Years before David Letterman took over the Ed Sullivan Theater, Joan Rivers hosted the original “Late Show” on FOX. While Letterman’s Late Show has endured as a staple of late night television for more than 20 years, Rivers’ stint as a talk show host never quite took off — but it wasn’t without its moments. With a feisty talker like Rivers at the helm, it wasn’t all bad.
On a snap first judgement, it’s easy to call Beastie Boys’ 1987 appearance on Rivers’ Late Show a trainwreck. Before the trio even took the stage to perform “You’ve Gotta Fight For Your Right (to Party)”, Rivers had set the table for the awkwardness that would ensue, mistakenly stumbling and referring to the Beasties’ debut as “Licensed To Kill.” It was painful to watch for a while, especially when the crowd had to jump in to help her along until she finally broke out the specs. But in typical Joan Rivers fashion, she turned the fuck-up into gold with her unfiltered, bruising charm.
“What a stupid name for an album,” she shot back, causing the crowd to burst into laughter. “If they just called it ‘Licensed To Kill’ they’d already have sold four million albums.”
It was Joan Rivers in a nutshell. As long as there was a breath in her body, no one was going to steal her thunder. She was funny, but more importantly, she was tough as nails. Trying to interview the Beastie Boys circa 1987 was no small order. The band was in its hedonistic party boy phase, and they no doubt saw their appearance as an opportunity to upstage the seemingly out of touch Rivers. And make no mistake, Rivers didn’t know shit about hip-hop, let alone the Beasties. But she hung in marvelously with the Beasties’ antics, jabbing the trio in all the right places.
“How’d you three get together, Juliard?”
“I’m enjoying you because this is not my house,” she cracked after MCA boorishly spilled water on her desk.
“None of you look like (guys) I would pick for success.”
As I watch this video now just after Rivers’ tragic passing at the age of 81, it’s easy to see what was lost: a maverick, a visionary, someone who still had her smarts and wits about her even in her lesser moments. She was funny as hell and one of a kind, and she’ll be missed.