Joan of Snark

Comic icon (and queer fave) Joan Rivers is (gasp!) a Republican … but only when it comes to her money

Joan-Rivers

RIVERS RUNS THROUGH IT | The comedienne has long been a ‘friend of the gays.’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

There is something fascinating about Joan Rivers eating a sandwich on the phone during an interview. She’s demure about it and never talks with her mouth full, but she acknowledges its existence. Is it a ham sandwich? With pickle? Celebrities eat sandwiches?

“They just brought me my lunch,” she says,” Hope you don’t mind.”

Of course not — it’s fucking Joan Rivers!!!

While she’s never fully on the road anymore like she was in her heyday, the comedy icon (and celeb-basher) can’t help but return to her standup roots — even if her shows are in glamorous venues (like Fort Worth’s Bass Hall, where she’ll be Wednesday) instead of dank comedy clubs of one-liners past .

“I love to get out there and do it,” she says. “And those gays better show up.”

Rivers knows she can count on her gays. And with her foray into fashion and celebrity dish, well, what self-respecting gay man could resist? Her show on E!, The Fashion Police, has become a huge hit since she and her daughter Melissa (who produces the show) took over, with Rivers’ fashion shtick both hilarious and spot-on. But with such gay appeal, many of her fans are surprised to learn that Rivers is (cue the collective gasp) a Republican. (It’s no secret — she’s mentioned it in previous interviews.)

“Yes, I am,” she says. “I am a Republican who believes in gay marriage, is pro-choice … all that stuff. My assistant once said that I’m only a Republican when it comes to my money. I’ve already paid my taxes so shut up, people. Don’t touch my money!”

As Rivers comes to Texas, she isn’t all that impressed with Gov. Rick Perry who has been sliding in recent polls for the Republican nomination to vie for the presidency. But really, she’s not impressed with anyone on either side.

“Ugh, that Rick Perry is hideous,” she says. “Everyone [on the GOP front] is a moron in this race, but so is Obama. Plus, I wish I could fix his teeth. I can’t stand that whistle.”

Rivers isn’t optimistic about the direction the next election will take. For her, it’s not about which party comes out ahead, but if there will ever be the right person (or people) in charge. But she keeps trying when it comes to heading to the ballot box.

“This country is in such trouble, there’s nobody out there you want,” she bemoans. “They are all liars and cheats and stupid and they only vote on the party lines.  I feel sorry for the person behind me at the booth because I vote all over the place. My ballot looks like a drunk driver going, from person by person.”

But fans tune in and turn out, not for her punditry, but for her outlook on celebrities. Lately, she’s been hammering at Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s marriage and Christina Aguilera’s … um, curvier lines. Rivers takes to Twitter to unleash her comic bullets that are both scathing and hysterical, which sometimes come back to bite her in the ass. She tweeted recently after running into Demi Moore on a flight: “Now for the awkward moment! After joking about Demi on last week’s Fashion Police I hid under a blanket for the entire flight.” Awkward moment indeed, but Rivers doesn’t shy away from them.

“Those come with the job,” she says. “What I really am is a critic and I think that’s what makes the show so good. We tell the truth, but it’s fun for people who like fashion.

We have a good time, we gossip. It’s not for the uptight.”

What people might forget is the number of hats Rivers wears. Besides hosting Fashion Police, she designs jewelry and fashions for QVC, she’s a radio host, she has the Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best show on WE, in addition to her occasional live performances. At 78, not much is stopping her.

“Well, at this age, it does take careful planning,” she laughs. “But you know, I love what’s happening around me. I do it with fun and it’s not always easy but I love my work.”

Rivers is almost as famous for her plastic surgery as she is for her comedy. She knows the gay boys have their narcissism and offered these tips for those considering going under the knife or sticking a needle in their forehead.

“Oh, do it while you’re young,” she insists. “That’s the trick. And just do it a little bit at a time. The thing is, you don’t want anybody to think that you’ve done anything.”

Rivers doesn’t mind so much what people know about her. She’s willing to head into TMI territory and proudly proclaims she’s been sexually active recently, even if it’s been a few years.

“It was about three years ago the last time I got laid,” she admits. “That’s why I’ve gained a little weight. Anyway, this hotel is now closed.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Rocca ages

WAIT, WAIT! DON’T TELL ME! | That nerdy comedian is Mo Rocca!

Need salt? Don’t ask Mo Rocca — but as the Texas vet gets older, he keeps getting better

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

You know that man on CBS Sunday Morning who’s really funny and kind of nerdy? That panelist with the nasally voice on NPR’s Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me quiz show. The guy you can’t quite describe other than from the kinda geeky-gay vibe he puts out, but in the nicest way. That’s Mo Rocca.

He’s the face you might recognize but not be sure where from. Rocca is everywhere, whether he’s reporting newsy features for CBS in his special snarky way or adding to the fun on Wait, Wait (or maybe you recall him from the heyday of The Daily Show when he, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell dominated the reports). Now he’s added to his resume as the host for Cooking Channel’s Food(ography) — perhaps the last show he thought he’d be on.

