Can We Talk?

11.24.12

My Thanksgiving With Joan Rivers

This author is thankful for friends, family—and spending the holiday at the home of a famous comedienne dressed in a black gown with a feather ruff.

This Thanksgiving, several weeks post-Sandy—after my electricity and heat were finally turned back on—I prepared to go to Thanksgiving at Joan Rivers’s house.

It’s an annual thing. My parents are in Ohio and, frankly, I hate traveling on Thanksgiving. It’s like swimming upstream in a sea of mud, and you get to pay double for the pleasure. About five years ago, my friend Caroline Waxler started inviting me to her Aunt Joan’s for Turkey Day. I’ve been going ever since.

Most people know Joan from her stand-up or TV career, or from the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. I’m lucky enough to know her from her family. Over the years I’ve become friends with her daughter Melissa (whose son Cooper is quite possibly the best company anyone could ever ask for, seriously) and always love hanging out with Caroline and her husband, Michael. I also look forward to the motley crew of orphans Joan assembles at her 35–40-seat table each year.

There are the regulars: her writer, Larry Amoros; publicist Scott Currie; writer Nancy Collins; neighbors Cynthia and Fred Maltese; and gossip grande dame Aileen Mehle. (Here’s a hint: always try and score a seat next to Aileen. The woman knows everyone and everything.) And there are the people who make appearances every other year, like Blaine Trump, Amir and Tas Dossal, who work for the U.N., or the occasional Broadway actress or singer.

It’s always interesting, and this year was no different. After crowdsourcing what to wear on Twitter (I chose a red dress), I showed up at Joan’s Upper East Side enclave only to be faced with a reality crew—Joan and Melissa were shooting this year’s feast as part of their WE TV show Joan Knows Best—that was crowding the Versailles-themed living room and dining room.

Cocktails are served from 5:30 to 6:30. The dinner, which many people eat at 3 p.m., starts so late as Joan spends the day every year delivering food for God’s Love We Deliver. Joan’s comedian friends Tony and Lynne, who are featured on Joan Knows Best and notoriously don’t get along, spent that part of the evening on opposite sides of the room while Joan exhorted the more outgoing guests to interact with the shyer ones. (It is everyone’s duty at Joan’s dinners to make everyone else feel interesting and exciting.) And then Joan, dressed in a black sparkly dressing gown with a feather ruff—literally—rang the dinner gong.

This year I was sat at Joan’s end of the table. I’m usually with Caroline near Melissa’s end—they bookend it. Aileen reminisced about Ari Onassis and Maria Callas, Joan talked Donald Trump, and if I was still a gossip columnist I could have filled the column for weeks. But the best part of the evening is always the annual tradition where everyone has to stand up and say what they are thankful for, with one caveat from Joan: “No thanking me for being at this table or being invited! That’s bullshit—not allowed!”

“No thanking me for being invited! That’s bullshit!”

Many people at the table had been affected by Sandy, and there were thanks for their safety, their homes having been spared, family and friends, health, and the fact that Kris Kardashian is “too old to have any more children.”

And here is what I am thankful for this year. My friends, my family … and I am thankful for electricity, heat, and gas stoves. And even more thankful for being born an American where the lack of these things is a quickly corrected inconvenience and not a way of life.