Sarah Silverman-style abortion jokes in the 1960s; you called them “appendectomies.”
My day you couldn’t say abortion so you said, “A friend of mine had nine appendectomies in Puerto Rico but she got lucky and married the doctor.”

And Jack Lemmon walked out of Carson’s show on that line. Must’ve been easier to shock back then.
Yeah, those were the days that a sex tape got you out of the business, and not into it. Times have changed.

So how do you make people laugh when nothing’s shocking?
There’s always something shocking. Believe me. There’s always something that you want to talk about that’s just insane. Like this Casey Anthony case.

Why are people comparing it to OJ though? I’m shocked by that.
Because it’s a total travesty of the judicial system. It just shows you yet again that it should be totally revamped — that it’s broken. Absolutely broken. She’s OJ with a uterus!

How long will you be able to do Casey Anthony jokes, though. What’s the measure?
It depends where it is in the psyche of your audience. OJ is in there forever. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s probably got two more weeks.

Joan Rivers on Her Louie Appearance, Casey Anthony, and Why a Hitler Joke Is Funny in Context