“I was approached to host this and seemed like an odd fit,” he says. “My only experience with cooking food at all is none. I don’t even have salt in my apartment. My kitchen is totally virgin territory. But I needed the work!”

What he didn’t want was to look a fool on camera — although he admits knowing nothing about cooking, he didn’t want to be put in the position of looking like he knew nothing. Instead, the show allows Rocca to use both his comic and journalistic talents to tell the stories of food and its history and how it becomes something else altogether.

“Food has become more the portal into discussing food and history and life. Getting through to people through the stomach because hopefully we all sit down to eat. This is my long way of saying I like talking about history and I get to do it through food.”

He’d dare to call it the best show he’s worked for … this coming from the guy with no salt.

“I went in for a paycheck and have fallen in love with it.”

Rocca juggles that gig using his shtick on the as-fun radio show Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me, which covers current topics with a rotating panel of guests (including fellow queermedian Paula Poundstone) as they test their knowledge with hilarious results.

“Oh, it’s both fun and easy,” he says. “I didn’t know the show because I don’t listen to radio, but I’m able to be funny because I don’t have to create the stuff. It’s there already.”

Which means less work for the clever comedian. With his wit, funny would seem to come as second nature. Instead, Rocca makes it sound oh-so-painful.

“Making something funny is hard work,” he says with breathy emphasis on the hard work. “If I do a piece for CBS Sunday Morning, it’s like crapping out a pineapple. It is so hard to get that thing out.  I think President Reagan used that term first.”

With NPR being in such hot water these days, Rocca didn’t pull out the whole pledge plea. He thinks NPR could actually go in a different direction with funding.

“I do feel badly about [the scrutiny] and it is tricky,” he says. “This is a great product, but if it’s so great then why do we need taxpayer money? I am reluctant to say that, but the reality of it is, it sure would be a whole lot more convenient. But if we didn’t have NPR, the void would be filled by more opinion. And that’s just what we need!”

He jests of course.

Rocca will appear in North Texas Monday as part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s Arts and Letters Live series, but he’s no stranger to the area. His first job in television was here, writing and producing for the children’s show Wishbone. The gig was great, but he does have his regrets.

“I used to live in Plano,” he says. “It was such a mistake. I thought I needed to live near work and the studio was in Plano. You know, plano means flat in Spanish, and it was and there were all these McMansions… ugh.”

If only Rocca had gotten the show he really hoped for when he got there.

“Yeah, I didn’t get the gig at co-hosting Plano Tonight.”

He jests again — but who would put that past Plano?

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Ladies: fair, well or other

Lyric brilliantly does Shaw; KDT feels ‘Betrayal;’ Echo wants us to get ‘Well’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

LOVERLY  |  Kimberly Whalen and J. Brent Alford give soaring performances in Lyric Stage’s masterful version of ‘My Fair Lady,’ with a 38-piece orchestra.
LOVERLY | Kimberly Whalen and J. Brent Alford give soaring performances in Lyric Stage’s masterful version of ‘My Fair Lady,’ with a 38-piece orchestra.

ON THE BOARDS
MY FAIR LADY at the Irving Arts Center, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving. Through Sunday.

BETRAYAL at the MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through Oct. 10.
WELL at the Bathhouse Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Through Sept. 25.

The opening overture to My Fair Lady was, to every gay boy with a turntable between 1956 and about 1986, the soundtrack that began the coming out process. Hearing the clipped joy of “You Did It,” followed by the romantic strains of “On The Street Where You Live” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” while staring at the Al Hirschfeld drawing on the LP, started many a musical theater queen’s career.

And I’m sorry, but modern musical productions, with their synthesizers and five-piece combos, just can’t compare to hearing a full 38 musician orchestra in a pit recreate what opening night must have been like in the heyday of Broadway.

I know this for a fact, because Lyric Stage has tackled My Fair Lady like no one anywhere has, probably in a generation. A painted curtain; a dancing and singing ensemble well into double-digits. And actors who really know what they’re doing. The cost is so prohibitive that even with arts grant checks in hand, it can run only two weekends; this is the second; and you must see it.

The familiar tale of ‘enry ‘iggins (J. Brent Alford, all but channeling the ghost of Rex Harrison) who turns common guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle (Kimberly Whalen, who should have a few Tony Awards by now if talent had anything to do with it) is perhaps the best musical ever. It’s about two gay men (Higgins and Pickering — what, no one told you?) who play dress-up with a teenager who becomes their living doll.

CHEATERS  |  A romantic triangle gets its post-mortem in Nobel Prizewinner Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ at Kitchen Dog. (Photo by Matt Mrozek)
CHEATERS | A romantic triangle gets its post-mortem in Nobel Prizewinner Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ at Kitchen Dog. (Photo by Matt Mrozek)

There’s no real romance — barely even a kiss. The closest it comes to big production numbers are the sidewalk busking of Cockneys, led by Alfie (Sonny Franks, who’s electrifying). The costumes are frivolous and extravagant, the scene changes numerous and necessary. It shouldn’t work at all. And it works completely.

