Metro Weekly

Paying Tribute to Joan Rivers: Kennedy Center “District of Comedy Festival”

The Kennedy Center kicks off its comedy festival by honoring one of the craft's greatest -- and funniest -- legends

Joan Rivers and Melissa Rivers
Joan Rivers and Melissa Rivers

“She always really wanted a Kennedy Center Honor,” Melissa Rivers says. “I know she was nominated a few times, but she never got one. I figured at this point, this is pretty much the closest we’re going to get. Jumped at the chance.”

That honor is coming in the form of an entire evening as Celebrating Joan: A Tribute to Joan Rivers kicks off the Kennedy Center’s first-ever, four-day “District of Comedy Festival,” featuring performances by Jane Lynch (6/24), Reggie Watts (6/25) and filmmaker Judd Apatow (6/25). The tribute to Joan, on June 22 in the Eisenhower Theater, will feature appearances by Louie Anderson, Billy Eichner, Aubrey Plaza, Bob Saget, Jordin Sparks, and Jessica Williams, with video tributes from Andy Cohen, Barry Manilow, Lily Tomlin, and John Waters.

Rivers, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 81, had a devoted following in the gay community, long before her career resurgence with Fashion Police. (“I had a lot of uncles and not a whole lot of aunts,” says Melissa. “Most of the ones that were aunts probably wanted to be uncles.”) Outrageous, brash, often ahead of her time, Rivers was the first woman to host a late night network talk show and her sole film, a gag-packed 1978 comedy entitled Rabbit Test, featured a newly minted comic named Billy Crystal as a man who becomes pregnant.

“Mom was honest,” recalls Melissa. “She was saying what everybody was thinking. That’s why the red carpets worked. That’s why Fashion Police worked. It was all the same things everybody was saying to each other on their couches at home.”

Melissa still reels from the loss of her mother.

“Grief is tricky,” she says. “Grief is ever-evolving. There’s so many times I go to pick up the phone to call her. I miss the person I’d call. I miss the person who annoyed me.”

Celebrating Joan: A Tribute to Joan Rivers is Wednesday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theatre. Tickets are $59 to $125. Call 202-467-4600 or visit

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