“I have to work,” comedian Joan Rivers told Post reporter W.H. Mannville backstage in 1967 after killing it at the now defunct Manhattan nightclub Downstairs at the Upstairs. Only seven years into her career and Joan Rivers was already surprising reporters with the fearless drive and rapier wit that made her a success and unforgettable to the world.
We invite you to step back into that smoky nightclub and catch a glimpse of Joan River’s act, as told by Manville, almost 50 years ago:
She waits for the laugh, and the spotlight, falling across her anxious, narrow, pretty face, fills the hollows beneath her thin cheekbones with shadows. During her act Joan rushes around the stage, peering into the blackness. “And when you’re single?” she goes on. “The girl has to wait for the dumb phone to ring, but a man can call anyone he wants in the whole world: ‘Hello, I just saw your name on a men’s-room wall, and thought I’d give you a cal …’ A single girl, she’s 30, she’s an old maid. A man, he’s 90 years old, he’s single, he’s a catch. ‘We have an extra man.’ ‘Bring him along.’ He’s 93.’ Bring him, bring him.’ ‘He’s dead.’ BRING HIM! We’ll just say he’s shy.'”
“When it all started,” Rivers told Mannville after the show, “when I told my mother and father I was going into the business, they didn’t speak to me for a year. To them it was showbiz first, and next, white slavery in Argentina, right? The yelling scene the day I told them! My mother ran around the house slamming the windows shut. She didn’t want the neighbors to hear what a scandal her daughter had become.
“But I had to be a success,” Rivers continued. “Anyway, after the argument with my parents, I left. I never asked them for a penny again. It was never offered. I slept in my car that night. It wasn’t the last time.”
Excerpt from “Who Are You, Joan?” by W.H. Mann, The Saturday Evening Post, July 1, 1967, photos by Stephen Manville.