Director-choreographer Len Pfluger doesn’t fuss much with the original, down to the exquisitely dressed “Ascot Gavotte” number — a high point of Act 1 in which none of the stars appear. You simply don’t find a musical so led by plot more than personality, by character more than conceit, anymore. The Carpenter Performance Hall transmogrifies from a stage to a time machine before our eyes: We’re back when Broadway shaped pop culture. Half a century later, My Fair Lady is again the can’t-miss production of the year.

The first act of My Fair Lady is longer than the entirety of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, now at Kitchen Dog Theater; it doesn’t feel that way. Pinter plays tend to be so… so… Pinteresque: Long pauses, awkward silences, not too much humor.

And there’s the plotting, often labyrinthine, moody and obscure. But when it clicks — even if just for moments — it can be exhilarating. This production has too few of those moments.

Betrayal is one of Pinter’s most celebrated plays, telling the story of a romantic triangle in reverse chronological order: We start with the adulterers (Leah Spillman, Max Hartman) after their affair has ended and work our way back to its inception.

The conceit sounds gimmicky, but it’s actually quite astute. We all experience relationships, especially failed ones, retrospectively. “How did we get here?” we ask. What signs did I miss?” It’s the post-mortem we all want to do with clarity.

Only it’s Pinter, so clarity is a secondary, even tertiary concern. What is the bigger betrayal: cheating on your husband or on your lover with your husband? Or is it really the men (Hartman and Cameron Cobb), best friends, who are cheating on each other with a woman? (Pinter often deals in the subtext of repressed homosexuality.) Can you consent to be being betrayed, or is tacit betrayal called something else entirely — like “life?”

This production, directed by Tina Parker, raised these questions but, like Bryan Wofford’s expressionistic set, doesn’t answer them or even come close. Without much energy to sustain it, it gets its dramatic oomph from tension. And I just didn’t feel much. Passive-aggression is infuriating in real life; it’s not much better on stage.

If I correctly interpreted the message to Well, presented by Echo Theatre at the Bathhouse Cultural Center — and there’s a good chance I didn’t — it’s that lesbianism cures allergies. Yeah, I probably got that wrong.

This quasi-autobiographical tale is about how playwright and actress Lisa Kron (Kristin McCollum) grew up in a family, and a community, where sickness was presumed. It’s not quite hypochondria, but it’s not healthy, either. Lisa herself was intensely studied for severe allergies, which (and the play never makes this clear) may have been all in her head, planted there by her mother Ann (Sylvia Luedtke).

Well is more akin to performance art than play; it interacts with the audience directly, but preciously so (when things go wrong, they are meant to seem like they are going wrong in real time, even though they are scripted). It’s part and parcel with a whole slew of po-mo theater pieces, including The Road to Qatar! and [title of show], where the shows are about the making of themselves. It’s a funhouse mirror room that has begun to wear thin.

This show is a little too loosey-goosey (and, at 90 minutes, too long), though the performances by McCollum, Luedtke and Molly Milligan as uber-sick patient Joy are engaging. I might like to see it on a double-bill with Sick; we could choose a winner and the other would close the next night. That would be Darwinian theater at its finest.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Will Day of Decision turnout rival 2009?

We hear there’s going to be a Prop 8 “Day of Decision” rally at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Legacy of Love Monument, but thus far we’ve been unable to get in touch with the organizers. The Facebook event page lists Daniel Cates as the contact person. The Equality Across Texas website lists Cd Kirven. We’ve got e-mails and phone messages in to both of them. Here’s the bulk message we received from Cates on Facebook this morning:

The ruling on the Prop 8 case will be issued today.. most likely between 1-3pm.. WIN OR LOSE the Dallas/ Fort Worth LGBT Community will gather at the Legacy of Love Monument at Cedar Springs and Oaklawn to either celebrate a historic victory for our community or protest another defeat! Please make plans to attend, bring signs, bull horns, flags and loud loud voices!

And from the Facebook page for the event:

Whether we celebrate or protest, we will stand together in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in California, and with hope for a future that includes equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all fifty states. Hope will never be silent.

In November 2008, Proposition 8 was passed in California, overturning the state’s Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Effectively, this is the first time in our great nation’s history that a right was taken away from a select portion of our demographic make up.

The fight for equal rights under the law has been a long, hard struggle the GLBT community has faced for years. This ruling has the potential to be the platform for the national legalization of same-sex marriage. Whether we are celebrating a victory or protesting another loss, our voices WILL be heard.

In May 2009, the Day of Decision rally seemed a little better organized. Of course back then Queer LiberAction was in its heyday. After gathering around the Legacy of Love Monument, a crowd of hundreds marched down Cedar Springs Road to the TMC patio, blocking traffic in what was a pretty compelling display (shown above). This was followed on the jam-packed patio by a series of speakers, many of whom called out President Barack Obama.

We’re sure there’s going to be a rally this evening, but it’s a little unclear how it will play out. Who will be the speakers? Will there be a march? What will be the message? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

—  John Wright