Forty-six years after she joked on "The Ed Sullivan Show" about her days as a single woman in Larchmont, Joan Rivers will headline a stand-up comedy show at Purchase College, all of 12 miles away from the village she once called home.
"Purchase is very pretty, and it means I can go home [to New York City] that night and walk my dogs," Rivers, 79, told Newsday Westchester last week. "And I love the live performing, which is the key to everything ... I love the interaction with the audience. You can say everything and you can laugh with them. It's like seeing friends."
LARCHMONT: THEN AND NOW
Westchester County is familiar territory and a source of material to Rivers, whose birth name is Joan Molinsky. Two years after marrying Edgar Rosenberg and one year before her first "Tonight Show" gig propelled her to superstardom, Rivers did a 1967 stand-up set on "Ed Sullivan," pulling plenty of punch lines from her days as a single lady in the Hudson Valley.
"I'm from a little town called Larchmont, where, if you're not married, if you're a girl, and you're over 21, you're better off dead. It's that simple," she said back then. "And I was the last [single] girl in Larchmont! ... When I was 21, my mother said, 'Only a doctor for you!' When I was 22, she said, 'All right, a lawyer, a CPA.' At 24, she said, 'We'll grab a dentist.' Twenty-six? She said, 'Anything.' If he can make it to the door, he was mine, y'know. 'What do you mean you don't like him? He's intelligent. He found the [doorbell] himself. What do you want?' Anybody that came to my house was it. 'Oh, Joan! There's a most attractive young man down here with a mask and a gun.' "
These days, Rivers has a new perspective on her years living in Larchmont.
"It was a little town," Rivers recalled last week. "You could go to the movies, and if you didn't have the full amount [to pay for tickets], you could always come in the next day and leave the extra quarter. Everybody knew you. You could get on your bike and go bike-riding. It was just a very lovely moment that is totally gone now."
'I'M STILL IN THE TRENCHES'
Rivers' life has changed significantly since she lived in Larchmont, in most ways for the better. Now starring in "Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best" (9 p.m. Saturdays on WE) and "Fashion Police" (10 p.m. Fridays on E!), Rivers once was the permanent host for "The Tonight Show" when Johnny Carson was on vacation. Other TV victories include receiving an Emmy Award in 1990 for hosting "The Joan Rivers Show," and winning the second season of "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2009.
That kind of success would make most celebrities beam, but Rivers insists she's her own toughest critic, a recurring theme in the 2010 documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work."
"I don't watch any of my shows," she said. "I don't take any awards. At every TV show, everyone wants to honor you. 'If you honor me, the next week we'll honor you, and the next week, we'll all honor a third person.' Oh, get away!"
It might be easier for Rivers to ignore the honors if her credits were limited to television and movies, but that isn't the case. She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1994 for playing the title role in Broadway's "Sally Marr ... and Her Escorts," which she co-wrote; her 1983 comedy album, "What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?" earned a Grammy nod; and her 11th book, "I Hate Everyone ... Starting With Me," was a New York Times bestseller. And let's not forget her more than 1.6 million Twitter followers and the stand-up comedy that made her famous in the first place.
Her long-lasting, varied career has earned the respect of her comedy peers, most of whom see her as a pioneer for women and comedy -- even if she doesn't.
"Oh, who cares?" she quipped. "I'm still in the trenches."
In fact, Rivers said she never blamed a glass ceiling until she realized, decades later, that she was last to make it big among a group of Greenwich Village comics that included Woody Allen, Dick Cavett, George Carlin, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.
"I was the last one to break through, and looking back, you think, 'It's gotta be because I was a woman,' but at the time I didn't [think that]," she said. "Women comedians come up to me and say, 'Oh, it's so hard to be a woman comedian! You must have felt that.' I didn't feel anything. I was just glad to get up for free and perform."
GETTING 'IN BED' WITH NICK KROLL
Westchester has remained a fount of funny for Rivers, whose new Web series, "In Bed with Joan Rivers," launched last month (www.inbedwithjoan.com). In the second episode of the informal, uncensored chat show set in one of Rivers' beds, the host kidded about the county with fellow comic Nick Kroll, who'd mentioned the "tough streets" of Rye, where he grew up.
"[People like] you passed and spit on us on the way to Rye," a smiling Rivers told Kroll, who laughed in response.
She told Newsday Westchester that creative freedom was an impetus for the series.
"Because it's the Internet, you can say anything -- anything -- and I'm able to have comics on that I can just have fun with," said Rivers, whose "In Bed" guests this season include Sarah Silverman, Jeffrey Ross and Anthony Jeselnik. "I always say to them, 'Nobody's watching!' ... Margaret Cho gave me a recipe for dog. They're never going to do that on television."
For the next season, she's hoping Will Ferrell, Sacha Baron Cohen and "Little Britain" stars David Walliams and Matt Lucas will appear on the show.
ON KARDASHIANS, 'JOAN AND MELISSA'
The idea for "In Bed" started as a joke by Rivers' daughter, Melissa, during the taping of their televised reality series "Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best," now in its third season. And while the cast of the E! channel's "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" is often popular fodder for comedians, Rivers admitted a level of respect for its stars, especially now that she and her daughter have been producing a reality show of their own.
"I think they are an amazing family," Rivers said. "I watch that show with awe, because I see, with Melissa and with me, the work that goes into making a reality show. Then again, I also think how lucky they are. There are so many of them, somebody's always got a problem. It's like 'OK, out of the nine of us, who's in trouble here?'"
Rivers said "Joan and Melissa" has been a revealing and rewarding experience, as well as one that reminds her of Rosenberg, her late husband, who committed suicide in 1987.
Asked if there's anything she never would have known about Melissa had they never done that show together, Rivers replied in hushed tones. "Fifty percent of her really is her father," she said. "Unless you really are zoomed in, you don't see it, but it's like talking to Edgar sometimes. Good things and bad."
TAKING ON TABOO TOPICS, CRITICS
Never one to shy away from emotional, dark or taboo topics, Rivers has endured criticism for her controversial opinions through the years, and in recent weeks, has publicly defended her comments about Adele's weight and Heidi Klum's attire.
"Life is beyond sad," Rivers told Newsday Westchester. "So many things happen, and you just have to pick yourself up again, and pick yourself up again, and pick yourself up again. And if you don't laugh about it, then I don't know how anyone gets through it ... Everyone has a different way of dealing with tough times."
Rivers said she does consider a few topics "off-limits," but didn't elaborate. Otherwise undaunted, she'll try to make friends laugh in tough times, like last week, when she said she tried to comfort a friend, whose lover had just died at age 47.
"It was terrible," she said. "So, the jokes started right away."
IF YOU GO
Who: Joan Rivers at Purchase College
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, April 7
Info: The Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, 735 Anderson Hill Rd., Purchase; 914-251-6200; www.artscenter.org; $47.50-$87.50