AS SEEN ON SCREEN

Joan Rivers is a nice person -- really

 
 
Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers
CHARLES MILLER / IFC FILMS

Joan Rivers says she made a deal with the filmmakers before agreeing to a documentary about herself: ``That it could not be a puff piece.''

Joan Rivers -- A Piece of Work sure isn't. It begins with the legendary comedian, famous for her many plastic surgeries, being made up -- in extreme close-up.

``They can take away anything they want,'' Rivers, 77, says of the film, which opens Friday in South Florida. ``And if they walk out saying what a piece of s - - - she is, I'm sorry, you've already paid your money.''

Actually, Rivers comes off as a nice person. Really.

The hard-working, irreverent star supports a small army of workers: personal assistants, housekeepers, business associates -- and their families.

``If you ever get sick in New York, if it's a Jewish doctor, mention my name because I sent him to medical school,'' she says.

Early in Rivers' career, someone told her she'd be ``an industry.''

``I said that's fine. That's what life is all about,'' Rivers says. ``My idea of money is everyone should get a taste. There are very few people who are loyal to you, and you should be loyal back.''

Throughout filming last year, Rivers' relationship with her longtime manager deteriorated to the point where she had to fire him.

``It was devastating,'' Rivers says. ``At some point you have to say it's a business. It's so hard. I'm not a good business person. I've been fired so many times. Fired by Fox beyond publicly. I don't know if you've ever been fired. It's terrifying.''

Rivers, a lifelong New Yorker, recently moved in with daughter Melissa and grandson Cooper in California to tape a TV reality series that airs in December, Mother Knows Best?

She hopes Cooper, 9, gets to know the real Rivers.

``I'm not sure he gets it. One day, he'll wake up and say, `That lady, she was OK.' I'm not going to be around when he's 35, for a lot of things in his life,'' says Rivers, who couldn't stand her own grandmother.

``That old bitch,'' she says, dead serious. ``Really, one of my grandmothers, I hated her. She raised her cane to me and my sister.''

Despite longtime international success, Rivers is still the same insecure gal from Brooklyn.

``Everybody is insecure,'' she declares. ``But it is nice to walk down the street and have the garbage man say, `Hiya Joanie.' It's so nice. It's a sign that you're lucky, that every town is your hometown, and that's such a nice feeling.''

-- STEVE ROTHAUS

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