Joan Rivers, who for more than a half-century has turned her life inside out for comedy, is starting her fourth season doing just that for the reality show she shares with her daughter, Melissa.
Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? finds Joan making a sex tape; attending a lacrosse game where Melissa picks a fight with her teenage son’s coach and consoling Melissa after her boyfriend is caught in a compromising position.
She also mourns the death of her beloved dog, Max, then stages a splendiferous funeral that includes a chorus, an avant-garde poet and a male ballerina in a tutu.
“The vet said Max could have been anywhere from 11 to 14 years old,” says Joan solemnly, then eases into a wisecrack: “You can usually check a dog’s teeth, but Max lived for a while in California, so they were capped.”
She and Melissa have invited a reporter to hear about their show’s new season, which tracks this mother-daughter duo in their professional pursuits (including production of their weekly E! series, Fashion Police, and her online talk show, In Bed With Joan) as well as shining a glaring light into their personal lives.
“It’s no-holds-barred,” says Joan proudly.
Item: On one episode, Rivers, at 80 years old, goes to heroic lengths to undo her history as a fashionista and a frequent flier to her plastic surgeon’s office. She wants to look more age-appropriate to land an acting role as a senior on a proposed TV drama series, and prepares herself, stripped of any vanity, with what she calls — no, not a makeover — but instead “a make-UNDER”.
For this recent interview, though, she is every bit the Joan the world knows and loves: nipped, tucked and coiffed to a T. You ask who is she wearing? A shocking pink Armani jacket, Chanel slacks, Manolos, a necklace from her own Joan Rivers collection “and a Hermes knockoff that I got in China. Come as close as you want, mister,” she boasts as she holds up the baby-soft handbag, “you’re not gonna tell the difference!”
Joan & Melissa came about when Joan, who lives on the Upper East Side, began routinely crashing with her daughter, an Angeleno, to tape the LA-based Fashion Police.
“She’d be in my house two or three days a week,” Melissa recalls. “Then, during one of our many moments of chaos, someone said, ‘This is truly like a reality show.’ And the next thing you know, it’s an actual reality show.”
Melissa, clad hopefully spring-ish on this frigid day in a turtleneck and brightly patterned Alexander McQueen skirt, first partnered on-air with Joan 20 years ago to cover red carpet awards events for E!
Live fashion coverage was new to TV, and mother and daughter were slammed for indulging in such shallowness.
Joan shrugs. “What are the stars wearing? Are they drunk, are they high? And do they look like they’re still happy together? That’s what your friends are talking about! Luckily, we were both very shallow, so that’s what we talked about, too. And still do, as reflected in both Joan & Melissa and Fashion Police.”
“We promote shallowness across all platforms,” says Melissa with a laugh.
But living life, however shallow, on a reality show can get deeply complicated for those it exposes.
“You come down in the morning and bump into crew members on the stairs,” Joan says.
“They come into my room while I’m asleep to pre-light,” says Melissa. “I pull the covers over my head.”
“It’s going to be easier next year,” Joan predicts. “We’re gonna use drones.”
This year, there was one development the probing cameras didn’t catch: Joan got a tattoo.
A couple of seasons ago, viewers saw her visit a tattoo parlour with a chum, then, in her words, “chicken out” before her chosen bumblebee design found its way to her derriere.
Three weeks ago, with her same friend in tow, she got inked.
“Margie and I walk into this Village tattoo parlour, two old blond Jewish women,” she laughs as she slides up her left sleeve. In simple characters each barely a half-inch tall, “6M” is tattooed on the inside of her arm.
“It stands for the six million Jews that were killed in Auschwitz,” she says. “I didn’t put this in the show, because it’s a serious thing. I didn’t tell anybody until it was over: ‘Guess what I did this afternoon?’”
Since the subject has been raised, Melissa now has an announcement: She’s considering a tattoo on her wrist. Joan isn’t pleased: It might be too big and too visible.
“You’ll be terribly sorry,” she warns.
“I already have TWO!”
“Yeah, but they’re hidden. I’m just pleading with you,” she persists. “You may, in five years, not want something there. And apparently it’s agony to get it off.”
“Mom! I’ve had two.”
“One’s on my ankle.”
“But we don’t look at your ankles,” Joan says. “And you can always cover them.”
Yes, this makes a pretty great reality show.