Joan Rivers. Tonight. In an intimate London theatre. We SO had to be there.
In a rare fit of splashing out, Londonist emptied its collective wallets onto the floor, booked 'Diamond' tickets ("Best seats; Goodie bag; Get to meet Joan!") and almost sprinted to Leicester Square Theatre. There we saw the mistress of the red carpet swap it for a live stage instead. Could she put on a show of interest and worth for almost two hours (without an interval)?
Three things everyone knows about Joan Rivers - 1. she's ascerbic; 2. she's old (75); and 3. she's had more plastic surgery than Cher, and is refreshingly honest about it. All three featured hugely in tonight's show. She got a huge round of applause when she walked on (which she put down to the fact that she succeeded in walking on unaided, and as a 185-year old woman we were all impressed that she didn't fall over, wet herself or die.)
The show took the form of a play about a moment in Rivers' career, and she spent most of the time stepping out of the play to talk directly to the audience. The whole thing worked most of the time - her one-liners and great stories (such as how she got the Queen to laugh) repeatedly hit the spot, making the audience gasp and holler in amusement. Sometimes the play itself lost a bit of drive, but it didn't matter - you knew that in 3 minutes time you'd be laughing your head off. Or maybe that was just Londonist? Oops.
The real surprise for us? Probably the disarming bittersweet moments. Rivers spoke of her husband's suicide, of being cut off by her daughter, and her fall-out with talk show maestro Johnny Carson - all in direct and obviously emotional terms. Tonight we saw the viper-tongued bitchy commentator fleshed out into a disarming human being right in front of us. Like a good episode of the Golden Girls, even though you know it's all scripted, it still worked - and the poignancy somehow gave the jokes extra 'umph'.
After a 10-minute break she came out for the promised meet-and-greet. Despite being shattered, the septuagenarian was in no rush to go, and spent ages chatting to fans and having her picture taken with them. It felt exactly like those periods in her life she'd spoken about, when she had no job and so worked in strip joints and - eventually - ended up taking the supposedly dead-end, awful job of standing in the heat trying to catch the eye of celebrities. She knew the value of investing time with an audience, and working like a professional.
We shouldn't spoil the show by revealing too much, but we'll share three opening one-liners:
* "You are *such* a cunt. What's the masculine equivalent of a cunt? Oh yes - Russell Crowe"
* "Working with Barbara, she taught me that there was no "I" in team. But there certainly *was* one in Streisand"
* "I had to arse-lick so much to get the right jobs that I used to put Anusol on my lips"
Well worth going. Joan Rivers - 'A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress', is at Leicester Square Theatre from 29 August - 18 September, and from 2 December - 29 January. Tickets from £35 here.
Image from Jen_Mo's Flickrstream