Joan Rivers storms out of CNN interview, but was she genuinely upset?


Joan Rivers at SiriusXM  in New York City. (Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Sirius XM)

Who knew Joan Rivers was so sensitive?

The 81-year-old star stormed out of a CNN interview over the holiday weekend after being criticized by the news anchor. This was, by the way, about a minute after Rivers defended her right to do what she does best as a comedian: Criticize people.

Hypocrisy aside, it’s hard to imagine Rivers, who has dealt with every kind of name calling and backlash over her decades-long career, would really get that angry about a relatively harmless interview. During the exchange, CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield called Rivers out for a) being mean on “Fashion Police”; b) suggested that perhaps joking about Casey Anthony’s dead child may have crossed line; and c) noted that Rivers, an animal rights activist, was just asking for controversy when she wore fur on the cover of her new book.

Maybe Rivers assumed she was going on “CNN Newsroom” to simply plug her book and wasn’t going to have to deal with pesky questions about her controversial act. It’s possible she was having a bad day. The last thing we would expect is that she was actually upset. Is Rivers more thin-skinned than she lets on?

The trouble started when Whitfield remarked that Rivers has best-selling books, sells out shows and also has a plum gig as a fashion critic. “While it’s very mean in some ways, people can’t wait to hear what you have to say,” Whitfield begin.

“It’s not mean, it’s not mean, it’s not mean,” Rivers interrupted.

“Really?” laughed Whitfield. “It’s not mean?”

“It’s not mean,” Rivers confirmed. “I tell the truth. I’m sure I say the same things that all your viewers say to their friends sitting next to them on the couch. We’re one of the few shows that says, ‘That’s an ugly dress,’ and that’s okay.”

“These ladies make $28 million a picture,” she continued. “You really think Nicki Minaj cares I didn’t like her dress? When you’re in that kind of a bracket, you don’t really care…it’s not about them, it’s clothing.”

Whitfield brought up the fact that in Rivers’s new book, “Diary of a Mad Diva,” Rivers jokes about Casey Anthony and Princess Diana. “Do you feel there are boundaries ever? Even if it makes people uncomfortable and offends people?” she asked.

“Life is very tough,” Rivers shot back. “And if you can make a joke to make something easier, and funny, do it…and maybe you take the take the worst thing in the world and make it funny, it’s a vacation for a minute from horror.”

“People love to laugh, clearly, that’s why people love you,” Whitfield conceded cheerfully. Then she brought up that Rivers is wearing a fur coat on her book cover, and started to say, “You have some shock value to you.”

Rivers was not pleased with that comment. “This whole interview is becoming a defensive interview. Are you wearing leather shoes? Then shut up,” she said. “I don’t want to hear it.”

Whitfield, who was indeed wearing leather shoes, tried to protest that she doesn’t call herself an animal rights activist, and continued that some people were upset by Rivers’ choice. At that point, Rivers had enough.

“You know what? I’m going. I really am going. Because all you’ve done is negative,” she said, getting even more riled up. “I make people laugh for 50 years, I am put on Earth to make people laugh, my book is funny. I wear fur that was killed 15 years ago, I work for animal rights. Stop it with ‘You do this’ and ‘You’re mean’ and ‘You’re that.’ You are not the one to interview a person who does humor. Sorry.”

Then she got up and left.

Whitfield was stunned. She later stressed that it was not a stunt — Rivers didn’t return to the interview, and dropped some “rather unflattering” four-letter words as she stormed off camera.

Though Rivers seemed genuinely upset, it’s still hard to accept the fact that the comedian who said the kidnapped women in Cleveland got to “live rent free for more than a decade” would get so unnerved when someone calls her mean and/or hypocritical.

If it’s a publicity stunt, it’s a great one — but in the likely event that she really did take the criticisms to heart, well, it appears we’re in a new Joan Rivers era.

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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