Joan Rivers: More than a Comedian
By David Henderson
Like many people, I mourn the loss of Joan Rivers. In the last year or so, my wife and I have gotten into watching Fashion Police and enjoying, except for her over-the-top comments, many of Joan’s great, obviously prepared, catty lines.
But I got to see another side of Joan Rivers when she interviewed me on her radio show in 1997.
Here’s how it happened.
I had reviewed very positively a book by Walter Olson titled The Excuse Factory: How Employment Law is Paralyzing the American Workplace. Fortune titled my review “Why You Can’t Fire Anybody,” which was, of course, an exaggeration. The Hoover Institution reprinted my review here.
And on the Manhattan Institute’s web site, here’s the quote from my review that they use:
Olson shows how the U.S. has created a nightmare of contradictory regulations that would humble Kafka. And he does it with the drama of a detective novel …. If [the] winds of freedom ever loosen the government’s ever-tightening grip on America’s employers, The Excuse Factory will surely deserve some of the credit. — David Henderson, Fortune
A few weeks after my review appeared, a producer for Joan Rivers called me up and asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed on Rivers’s radio talk show. Of course, I said yes. My typical experience with people in the media is that the producer would then tell me that they would have someone on the other side of the issue. Then, when they called me minutes before the interview, they would say, “Oh, by the way, we decided at the last minute to have another guest.” Invariably, that other guest would be on the other side as well. And typically the interviewer would be on the other side, making it 3 to 1. That seems to be the strategy of KQED-FM in San Francisco. The only exception I’ve seen with KQED is when the issue is free trade. Even if it’s 2 versus 1, the host, Michael Krasny, is good on free trade.
Back to Joan Rivers. I sensed in this case that it would be different because the other two guests, the producer told me, would be the book’s author, Walter Olson, and a labor lawyer whose job was to sue employers. So I knew that there would be at least 2 people (Wally and me) on one side. Naturally, I assumed that Joan would balance it out by being on the lawyer’s side.
Boy, was I wrong! Virtually all of her questions to Wally and me were the neutral kind designed to get information, rather than the gotcha kind. Her questions to the labor lawyer were (I’m going from hazy memory here) a mix of neutral and gotcha. I had literally (yes, I’m using that word “literally” literally) never experienced this before on media other than explicitly conservative or libertarian shows. It was refreshing.
Now, this next bit is still something I have mixed feelings about. When we went to a break in the middle, Joan obviously must have muted the sound for the labor lawyer because she commented on what an ass
heshe was. I laughed nervously, thinking this was somehow unprofessional. At the same time, I admit that deep down I enjoyed it. It also made me wonder, though, whether in the usual case, when it’s 3 to 1 and I’m the 1, does the host ever do that to me. I bet it’s rare, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it has happened.
Note: I struck out the “he” above and changed it to “she” because Walter Olson informs me that the lawyer was the late Judith Vladeck. I had not remembered that; I had thought it was a man. But it was Wally’s book and he has a better incentive to remember the specifics than I have.