Joe Posa first met Joan Rivers about 10 years ago in the kitchen of a hotel in Houston, Texas. Oh, and he was dressed in drag as her at the time. He’d been hired to portray the silver-tongued comedian at a corporate event, and unbeknownst to him so had the real Rivers. As they walked together through the kitchen they both slipped a bit on the slick floor prompting Rivers to exclaim “I’ll sue!” followed by Posa saying, “We’ll sue twice!” Then a voice from the stage took to the microphone and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Joan Rivers.” Posa just stood there. Rivers nudged him, smiled and said, “Go on out. They’re calling you.” And out he went, bounding across the stage as the American comedy icon. And then the real Rivers burst through the curtain shouting, “Get off my stage, bitch!”
As an actor and a female impersonator Posa had by then performed as all kinds of famous women, like Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand. But after that night he held a special affection for Rivers. Known for her savage, nothing-is-sacred comedy, how sweet and caring she was off stage really struck Posa. She took a peek into his bare dressing room that night and invited him into hers, which was full of food and swag. She fed him as they chatted and then gave him the cheese knife as a memento, something he still has. And nearly two years after her death Posa still has a soft spot in his heart for her, one he expresses in a way Rivers most certainly would appreciate is his show The Bitch Is Back, running this weekend at the Provincetown Theater.
“With Joan there was always the yin and yang,” says Posa. “She was a compassionate soul. She was always attuned to the human struggle.”
Posa, who is also known for co-starring with Thirsty Burlington over the years in their show An Evening at the Birdcage, first did Rivers here in Provincetown as he worked a faux red carpet for the Hollywood Ball, a former fundraising event at the Boatslip for the town’s volunteer fire department. Over time he developed it into this show, which he now tours, hitting cabarets and nightclubs in Boston, New York, Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon at the famed Darcelle’s, and now back to Provincetown for Carnival week, with special opening act comedian Tony Tripoli, who opened for Rivers for the last five years of her life and was a head writer on her show Fashion Police.
Posa did meet and work with Rivers periodically over the years, including at a party in Provincetown at Tin Pan Alley after her show at Town Hall just several months before her death. Rivers asked if Posa still impersonated her, something she was glad to hear he did, as she frequently expressed appreciation for drag queens keeping her relevant. He told her he did a “respectful” impersonation to which she quipped he was more than welcome to do it disrespectfully. And Posa does hit all the elements of not just her look, movements, and personality, but also her comedy as he “goes there.” But he also hangs onto one of the main elements of her work that made her so popular with so many people for so many years.
“There’s always this optimism that I see in her,” says Posa. “There’s always something upbeat, an attempt to make people happy with her humor. I focus on that. I focus on the optimism.”
The Joan Rivers Tribute Show The Bitch Is Back is at the Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Friday, August 19 through Sunday, August 21 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $30 to $40 and are available at the box office and online at provincetowntheater.org. For more information call 508.487.7487.