Joan Rivers Gave Me Pleasure

By on September 5, 2014

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In late 2001, I became the producer of Joan Rivers nationally syndicated radio show on WOR.  When I went in for the interview (which meant I was going to produce the show for a night), I was told not to get my hopes up. For starters, Joan only needed a part-time producer, and I wanted a full-time gig. There were other reasons too, but nothing that needs to be shared right here. Basically, I was convinced Joan wouldn’t like me and so I went in with a “Screw You” professional attitude.

The show ran smoothly and I got a call the next day that Joan really liked me, and not only did she want to hire me, but she wanted to hire me full time. The program director said she was pretty adamant about it. So, after leaving radio for sex education, I found myself back in radio, staring across the glass at the woman that made television history by being a funny and pregnant talk show host.

Getting to know Joan was a gift I will always cherish. If you look up the definition of energy in motion, I think there should be a picture of her surgically enhanced face. Joan never stopped working, or moving, even when she was sitting down and making radio. While she was on air, she would be passing jokes back and forth with the other two writers in the room. If she wasn’t doing jokes, she was practicing drawing in her sketchbook, working on light and shadow and profiles of faces or pictures of houses. Besides being a funny lady, Joan was a really good sketch artist too.

Joan loved M&M’s, and I’m wondering if Mars, Inc. will need to produce less M&M’s now that she’s gone. On her way into the studio every night, she’d quickly scatter through the news room asking everyone she passed to open their hands so she could pour some M&M’s into their palms. By the time she got to her studio, she’d have less than a third of the bag left for herself. She didn’t care, because she loved to share. Joan was a solid giver – whether it was M&M’s or advice about how to keep on keeping on.

Before one show, she took me for a manicure and I remember admiring her beautiful nails. When I asked her if her nails were real, she said, “Honey, nothing on this body is real.” She wasn’t ashamed of her plastic surgery or her desire to keep looking younger.

There are so many “I’ll never forget moments” when it came to working with Joan, but one in particular almost got us fired. We worked at a liberal, yet fairly conservative, talk radio station, where the dump button would be activated, if say, you ever talked about taking a dump. So…while I worked as Joan Rivers radio producer during the week, on weekends I also worked at Babeland in lower Manhattan. One night, when guests were done and the show seemed slow, Joan called me into the studio. She sat me down at a microphone across from hers, looked at her older, gay writer and her younger, straight one, and then looked right at me and said, “So, Jamye, tell us, what’s selling big in sex toys these days?”

For those who know me, and those who don’t, you now know that I have a leaky filter, meaning, if you ask me about something, I may just give you a TMI answer. That means I often say anything, even if “anything” wasn’t appropriate for WOR Radio. And since I knew how to use words that wouldn’t get me dumped, no good was going to come from that question. So, I brought up something that I thought Joan would get a kick out of. I brought up Bend Over Boyfriend. For those who don’t know, Bend Over Boyfriend is a series of educational videos that showed how a woman could use a dildo and harness to have strap-on sex with a man. Joan and her cohorts had a field day with this new information.

The next day, when I walked into work, I was met with uncomfortable stares and snickers of disgust. One producer came up to me and said that he couldn’t believe that I talked about anal sex on the air. Truth was, I hadn’t really thought about what we did, since I had talked about anal sex on the air on other shows, shows where it was okay to talk about sex. And since I had done it on radio before, I figured doing it on radio again would be alright. It wasn’t. Later that week, Joan and I both got called in to the General Managers office. He had received one complaint, from some old lady in Arkansas, who had sent him a hand written letter about the filthy Joan Rivers Show. Joan’s advice to me was to write two more letters stating that our show was the best one she’d ever done.

Joan always persevered. She was a survivor. Even when she hit rockbottom, after her husband’s suicide and the cancellation of her FOX show, Joan found a way to rise again. That second act was good to her and she was good to everyone who played a role in it.

Joan knew how to make me laugh, and yeah, she also knew how to piss me off, especially when she tried to cancel a guest who was already in the Green Room for his views on Palestine. But still, for the most part, Joan Rivers brought laughter and love wherever she left her trail of M&M’s. And even though she was mega-famous, she acted as if we were all part of the act.

Although I’m sad she’s gone, the fact that she died relevant and popular (despite having some unpopular views) is a testament to the pleasure she found in her work.

I am honored that for a blip in time I had a front row seat to the Joan Rivers Show. I watched Joan shine, I watched her bomb (in a crowded room once where she tried out a “Windows on the Ground’ 9.11 joke a little too soon), and I watched her work non-stop every day and every night. She loved her family and she loved the fame, and she paved the way for women to be appreciated, and paid, for being funny, sassy and sarcastic.

Rest in peace, Joan. You are already missed.


What did you love about Joan Rivers?

If you want to get to know Joan better, watch Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.