A Joan Rivers impersonator on playing the comedy legend & getting inside Barbra Streisand’s mouth

A Joan Rivers impersonator on playing the comedy legend & getting inside Barbra Streisand’s mouth

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Joe Posa as Joan Rivers
Joe Posa as Joan Rivers. Photo by Dennis Dean.

Can we talk? Joan Rivers’ groundbreaking career paved the way for a new generation of female comedians like Wanda Sykes and Kathy Griffin. And although Rivers left us far too soon in 2014, the legendary comedian lives on through celebrity impersonators like Joe Posa

Posa’s career began in musical theater in the international tour of West Side Story. In 1993, he joined the company of New York City’s An Evening at La Cage, portraying queer icons Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli, which led to more opportunities to expand his chameleon-like capabilities, including the iconic Joan Rivers. His spot-on delivery and ability to channel Rivers’ legendary wit have made him a fan favorite, with performances in iconic queer destinations like Provincetown, Puerto Vallarta, and London. Always willing to share the spotlight (if his co-stars can keep up), Posa has shared the stage with Cher impersonator Thirsty Burlington, the cutie who loves the classics, Seth Sikes, and Rivers herself.

Joan Rivers, left, and celebrity impersonator Joe Posa.
Joan Rivers, left, and celebrity impersonator Joe Posa. Photo courtesy of Joe Posa.

Posa’s latest tour, Joan Rivers (a)Alive, celebrates what would have been the star’s 90th birthday, including a benefit performance on Saturday, November 25, at The Green Room 42 in New York City, with a portion of proceeds benefitting God’s Love We Deliver.

Queerty caught up with Posabeforeo before his New York City appearance to chat all things Joan, onstage mishaps, and who he’d like to collaborate with next.

Can we talk? The most surprising thing I learned about Joan Rivers was …

Well, it wasn’t actually surprising to me; however, it was true that Joan was “brassy” on stage yet “classy” offstage. When Joan passed, people who knew her often would say just that. I got to know her as well, and that was also my impression of her. I think that is what made her so brilliant — that she knew and respected the human condition and the struggles of life. 

Joan was simply a survivor — of show business, of loss as her husband took his life in 1987, and she had compassion and empathy towards others. She then hit the stage and talked about it all, and no one was off limits, yet it came from a place of knowing and understanding, I think.

I saw her perform in Provincetown at Town Hall two months before she died, and at the meet and greet, I said to her, “In my act, I always do you respectfully,” and she said, “You can do me disrespectfully!” That was certainly a funny and memorable moment.

Joe Posa as Joan Rivers
Joe Posa as Joan Rivers. Photo by Dennis Dean.

In her act, Joan Rivers famously used her marriage as material. If she were with us today, she’d have this to say about gay husbands who wear matching holiday sweaters…

Well, first of all, she would let her audience know that she is all for gay marriage! Why should only straight people suffer divorce?! Also, that she went to George Michael’s wedding, held where they met … at the men’s room in Hyde Park.

As for the matchy-matchy sweaters, she would probably ask the couple, “Answer me this: how does your marriage work? Because with those matching sweaters, you’re obviously both bottoms.”

Revive _________ so I can star in it!

I would love the opportunity to play Joan in her life story. For the stage or on film, who better to play Joan than a man? It’s like when I saw The Cher Show on Broadway. I thought, “There are three actresses playing Cher throughout her illustrious career. Why isn’t one of them played by a man?” How fabulous would that have been? And there are many drag performers who do Cher out there, though my friend Thirsty Burlington is the most fab!

The LGBTQ+ entertainer I’d love to collaborate with…

Billy Porter is just doing such amazing things in our industry at the moment. I’ve known him since the ‘90s, and being part of any of his projects would be fantastic. His authenticity and fearlessness as an artist are inspiring, and can you imagine Billy and Joan on the red carpet just slaying!

I’ve been doing celebrity impersonations for over 30 years. The key to getting Barbra Streisand right is …  

Joe Posa as Barbra Streisand
Joe Posa as Barbra Streisand. Photo by Dennis Dean.

I started my career as a dancer and did a lot of theater, including the international tour of West Side Story. In 1993, I got cast in “An Evening at La Cage” in New York City at The Blue Angel, performing as Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. My point is that I approach my work as a drag performer in a theatrical way as an actor first. I need to understand the journey of who that person is to impersonate them truthfully. 

I also secretly need to “idolize” these divas in some way. And by the way, who doesn’t, right? I mentioned “respect” earlier, and I think the audience can feel that. Then I obviously need to get the look down: makeup, hair, and costuming. Before Joan Rivers, I was a lip-sync act, which, by the way, is an art form in and of itself if it’s done correctly. When I perform, let’s say, as Barbra, I often time lip-sync her talking, and the audience goes wild for that. That’s so much fun for me —  to lip-sync the spoken word —  there is so much nuance there.

Joan loved to play small venues to work on her act. My biggest onstage mishap happened when…

I also enjoy the intimate venues to try out new material as Joan would and to connect with the audience in the moment. As Joan would say, “In standup comedy, you must be the lion tamer.” You need to lead that audience, make them think, and at the same time, laugh and have a good time together. Talk about everything because when we do, it is healing.

I guess one time when I started out doing Joan, I asked a woman, “When is your due date?” and she said, “I’m not pregnant.” To my quick reply, “Well, I love your shoes!”

The gayest thing about me …

I just love to be in the garden, trimming and mulching! It really is quite relaxing. My husband Frank and I love to have fabulous dinner parties with friends, and yes, Frank makes amazing meatballs. Truthfully, when I’m not all done up in my drag personas, I enjoy the simple things in life, and I am so fortunate to have my work as an artist resonate with the audiences. It is most fulfilling. Also, let’s be honest, traveling first class all over the world with my husband isn’t too shabby either! 

If Joan were around today, she’d have this to say about the state of our country…

In a very optimistic tone, she would actually say something like, “I know we are divided as a nation, but at the end of the day, we will come together. And when we do, we will have one common thought … Vanna White is one f**king lucky c**t!”

Joe Posa as Joan Rivers.
Joe Posa as Joan Rivers. Photo by Dennis Dean.


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