Monday, April 2, 2012

No Holds Barred - Fashion Police

by Blair Sabol

Joan Rivers
is known as THE hardest working woman in show business. Her Fashion Police (E Channel,10 p.m. Friday nights) is the hottest live audience fashion/gossip TV show going.

I've been a longtime Joan Rivers/Fashion Police fan (known as a "Joan Ranger"). I firmly believe Joan and her FP cohorts – Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne and George Kotsiopoulos – should be covering all the runways from New York to London to Milan, and not just Hollywood's red carpet. (Although Joan and daughter Melissa Rivers "founded " the Red Carpet).

For many of us viewers FP has become more relevant than Vogue or the younger fashion blogs, because Rivers and her team are brutally honest and more on trend. They seem to have nothing to lose and can really "go for it." We want to see Joan and Kelly in more of those "reserved" front row runway seats and not just the seriousness of Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley.
My outfit for the taping: "Joan Rivers Collection" jacket, glasses, glitter scarf, and pearls. Available at QVC!!!
Joan Rangers badges to "make fashion citizen arrests any time."
I was lucky to score a seat to a recent FP taping, which I had booked two months ahead. It was me and 40 gay guys all dressed well in “Gap” and all friends of friends of Joan's writing team.

The day before I left for LA and FP, Joan had just finished appearing on QVC for a three-day selling marathon of her popular "Classic Collection.” (I bought a jacket, sunglasses and a glitter scarf.) The day before that, she was on Piers Morgan, and in between she did a few club dates. She had then flown from Philly to New York to Los Angeles, and after this FP taping I was attending, she would be on her way to a gig in Florida. The woman is seriously "in motion."

No one needs a "sit down" interview with her. She has been open and available to the public all her life. So I requested a three-minute "meet and greet." I wanted to ask her the one and only question everyone wants to know: What is her health secret – how does she do it? What does she take? Food? Meds? Exercise? WHAT? At 78 years old (79 in June) what's the deal?
Chairs for Fashion Police stars designed by Jonathan Adler.
Joan and Giuliana's chairs on set of Fashion Police.
Her revealing 2011 documentary "Piece of Work" (should at least been nominated for an Oscar) covered a lot of this. She has also answered the question before with a "desperation keeps me going." But I wanted a few choice specifics.

By the way, along with her club dates, FP and QVC, is her current biggest cult hit Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best – a WE TV reality show which also covers her "rolling thunderous" lifestyle. It has just been renewed for a third season. Are you out of breath yet?

I met Joan 16 years ago while filming a TV special on "Women and Football." She impressed me by arriving early, in a terrific fur coat, gorgeously made up, and with twenty 3x5 cards in her hand with twenty perfect football jokes. She firmly instructed the camera man to pull the lens back to "sixteen inches from my knees ... not an inch less." I never forgot her pronouncement and now everything and everyone in my life must be "sixteen inches" from my knees.
Sam Scott, Fashion Police "audience producer." "Swisssh Hair winner" Marie Delarocha.
On the day of the taping of FP, I arrived at The E studio at 6:30 p.m. Sam Scott, "production/audience producer," signed me in with a "yes, this is a tough audience ticket."

A few other E Channel production assistants present mentioned that the "real E hits are The Kardashians" (I never want to actually see those shows; I’ve already heard enough about them) and that “Chelsey Handler is our gold star" (I never understood her). “But Fashion Police is really gaining strength."

Gaining strength? Everyone I know watches and adores it.

At 7 p.m. I was placed in a plastic orange chair (there were 50 of them). In front of me sat Marie Delarocha who was meeting Joan because she just won Pantene's "Show us your Swisssh" contest. (Swisssh is snapping your head around filled with ass-length hair extensions).
Marina Gelnak with her Fashion Police shirt. Kelly Osbourne on set.
Behind me sat a five-month pregnant Marina Gelnak from Los Angeles, who was wearing her own T-shirt that read Bitch Stole My Look! (the title of a FP segment).

