9:57 am Jun. 6, 2012
The mass of New Yorkers crammed into the top floor of the Barnes & Noble in Union Square last night almost defied belief, even on the evening when a native daughter, and one of the raunchiest, most disarming, and hardest-working women in showbiz, Joan Rivers, was putting in an appearance.
She got a cheering, standing ovation right when she walked in.
Before the event got under way, a Barnes & Noble employee helpfully warned any customers with small children that they might want to leave pretty soon—adding, “Ladies and gentlemen, seriously, I really have no idea what the hell we are in for this evening.” In that department, Rivers did not disappoint.
“Being in a bookstore is like the best thing in the world … fuck all these iPads!” was her opener.
The bookstore event was timed with yesterday’s release of Rivers’ new book—her seventh—I Hate Everyone … Starting with Me. So it was fitting that the trash-talking commenced immediately. Rather than discuss the book directly, Rivers answered questions from the audience, but every question prompted a mini-stand-up act on celebrities and pop culture. Her victims included, but were not limited to: Lindsay Lohan, the Kardashians, John Travolta, Goldie Hawn, Siri Cruise, Mexicans, and the Holocaust. She said things about Angelina Jolie that should probably never be repeated, ever—let alone said over the P.A. system in a bookstore when it’s still light out.
She reveled in the raunch, and the groans just seemed to egg her on. She assured the audience that every one of them would be offended at some point while reading the book, because nobody got a pass—not even she. She said she wished people would stop being so uptight.
“I don’t say mean things, I say true things,” she said. “There’s a big difference.” When one particularly shocking line about Princess Diana caused a loud, collective gasp, Rivers grinned: "and that’s why a lot of you will return the book tomorrow!”
Rivers had an impressive way of turning the most innocent questions around. One man earnestly asked about the writing process for the book. Rivers started to explain how disorganized her note-taking was, but then said that she liked to keep her bedroom nice in case of any unexpected one-night stands; within just a few words she had launched into a long joke about the difficulty of having a one-night stand at her age (the punchline involved diapers).
When someone in the audience asked Rivers what she was most proud of, she said her daughter first, and second, the longevity of her own career—she turns 79 this week. Another woman asked whether Rivers had any advice for maintaining her energy level. Before she could even finish the question, Rivers' answer came quick: “Drugs.” When the laughter died down after that, she got (a little bit) serious. Everyone in the room had probably gone through difficult things, she said. Sometimes life is hard, but we survive.
“All I’ve learned is just keep moving,” she said. “Go through the shit as quickly as you can. Winston Churchill said, ‘When you’re in hell, walk faster.’”
The biggest cheers of the night came when Rivers answered a question about her opinion of the presidential election.
“Both sides are shit, and I think they should take all the money they spend on this campaigning, and put it in the education system,” she said. “And we should have a woman president.”
But because she just couldn’t resist, she followed that up with: “Meryl Streep would have made a great president. Wasn’t she great in Precious? She can play any role.”
After just about 25 minutes, Rivers wrapped up her rapid-fire Q&A and settled into a chair on the stage to sign and personalize books for the hundreds of fans waiting to meet her. There were two and a half hours left until the store would close for the night, and the bookstore employees seemed genuinely concerned that Rivers wouldn’t get to everyone before then.
One woman seated in the audience remarked that she hadn’t seen the store so full since Toni Morrison spoke there. Another woman said she hadn’t seen a similar crowd there since Jimmy Fallon visited. Neither of those speakers likely elicited the kind of audience response that Rivers did, though—the shock, and the glee, were palpable.
During the whole outrageous evening, though, there was one thing that definitely didn’t happen: she didn’t die.
“Wouldn’t you be lucky—if I died tonight, you would all be invited to dinner for months, you know that, right?” she said, to huge laughs. “They’d say, ‘You were there?’ And you’d say, ‘Yeah! She was on the stage, at Barnes & Noble, she fell over, her face didn’t move, and we all thought, Botox!’”
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