Although Rivers may be most associated with stand-up (or perhaps selling her jewelry product line on QVC), she started out in the business, like so many others, with an eye on the theater.

"Acting was my first love," she says. "It still is. I go back to acting whenever I can. I was nominated for a Tony [for 'Sally Marr … And Her Escorts' in 1994], and I am so proud of that."

Rivers, who also has several film credits, including a role in "The Swimmer" (1968) starring Burt Lancaster, is disarmingly honest about her acting talents.

"Anything Meryl Streep does, I could do better," she says. "She knows it. That's why she walks right past me if we're at the same parties. The bitch is just plain jealous. She knows I'm just waiting. Is that a cough, Meryl? 'Tonight the role of Mother Courage will be played by Joan Rivers.' You'd never see an audience exit like that."

Although some American comedians don't translate well across the Atlantic, Rivers had no trouble building up a following in England.

"For a while, I was bigger in the U.K. than here," she says. "I never for a moment thought they wouldn't understand me. I've performed for Prince Charles and for the Queen. I do tone it down for them. But I did say 'f— —' in front of the Queen of England one time. I didn't mean to. It slipped out. I just turned to her and said, 'Behead me here.'"

In Baltimore, Rivers won't be watching her language, but she might reveal a slightly softer side.

"Before I was born [in New York], my father was an immigrant kid who got his medical degree at Johns Hopkins and taught there," Rivers says. "So the family has always had a very warm spot for Baltimore. I think he got fired, though. He killed too many patients. 'Oh, nurse, does this look right?'"

If you go

Joan Rivers performs at 8 p.m. Friday at the Hippodrome, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets are $42 to $62. Call 410-547-7328 or go to

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