I made Joan Rivers laugh.
Of course she made me laugh, like she did to millions of others through her decades-long, often unfiltered, and ever-funny career, but yes, I made Joan Rivers laugh.
At the time, I was working at the celebrity-obsessed New York Post, and as the features writer for its women’s section, I had reason to ring up the raspy-voiced, Brooklyn-born blonde for a quickie. I had to grab a quote for some story that I was writing. As I recall, the conversation had turned to food, a favorite subject of the Jewish woman on my end of the phone, and, apparently, of that Jewish woman on the other end as well. Joan told me that she just adored the creamed spinach served at the legendary Brooklyn restaurant, Peter Luger’s – a must-have accompaniment to its famous and robust steaks. Joan told me she would dine there with a hairdresser-to-the-stars, the late Kenneth Battelle. (She kept her physique petite with this practice: She never ate anything after 3 p.m. If she did find herself dining with someone, she popped Altoids to keep her mouth busy.)
As for our brief telephone conversation, the details of the food I can remember. I could even conjure up the velvety creaminess of that spinach side dish she described. But what I actually said to make Joan Rivers laugh – whether I rolled off some smart remark, good joke, or off-the-cuff quip to shore up reporter repartee – I cannot for the life of me recall.
But I did make Joan Rivers laugh. That I will never forget.
On another occasion, I met Joan Rivers when she hosted a press event that I covered for the same newspaper, which featured a bevy of literary lionesses that included Tama Janowitz, Rona Jaffe, Nancy Friday, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Erica Jong, and Olivia Goldsmith. They gathered the best-selling authors to script a show for a new romance channel that would be launched on cable television. The show’s topic was Princess Di (before Diana’s untimely death). As if these best-selling authors weren’t playing enough of an entertaining game of verbal ping-pong, Joan Rivers tied the gossip-fest together with her signature snarky style.
Joan Rivers was many things. Mother of Melissa. Grandmother of Cooper. Nonstop career woman. Pioneer. Philanthropist. Proud Jew and staunch supporter of Israel.
The child of Russian Jewish immigrants, Joan Alexandra Molinsky went beyond just talk when it came to Israel and Jewish causes. She made pro-Israeli political donations. She worked for LGBT equality in Israel. She became a viral video sensation, condemning Hamas and its rocket attacks against Israel in a no-holds-barred impromptu interview, and then voiced her support on Israeli news shows this past summer. She even got a tattoo this year. The “6M” on the inside of her arm stood for six million killed by the Nazis in World War II.
Not surprisingly, among the avalanche of condolences following her September 4 death was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who sent his to her family.
The star-studded September 7 sendoff for the 81-year-old at Manhattan’s Temple Emanuel-El, replete with laughter, music, and even a red carpet, was, according to those closest to Joan Rivers, a fitting tribute to her life, one in which she hoped to make people happy.
May her memory always be for a blessing, and may it ever keep us laughing.