Laugh Her a Rivers

Odds are theater-goers are able to pay with plastic to see Joan Rivers' autobiographical play now at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

And why not? Plastic's done well by her!

Ironic that the woman whose hilarious high jinks and self-deprecating digs about her many matchups with plastic surgeons are, actually, the real thing.

Validation on Valentine's Day? In a somersault of a life, it's been more than nip, tuck and role: Rivers may very well be the Auntie Mame for the new millennium.

The stream-of-consciousness Rivers doesn't go with the flow as much as create it. And what she's created for "Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress," which just opened is a progressive backstage look at how a Barnard student with honors graduated to one of the most honorific posts in punchline history.

Joan Molinsky, you done good!

And done a lot: Comedian, author, playwright, actress, director, newspaper columnist, TV star, designer. Indeed, her classic jewelry collection is being featured this weekend by QVC on its cablecast.

What this funniest of funny valentines has discovered at age 74 is that it's good to be queen, especially when the throne is gilded without Jewish guilt of not having tried your best.

Well, there are the swear words she made onstage while the queen of quips performed before Queen Elizabeth at the 79th Royal Variety Performance last December in London. Second thoughts? Third-degree burnout? No apologies: "I am what I am," she swears.

And what she is is a savvy septuagenarian and, maybe, the world's sexiest grandmom.

"Oh, God, please, I can barely keep up with him," she says of 7-year-old grandson Cooper via daughter Melissa, her frequent partner in criminally comic on-air comments about the rich and famously badly dressed.

Dressing down those dressed up has created a fashionable boon to the Rivers career over the years. And if the red carpet seems a bit frayed after she was bumped unkindly from one network a couple of seasons back, no one pulls the rug out from under Rivers without hearing about it.

Not even cyberspace is spared. And that's where Rivers riffed last year for the Emmys on behalf of VH1. And if she had that holiday spirit, no wonder: "What a way to kick off the Jewish New Year," she blogged. "The ratings will be lower than the year 5764."

They like her, they really like her — even with comments she made about Sally Field winning the Emmy: "All over America, women with osteoporosis are giving her a stooping ovation!"

She stoops to conquer and elevates the art of sardonic comedy in the process. Mirthful troublemaker? Well, Rivers was one of the stars of the documentary "Making Trouble," which focuses on a sextet of Jewish comedians.

And now, Rivers is taking her act to the stage, not exactly unfriendly turf for the tough-talkin' Phi Beta Kappa keyscraper of a comic. This is her third time as author/actress onstage, having won a Tony-award nomination as best actress in "Sally Marr and Her Escorts."

Accompanying Rivers now is the gestalt of her times. And what a time she's had, revisiting the guff and greatness — and those Geico moments — at the Geffen, thanks to a life sensationally lived, with all the heartbreak — husband Edgar Rosenberg committed suicide more than 20 years ago in Philadelphia — and heartfelt lust for life that would give Van Gogh an earful.

As her play's notes explain: "Set immediately before a big awards preshow, Rivers uses her dressing room (B, not A), her cheese plate (puny, not plentiful) and her producer (the bigwig's nephew, not the bigwig), as impetus for an introspective look at aging, going through life's ups and downs and being a woman in Hollywood."

She is woman, hear her roar? Indeed, the mouth that roars is a riot, as Atlantic City audiences have been well aware of over the years.

And as Rivers reads the graffiti on the wall, she knows there's much to come in her career. Indeed, there's that possible sitcom in which "I'll play either somebody's grandmother or the bitchy neighbor."

And this self-described big-mouth broad may be headed for Broadway after L.A.

"I hope it'll head East," she says of the "Progress" progression. "I'm a New York girl after all."

And after all is said and done — and quipped and coiffed — there are some challenges left.

Joan Rivers: The Opera? "Never say no to anything," reveals Rivers of her mansion-building mantra.

Laugh her a Rivers: "If I wake up one day with that kind of operatic voice … well, I'd play 'Norma' just to show up Maria Callas!" u



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