As ''Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work'' hits theaters, the legendary comedian tells us how she comes up with her material

By Chris Nashawaty
Updated May 28, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

”I’m always looking for new ways to talk about dating and not dating because I’m sitting here single. I’ve always been the one who had to put her own luggage up in the plane. So that’s the starting point. That got me thinking about how there are no gay homeless people, because if there were, can you imagine how well they’d do their cardboard box? Then that began to evolve into, I’m dating a homeless man, which is wonderful because it’s just ‘Your doorway or mine?’ Or, I met him online…in a soup kitchen! I rewrite them over and over. That’s how I started — writing jokes for Bob Newhart and Phyllis Diller for $5 because no one would hire me as a stand-up. Doctors’ daughters from Larchmont weren’t stand-up comics in the ’60s. Now I go on stage every Wednesday night when I’m in New York at a little hundred-seater. I just ad-lib and then I go home and listen to the tape. Then I sit down and start polishing. People don’t know how much work goes into it. You can do a joke on stage and say to yourself, This one’s going to work for the next five years. When you find one of those, it’s like an old friend. Even if it’s a difficult evening, I know it’s going to be all right because I know [the joke] is coming and I know you’re going to laugh. Sometimes I’ll be sitting at dinner and a friend will say something and I’ll write it down. I have scraps of paper everywhere in my apartment. I must have well over a million jokes on index cards. And the nice thing is, when I die, nobody’s going to want them!”