Gelnak has been an "audience seeker/sitter/filler" for years and admitted that she goes to all of the awards shows, did Chelsey, all the game shows, but "Fashion Police was really really what I always wanted to see. It took me months to get here." She got her Twitter picture with Joan.

The taping was held up because Miss Piggy (a secret special guest) had to be shot first for a future show. I couldn't see the Muppet puppeteer get into "hiding" behind Joan's chair. FP producers kept all that concealed. But when the cameras rolled it was without a doubt the most hilarious interview between Piggy and Joan.
Piggy and Joan.
Piggy looked exquisite in a black plunge dress, diamonds, elaborate coif, and her own "real Louboutin " stilettos. Joan immediately asked her about what it was like to "have a frog in your throat,” and “may I call you 'Pig' for short?"

Piggy demurred, and responded with "May I call you a dinosaur?"

We were off and running in a semi "blue" theme. Obviously Miss Piggy "came to play" and had her own terrific writers. She gave Joan a run for her laugh track. It was a remarkable piece of comedy.

Tony Tripoli.
After Piggy "cleared" (again no one was allowed to see "the hands or the voice" behind "the Pig") Joan's daughter Melissa (FP producer) and Tony Tripoli (head writer) came out on the floor and explained to all of us how important the "audience participation" was.

We had to NOT just laugh but scream and "whoop" and "ahhhhh" – not "oooooooh"– that sounds like" boos" – and react constantly as loud as we could ... the whole time (two and a half hours).

It became a serious workout and quite exhausting. Melissa was very impressive in keeping the show moving and stopping to "reboot" at the appropriate times. But it was Tripoli who grabbed the audience with his raucous coaching techniques and Chippendale charm. "Find your inner gay man and let it rip .... Give me that sloppy drunken homo .... We need you to sound over the top.”

Tripoli often opens for Joan in her club dates and he is currently on his own popular comedy circuit. Later he told me "the audience is a major factor in this show. The sound and reaction set that edgy insane rhythm."

Unfortunately I was seated in the "vagina" section (five other women and softer "yelps") and we had to be constantly coaxed to "bring it up higher and bigger." With Joan it wasn't hard. She appeared early and comfortably interacted with the audience.
Blair with Melissa Rivers.
Previously I was sternly warned "absolutely no photos with Joan". That wasn't true. Though I chose to follow the warning, she was generous with all cell phone shots. She distributed "Joan Ranger" badges and told us we could officially "make fashion citizen arrests any time."

She was impeccably dressed right down to her stylish OPI teal nail polish and her 7-inch Chanel platforms. She could actually walk in them.

Kelly Osbourne appeared equally compelling in person – warm, wise, centered and knew exactly how to engage Joan's rants and stand her own ground.

Kelly Osbourne and Blair.
Giuliana Rancic seemed even thinner (almost oddly bobble-headed) live, and overly spray tanned but she provided the serious "entertainer reporter" repartee. George Kotsiopoulos seemed teenier and leaner, but his authentic constant laugh and solid stylist (he is one of the best in Hollywood) approach established a decent balance.

The segments: "Bitch Stole my Look," "Hot Looks of The Week," “Gotta Have it/Make it Stop" all flew by. No one really had to do a single retake. Joan hit every mark and spoke faster than the teleprompter moved. Face it ... she's a consummate pro. She knew every camera angle and every cameraman's name. She will leave you in "shock and awe" at her improvised QUICK incisive wit.

The only drawback was the actual set specially created by hip interior designer Jonathan Adler. It looks dizzy on camera but in actuality is more like a "trying too hard" LSD trip. Adler was quoted as saying he wanted to reflect the uproariousness of the show. FP may be fast, zany and crazy, but NOT nauseating.

That night's shoot, Drag dresser supreme and star of Drag Race, RuPaul, was the guest interview. And he didn't disappoint.

At first I thought they announced "Ron Paul" as the special guest, and I firmly believe that Joan and the FP Team could have handled him stylistically as well. 

