Joan Rivers, My Tree, and Remembering A Class Act

Joan Rivers publicity photo, 1980s.

The world said goodbye to Joan Rivers at a memorial service in New York this weekend.  Famous names like Howard Stern Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Diane Sawyer, Donald J. Trump and Barbara Walters remembered Joan and paid their respects.

I would like to remember Joan Rivers and pay my respects, too.

Very early in my career, about 1980, I got a call from concert promoter Avalon Attractions. Joan Rivers was coming to San Diego to perform a couple of shows at Golden Hall downtown. Avalon staff wanted to rent some larger trees as stage decor, along with purchasing small ferns and flowering mum plants.

I had owned my flower shop downtown for two years and had recently added “interior plantscaping” as one of our services. My Yellow Pages ad (yes, it was that long ago) ran under the heading “Living Plants; renting and leasing.” I bought the ad before I even had any inventory. But when Joan Rivers comes calling, you do whatever it takes.

So I was pulling six-foot trees from my living room to fill the order for Joan’s stage props. I couldn’t figure out why they wanted to rent the big trees and buy the small plants. Why not just rent them all, I wondered.

My deal was a few hundred dollars and two tickets to Joan’s standup show. I took a friend. The show was hilarious. I’d never imagined a performer talking about those sort of topics with that kind of language. Joan didn’t hold back. She fired off vicious put downs of the people sitting up front.

At the end of the show after the applause stopped, Joan went to the front of the stage and apologized for picking on several audience members. She told them they would receive T-shirts for their trouble, and ran off stage to get some.

Joan returned empty handed. Apparently there weren’t any. She looked around and proclaimed that in lieu of a shirt, she would give those good sports one of the plants from the stage. Everybody roared as she dragged the big trees to the edge of the stage and helped her comedy victims take them away.

Suddenly Joan’s rented trees turned into purchased trees. Great, that meant my payday went up since a purchased tree costs much more than a rented one. But I was leaving Golden Hall, I realized that one of the trees up on stage had been a gift from my mom ten years earlier. No way could I let Joan give THAT tree away to a stranger in the second show.

I sent my friend home on his own. Working my way back stage, I ran across my paying client, the promoter. When I explained Joan needed to avoid giving away my mom’s tree, they said “Tell her yourself.”

My autographed Joan Rivers poster. Yes, I still have it 34 years later.

My autographed Joan Rivers poster. Yes, I still have it 34 years later.

I was escorted right to Joan’s dressing room. They introduced me to Joan and she couldn’t have been sweeter or more charming. We walked out on stage before the audience came in for her second show so I could point out the “off limits” tree and explained the sentimental meaning to me as a gift from my mom. Joan, being a mom herself, understood.

Until she had to start her next show, Joan Rivers ended up hanging out with this young flower shop owner, talking about fake boobies and drinking diet Pepsis.

A few days later after the show, I received a Joan Rivers autographed poster. I wrote back to thank her. It began a short correspondence and a lifelong admiration for a performer that showed a bit of kindness to a stranger.

Joan Rivers was funny and fearless and it made her famous.  But she was also a gracious, classy and caring individual. No matter how “small” you were, everyone mattered to Joan, and that’s why she will always matter to me.