Mary Birdsong


I was lucky enough to get to meet Joan Rivers once.  In a little club in NYC. Here’s how it went:  

This actually happened.

And before that I even got to share a stage with her- at New York City’s “Town Hall,” though I doubt we even spoke to each other the night at Town Hall. Benefits by their nature are always chaotic, and this one was no exception.  There must have been at least ten drag performers, and… let me put it this way: Wallace Shawn played the butler.  Okrrrr?

Wallace Shawn as "Dreggs" in Screen Door.

Wallace Shawn in Screen Door.

The Divine Charles Busch

The Divine Charles Busch

Between the feathers, the false eyelashes, the wigs, and God knows WHAT else we were contending with that night, it’s a miracle someone snapped a picture of Joan and me together. (I so regret that they didn’t get Charles Busch in this photo, though. He was one of the stars of the show, and he remains one of my big influences, right up there with Joan – a brilliant & hilarious man.)


From TWEED’s “Screen Door”– a benefit at NYC’s Town Hall, for God’s Love We Deliver. (front, l. to r.) Me as Judy Garland, Blaine Trump, Joan Rivers, and Sheila McRae. (back) The brilliant Kevin Joseph, as his drag creation “Flotilla DeBarge.”

At the time of my appearance on Conen O’Brien (see video below), I was performing in my first Broadway show with another great comic legend, Martin Short. I played many different characters, including Joan Rivers.  I taped this interview in between performances of that Broadway run.  And now I think I know why they call it a “run.”

Because on a two-show day, the moment I got my costume & wig off from the matinee performance, I was literally RUNNING, on foot, to Rockefeller Center (where Conen taped) from the theater (on 48th street I think). I got back just in time for that evening’s performance. I was in my 30s. But that little DIY, “heart stress-test” didn’t even come close to the kind of energy Joan Rivers was STILL putting out in her 80s.

By giving us allllll of HERSELF on stage (especially the nasty bits, which were some of her best) she gave a lot of people (women especially) the courage and the permission to be all of OURSELVES- both on stage and off.  And of course… as is often the case with performers who play “mean and nasty” so well ON stage, she was very warm and very sweet OFF stage.

Thank you from the bottom of our nasty hearts, Joan Rivers, for all you gave. And gave. And gave…

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