Joan Rivers’ New Show Is A Millionaire Questionnaire

Joan Rivers has been in showbiz for nearly 50 years, so when she says her latest project is the show she’s always wanted to do, it’s worth taking notice.

How’d You Get So Rich?, which airs Wednesdays beginning Aug. 5 on TV Land, allows the 76-year-old diva to unleash her inner voyeur and examine the lifestyles of the über-well-off, going into detail as to how they got that way.

It’s the latest turn in what’s been a stellar year for Rivers, coming off her victory in a nasty duel with poker star Annie Duke in The Celebrity Apprentice. And only days after How’d You Get So Rich? premieres, she’ll be in the hot seat for The Comedy Central Roast of Joan Rivers on Aug. 9.

The always outspoken Rivers took some time from yet another venture — hawking her jewelry collection on QVC — to chat with us about her new shows, what’s happened to the red carpet, and some frank talk about the new late-night TV landscape:

How’s life since The Celebrity Apprentice?

Life has always been good, but this has been a really nice year. The Celebrity Apprentice was terrific. I loved every minute of it, because I’m very entrepreneurial and I loved the idea that you can go out and have to do something on your own.

You say on the teaser for How’d You Get So Rich? that this is the show you’ve always wanted to make. Why is that?

Well, because I am such a voyeur. I’m that lady that walks around and looks in windows when you’re walking down the street at night and your windows are lit. And I love to see how rich people live. And so I thought what could be better than a show that finds out how people made it and then goes in and sees what their houses are. And that’s exactly what this is. I’m having the best time.

You’ve got the inventor of the earplug, a sex toy web entrepreneur and a time-share king, among others. Was it part of the criteria that you had to get rich in a weird, unusual way?

No. We walk around and we do ambushes, and it’s extraordinary how people make their money — it isn’t all those boring Wall Street people and corporate people. If you ask a hundred different people, you’re going to get 20 great answers, and that’s what we were doing. We also did longer stories, where we went and we researched them and then went in their houses, but you’re talking about the ambushes, as we call them. There was a woman, she just was looking amazing and it turns out that she started out plucking eyebrows and now owns 500 spas. But I just stopped her because she was dressed all in Chanel. She looked fabulous. “How’d you get so rich?” It ain’t hard to tell. You just hang out in front of Tiffany’s and Cartier and you just watch who comes in and out.

Where did you get most of your stories?

We did stories in Illinois, we have Louisiana, we have New Jersey, we have Toronto, we did L.A., Florida, all over the country. I’ll go to Cleveland, and I say to them, “Show me where the rich people live,” because I’m always fascinated. And there are lots of rich people in Cleveland, and there are lots of rich people in Brownwood, Texas. It’s amazing how many people are out there, and that have made it on their own.

This show is all about detailing extravagance. Do you think that will be a hard sell during a recession?

I think just the opposite, because it’s such an aspirational show. Every one has made it on their own. Every one has made it through something you could make it on. It’s not, I mean, one person made it on Billy-Bob Teeth. He was a kid in college — a dental student — and he thought of that. Another one made it on the Slanket, where you put your arms through the blanket. It’s like, if you have a good idea, this is America, you can still do it. I think it’s a great show for this time.

So it’s not like Cribs?

Oh, God, no. It’s people and each one tells you their story.

Is there anything you saw that made you just say, “Oh, that’s too much”?

No. I’m such a girl that when you have five Lamborghinis like this young man had, in every single color for the days of the week, you go, “Why?” But that could just be because I’m a woman. You know, because if he had had five great outfits, then you’d go, “Of course!” Makes sense. So there’s some things that you’re kind of a little surprised at. We had one very rich person who still lives without a maid in his old home.

These people all got rich doing different things, but were there things about them that you found they had in common?

All of them are very hard workers. Nobody did it and sat around on their ass. Most of them had jobs as children. One beyond-rich man down in Florida, he started mowing lawns at 7 and bought the guy’s company out, who he was mowing lawns for, when he was 8. That’s a smart 7-year-old.

What if you were on this show? What would your story be like?

Well, that I started out with nothing. That I worked clubs, I worked strip joints. I had three day jobs, and I would sit at night till 1 o’clock in the morning to get on someplace for free. I took every job that came my way, and still worked seven days a week. So I mean, I saw a lot of myself in these people, and I also would have shown how extravagant I am. I would have been the one that was, “Did you see what she spends just on dishes alone?”

One of the keys to your glamorous image is the time you spent doing red carpet interviews. How has that changed since you’ve been doing it?

We invented the red carpet, we invented a phrase, “Who you wearing?”, [daughter] Melissa and me. What’s happened is, people don’t know what to do anymore, they’re scared to ask the stars anything because press agents have gotten involved, and it’s become such a rat@#$%. I don’t watch them. I don’t do them.

You also filled in a lot for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Do you like what you’ve seen so far from Conan O’Brien?

No. Not at all. I’m not a fan. I’m a Letterman fan and I think Jimmy Fallon is very good. And Sarah Silverman’s boyfriend, who I think is so smart. Jimmy Kimmel. I think he’s very good. [Note: Silverman and Kimmel are currently not a couple.]

You’re about to be the latest guest of honor/victim of the Comedy Central Roast. Are you nervous?

I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and it’s going to get very close to the edge. I think it’s going to get veeerrry close.

Who are you most afraid of, and who do you want to lay into?

All of them. We haven’t booked it all, so it’s hard to say. But you have to know where the line is between having a good time and walking off and still being friends. You have to be very careful where the line is.