Joan Rivers on her Highs and Lows and Bitingly Honest Comedy

Joan Rivers is setting up what sounds like one of her notoriously naughty jokes. “I once was in a delicatessen. At the table were Woody Allen, Dick Cavett, Rodney Dangerfield and Richard Pryor,” she says. “And when my husband came in to meet us, he said, ‘You look like four undertakers. I’ve never seen such a sad, pathetic, not-laughing group of people.’ ” She pauses to emit one of her signature sandpaper laughs before dropping the punch line, which is shocking, but not in the way you’d expect. “I’m very shy,” she admits. “I like to think of myself in public as a champion of women’s rights and people’s rights and big and loud and screaming about it. But in private, if I don’t know you, I don’t talk.”

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