When it came to Joan Rivers, little was ever confidential — either with regard to comedy or family.
Her only child, Melissa Rivers, will readily admit to having been born into a clan of oversharers.
After the pioneering comedian died in 2014, Rivers did learn something new about her mother — just how much of a pop-culture collector and curator she truly was. Rivers was left to sort through a life’s worth of laughter that extended across both coasts. In storage facilities in New York and California were boxes upon boxes of jokes (some untold), many written on 4-by-6-inch index cards or jotted down on napkins or boarding passes; scrapbooks of newspaper articles about her, both favorable and critical; scripts from monologues when she was guest host of “The Tonight Show” in the early 1980s; and letters from celebrities such as comedian Phyllis Diller, a trailblazer in her own right.
“It was definitely an emotional roller coaster,” Rivers says during a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, where she lives. “So much of it is a family history.”
Some of what was left behind was culled for her book “Joan Rivers Confidential: The Unseen Scrapbooks, Joke Cards, Personal Files, and Photos of a Very Funny Woman Who Kept Everything” (Abrams Books, $40), published this fall. (Rivers was slated to speak about the book at NYCB Theatre at Westbury last month, but the event was canceled due to a scheduling conflict.)
Rivers initially dived into her mother’s many belongings with co-author Scott Currie, a publicist who began his career as an associate producer on the daytime chatfest “The Joan Rivers Show” in the early 1990s. He and the comedian became incredibly close.
“Scott was the gay son she always wanted and I could never be,” Rivers says.
As they prepared the book, Rivers says, she kept coming back to one question: “What do I do to create an honest narrative?”
Eighty percent of the time she and Currie were on the same page as to what to include in “Joan Rivers Confidential,” she says. The times when they disagreed had more to do with their unique individual relationships with Joan.
“Scott came into my mother’s life in the early ’90s,” Rivers says. He was fascinated by Joan’s career in the ’60s and recalls staying up late as a teenager to watch her on “Tonight,” where she gained prominence.
Rivers, meanwhile, was moved by the correspondence her mother saved, including a fan letter from journalist Barbara Walters, with whom the late comic shared a 40-year bond.
“Here are two women that never met, supporting each other before anyone told them they had to,” Rivers says. “They had a lifelong friendship. This theme couldn’t be any more relevant right now.”
Neither Currie nor Rivers was fully prepared for just how much collecting Joan had done. But given her personality, Rivers says, when all was said and sorted through, it made sense.
“You have to remember that most of my mother’s career was in a nondigital age,” Rivers says. “She never wanted to be repetitive, so her and my father kept numerous files and records. It was a professional necessity.”
And Rivers believes her mother’s pop-culture curations, whether intentionally or not, display just how in tune she was with the world and how she always had something to say.