Joan Rivers Talks About Her Triumphant Return To NBC’s ‘Tonight’

Joan Rivers death anniversary special
J. Countess/WireImage

Joan Rivers is slated to appear on NBC’s venerable “Tonight” show this evening, the second time the veteran comedienne has graced the late-night mainstay with her presence in just the space of a few weeks.

Before making a cameo on Jimmy Fallon’s first night, however, she hadn’t turned up on the program for 26 years – about “four noses ago,” in her estimation.

“The last time I was on the show, Melissa was in diapers,” Rivers quipped in an interview after taping her appearance for this evening’s episode of “Tonight,” referring to her daughter and longtime co-star. “Now, I’m in diapers.”

Younger viewers may not realize the import of  Joan Rivers turning up on the “Tonight” screen, but there was a time when the comic was an integral part of the workings of the wee-hours institution. Starting in 1983, Rivers was the show’s permanent guest host, substituting regularly whenever Johnny Carson wanted.

The achievement marked a crowning moment in her career, but she was soon exiled from the throne.   She departed the program in 1986 after getting an offer from a then-nascent Fox to host a rival latenight show. Carson was insulted, claiming at the time he had never been informed of the venture. Rivers was, in her own words, “banned, banned, banned” from the show – a condition that would continue under Carson’s successor, Jay Leno.

Her absence from the Leno era ,”wasn’t for lack of asking. I don’t know what his problem was,” she said. “I don’t know, and you want to know something? I don’t care.”

In recent years, Rivers had been making steady visits to Jimmy Fallon’s “Late Night” – seven times during his tenure on that other program. As producers geared up for Fallon’s tenure on “Tonight” to start, Rivers recalled, “they called me up and said, ‘We want you for the first show,’ and it was so great. I’m so happy.”

Her return to the program offers “a great lesson, a great show-business lesson: You keep going, and things turn around and things come back, and it’s an amazing business because of that. I was so banned from late night, but I managed to survive.” She cited her bevy of current projects, including  the fourth season of “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best,” which debuts Saturday; “Fashion Police” on E!; and “In Bed With Joan,” a half-hour “no holds barred” chat show for digital venues.

Many members of her current audience “don’t know who Carson was,” she said, “don’t care who Carson was.”

She said she appreciateswhat Fallon brings to “Tonight.” which she called an “institution.” Fallon, she said, offers “a different show. It’s much hipper” and Fallon “is so in tune with the popular culture.”

Her time on “Tonight” has prompted some reflection:  “It’s really a very good moment for me, a very good moment for me,” said Rivers. “And I’m very appreciative, and very aware of it.”

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  1. wyatt says:

    Now how can anyone not like Joan? She’s old-school comedy and vaudeville rolled into one. Our stars from television’s golden age are dying fast. Lets not deprive the selfie-generation of what a cocktail performer does for a living. Blessings on JR.

    • Shane Lear says:

      I agree. Joan is amazing because not only is she “still around” at the age of 80, she’s bigger than ever before. Three shows, a thriving stand-up career, never mind the jewelry and clothing empire she runs. She’s still arguably one of if not THE edgiest comics around today. I respect her so much and I love her sense of humor. Go Joan!

  2. equipment guy says:

    Carson had 6 more years in him when Joan was booted, there is no mention anywhere that Carsons new replacement had been named in 1986. Many were in the running. Think of it like this: I myself am an Owner/Employer of a film equipment rental store, if one of my managers who I hired as young kid and trained and took care of went out behind my back and opened a competing business without saying a word to me, I just find out by driving down Ventura Blvd one day and I see he’s now in business doing everything I taught him, DAMN right I would ban him from my business/store. Johnny had every right to be pissed off and ban her. Over ther years her story has changed NOW Joan says she did let him know about her show, BS! back in the day it came out in a press release and I remember Joan saying she felt terrible that Johnny found out that way. Now that I put this scenerio in laymans terms I would think most people get the reason for the fued.

    • None of us can “really,” know unless we were players. In her special: “Joan Rivers -A Piece of Work,” she goes into detail about Johnny Carson & the Tonight show. She admits she made a “stupid mistake.” She goes to Carson’s grave to lay down a rose & elaborates further.

      About your comment, “A young kid you trained etc.,” Neither Johnny or Joan were young kids at this time, both were seasoned entertainers & Joan was not Johnny’s student. Ed Sullivan (in my opinion) did more to groom her in the subtleties of navigating television/studio management …which she admits -would have served her well had she not blundered so.

      I’m old and used to only watch the Tonight Show if Joan was hosting back in the early 80’s …even the gay clubs would stop dancing & have the tonight show on …”if” it was Joan.

      I’m seeing her live at the end of April & my enthusiasm for her has never wained.


  3. Rick Bell says:

    Hurray for Joan! She got the last laugh! She is the definition of a “SURVIVOR”! Good for you, Joan. None of your critics and haters would have lasted as long as you have.

  4. Marie Mueller says:

    I can see why Joan Rivers was banned from The Tonight Show for so many years. She was not only dis-gusting, but vulgar as well. I often like her on tv, but last night was enough. It’s pretty bad when the host, his guest (Russell Crowe) and the band is embarrassed. Jimmy, we love you, but that guest was a huge mistake. It goes to show how classy Jay Leno was.

    • Rick Bell says:

      No, Joan was banned from The Tonight Show because Johnny Carson got angry that she accepted an offer by FOX to host her own Talk Show at the same time as The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson viciously retaliated and his reaction shows how mean and nasty he was. Before she was banned, Joan had been named the Permanent Guest Host of the Tonight Show, and it was ugly to see how Johnny turned on her so maliciously after she went to FOX. Moreover, the only reason why she accepted her own talk show was because Joan learned that the Tonight Show had no intention of using her after Johnny Carson retired.

  5. colig says:

    this ghoul should never be in front of a camera.she should be on am radio.she wasn’t funny 100 years ago she ain’t funny now.and to Kecia,what kind of super filter do you have on your TV if you think she looked beautiful.she wouldn’t look good if she had a complete body transplant.

  6. Kecia says:

    Joan Rivers was fab !! Sharp as can be and she look beautiful!

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