Joan Rivers: The Playboy Bunnies Weren’t Sluts!

Before she headlined the Playboy resorts, Joan Rivers was the funny gal in a spirited trio that played in hip nightclubs. Read an excerpt from Playboy on Stage: A History of the World’s Sexiest Nightclubs.

Elena Scotti/The Daily Beast

I’m sure you’ll agree that Joan Rivers needs no introduction—but perhaps only the zealous Joan Rivers groupie knows that, in the early ’60s, before she headlined at the Playboy resorts, she appeared as part of a trio called Jim, Jake, and Joan. The Playboy publicity posters for the act called them “a spirited trio.” I asked Joan if we could talk, and she told me all about it.

“The guys sang some folk songs, and I was the comic. Their names were Jim Connell and Jake Holmes, and they were always arguing, so I was the glue that kept us together for as long as we were. The three of us didn’t last long together, but we played at quite a few of the Playboy Clubs.”

Joan used words like hip, classy, elegant, and prestigious to describe the clubs. “They ran a tight ship,” she said, “with a rule for everything. But I think that’s probably what made it run so well. Nothing was left to chance.”

I was curious as to whether Joan had had any preconceived ideas that changed once she’d played the clubs. Cutting right to the chase, she replied, “The Bunnies weren’t sluts! They were pretty, wholesome young women. I thought they’d all be a ‘certain type,’ and they weren’t. That surprised me. They were actually very good company. I liked to hang out with them more than anyone else between shows. Years later, after I had Melissa, and she occasionally traveled with me, I was scheduled to do a show at Lake Geneva, and the girls there had made a tiny Bunny outfit for Melissa. I thought it was so sweet of them, and I had to peel it off her. She was only two and loved it.”

Since Joan Rivers was one among only a handful of super-successful women comedians of the ’60s and ’70s—not to mention the successive years, though, by then, the trail had been blazed—I wanted to ask her how she had accomplished this feat.“To be a woman comic, especially back then, you had to be very strong, stand up for yourself, and be a lion tamer. My idea of heaven is to be onstage with an audience laughing at me while their stomachs are full.”

In parting, I asked, if she had to pick one thing about the clubs that had made a lasting impression on her, what it would be. In high Joan Rivers fashion, she replied, “The corn. Don’t ask me why, but Lake Geneva had the best fucking corn I’ve ever tasted in my life!”

That must have been some corn for her to remember it 50 years later!