It seems apparent that the show could open its guest spots to celebrities outside the Victoria Beckham category. Joan knows how to do real talk show interviews and she is terrific at platforming her guests and letting THEM shine.
Fashion Police stylists backstage.
RuPaul gave great “guest.” He did the "Starlet or Streetwalker" segment hilariously, (pictures flashed of slutty bodies and you have to figure out if they are "stars" on a bad day or merely "streetwalkers" on a great day). At one point Joan asked him: "What's more painful, waxing your back or sitting on your balls?" RuPaul answered perfectly with "Everything hurts, Joan.”

In between her fast track taping Joan's classy looking makeup "woman" (not makeup GIRL") of many years Adele Fass came out on set to unobtrusively touch up the star.  I was fascinated by Fass’ makeup belt, which stashed every kind of brush and tool to do her magic. Ironically in person Joan looked terrific and elegant, and not nearly as cosmetically enhanced as she does in photos. She is softer and less caricaturized looking.

Then, after Joan demolished Jessica Simpson's pregnant style, she passed out "Slutty Brownies" (an actual Simpson recipe) made of cookie dough and Oreos. They tasted like a hockey puck but nobody cared; it was a great bit.

Finally at the end of the taping, Joan's stunning and gracious assistant (over 20 years working with her) Sabrina Lott ( a "star" in her own right on the "Joan and Melissa" show) ran to grab me for my three-minute "meet and greet. " I was told Joan was "leaving the building immediately" for a quick Improv Club appearance and then a "red eye" flight to Lakeland Florida, Baltimore, Cleveland, and back to Palm Beach Florida for a gig, and then back to LA ... all in three days!

As I started to run backstage Melissa caught sight of me and yelled for security as she was intent on getting her Mom out ON TIME! It turned into one of those Keystone Cops/Marx Brothers routines. Nobody knew what was going on and Joan had to leave. But Sabrina magically took control and got me in Joan's eye line, and got Melissa informed that I was not a stalker.

As Joan kicked off her Chanels and walked shoeless to her car at curbside, she took the entire three minutes to praise my entire Rivers visual and the way I tied my Rivers glitter scarf. She was not into "a brush off," but seemed sincerely observant and grateful. It was high honor but left me no time for the ALL IMPORTANT QUESTION.

Then, before I knew it, Sabrina and Joan and Tony Tripoli were off in gale of dust. Later that night as I was adrenal crashing in my hotel bed I realized Joan was already heading for her third city. Talk about dancing-as-fast-as-you-can.
Fashion Police billboard in Hollywood.
A couple of days later Tony Tripoli got back to me with an interesting Rivers overview of the Question I never got to ask: "Occasionally Joan will fly private but mostly she takes the commercial "red eye" flight everywhere cause she wants to rub up against the public and hear what they are talking about. She is passionately curious about everything and that gives her that energy. She thrives on being in the middle of it all. I don't know about prescriptive drugs – I have never seen it – but she takes a lot of vitamins and watches her weight obsessively. She eats consciously ... and as for exercise? Hardly. Not when she has to run to all those airports and get through all that security.”

Talk about a workout. Tripoli feels "it really isn't an addiction to the spotlight as much as getting out and meeting people and sharing herself, and to hear it back from everybody. She loves feedback. And she is faster and more with it than any of us who write with her."

Though Tripoli and team met with Joan the night before the show at Melissa's house for dinner and the script, in the end it is Joan who rolls it out herself on camera. As for her speed,  Tripoli says, "Sometimes it is amazing that she flies all night and works all day and at 78 years old delivers! Believe me ... it is a mystery to all of us."

I think it might be that pace that gives her that fearlessness (while leaving Kelly Osbourne slack-jawed at Joan's shocking material), that, and her smarts. But most of all she appears to be having a ball – and to hell with anyone who can't take the joke. With Joan Rivers, “it's fasten your strap-on.”  But as for a bumpy ride? No, just try keeping up with her!
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