Joan Rivers remembers a comedy pioneer — and good friend

By EW Staff
August 24, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

I was performing with Barbra Streisand in a crappy little club in Greenwich Village when I first met her. I was so thrilled she came, because she was at the top of her game then. She came back and met me and was so generous and encouraging. As the years went on, our paths would cross. I’d be going into a place in Indianapolis and she’d be leaving. We’d meet and have dinner, exchange little presents. She was the first one of us to do an hour of straight talk. Up until then, a [female comedian] would come out and have to sing ”There’s No Business Like Show Business” and then talk a little and then have to sing more. Phyllis couldn’t sing, so she just got out there and talked. My favorite joke she told was ”I like to serve chocolate cake, because it doesn’t show the dirt.”

What a great craftsman she was. She didn’t just put it out there; she put it out there correctly. She thought about the wording. She knew what she was doing. I don’t think the current brand of lady comics understand how smart she was, because she had the clown look. It’s sad: She still had to put on the wigs and funny dresses and stupid boots. If she were starting today, she wouldn’t need any of it.

[My daughter] Melissa and I had brunch with her three weeks ago. She was in great shape. Her mind was sharp. We were talking about her doing a spot on Joan & Melissa. We were talking about the Internet and doing podcasts. She was right smack in the business still. She was losing her eyesight and it was very upsetting to her, but she was already doing jokes about it. I adored her. I’m glad [my grandson] Cooper got to meet her. She was lovely to him. I said, ”Grandma wouldn’t be here without her — which means you wouldn’t have an iPhone.”