Can we talk? Jimmy Fallon and more late-night hosts pay tribute to Joan Rivers

by Chris Serico /  / Updated 
Image: Jimmy Fallon

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Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman were among the many late-night luminaries to pay tribute Thursday night to Joan Rivers, who died earlier that day. The hosts recalled the comedian and TV star as "one of the classiest acts" and "hilarious" and "the nicest person in the world."

Jimmy Fallon

On “The Tonight Show,” which Rivers guest-hosted while Johnny Carson was on vacation in the mid-’80s, Fallon remembered the “fearless” comedian as “one of the funniest people in the world, ever.”

He added, “She would come out and just say what you were thinking, but you wouldn’t say it. You would stop, but she wouldn’t stop; she would just say it. And a lot of people thought her humor was mean, but she just did it because she wanted to make people laugh. That’s the goal. And she could take a joke just as easily as she could dish it out. One of the classiest acts. Love her so much. Class act all the way.”

Fallon also recalled his first time helming late-night’s longest-running talk show. The first time Fallon hosted, he said, “To my buddy who said that I’d never be the host of ‘The Tonight Show’: You owe me $100.” Although Rivers was one of many celebrities to emerge from behind the curtain to pretend to pay up, her cameo was perhaps the most significant, as Feb. 17 marked her first “Tonight Show” appearance in more than two decades.

“She came out and she came over to me, and she started crying and gave me a kiss,” recalled Fallon, while choking up. “It was really emotional, and really nice.”

David Letterman

On “Late Show,” Letterman remembered the “indefatigable” Rivers as a pioneer for women in comedy, a self-deprecating comic who had 12 best-selling books and as many as 300 gigs per year.

“[She was as] funny today as she was when she first got into show business,” he said. “And talk about guts: She would come out here and sit in this chair and say some things that were unbelievable. You would have to swallow pretty hard, and twice, but it was hilarious. And she stood behind her jokes. And, to my knowledge, would say these things and never apologize, because she always felt, ‘Hey, I’m a comedian; these are jokes; there are no victimless jokes.’”

Jimmy Kimmel

Kimmel offered condolences to the Rivers family, and said he was grateful for some six appearances Rivers made on his talk show.

“Besides being a pioneer for women in comedy — for everyone in comedy — Joan was a very lucky person, because she loved her job so much,” Kimmel added. “She never wanted to stop, and she didn’t have to stop, because she was so great at it.”

Before showing a clip of one of Rivers’ “Jimmy Kimmel Live” appearances, he reminded the audience that the woman was 81 years old at the time she joked about her grandson, Cooper.

“I want him to be gay,” she said. “Who else is going to give a damn that I knew Judy Garland?”

One of Kimmel’s guests, Sarah Silverman, said she was “broken inside” over her the death of her friend, who’d emailed Silverman last Tuesday to congratulate her for winning an Emmy Award.

“She was a hero to me, and I loved her very much,” she added. “I think a lot of people, when they die at 81, you go, ‘Well, she was 81. She had an amazing life.’ But she wasn't done!”

Conan O'Brien

On “Conan,” former “Tonight Show” and “Late Night” host Conan O’Brien discussed Rivers’ legacy with fellow comedian Chris Hardwick. O’Brien said that while generations would remember her in different ways, his snapshot of her was as guest host of “The Tonight Show.”

“Joan Rivers would fill in for Johnny Carson, and when she did, it was an event,” he added. “Everybody — I mean, everybody — in the country would talk about it the next day. ... Everyone would howl with laughter, and the next day, they would talk about it, because, at that time, she was so, so outrageous. And her comedy — it felt so out of the bounds, and people were just blown away.”

Hardwick said he became friends with Rivers a few years ago — decades after meeting her when she was an opening act for Johnny Carson in Las Vegas. After calling her a pioneer and an inspiration, the “@midnight” host marveled at how edgy comics ranging from Silverman to Louis C.K. revered her work.

“She hated [being called a] ‘legend,’ because she always [said], ‘Oh, it makes me sound old,’ but she really was.” Hardwick added. “She did so many things, and broke down so many barriers, and she did it until right up until right before she passed away.”

Seth Meyers

On “Late Night,” Seth Meyers recalled Rivers’ July appearance on his talk show.

“I haven’t been doing this job very long, but I have not sat next to anyone who told more jokes faster than Joan Rivers did when she was here,” Meyers said.

The former “Saturday Night Live” head writer also praised her for her prolific comedy writing.

"[She was] the nicest person in the world, when we got a chance to talk to her backstage,” she said. “So, [I’m] very happy that I had that moment. I wish she was here right now, because if she was here right now, she would make a joke about how she just passed away — and she would get away with it, because it would be really funny. So, we will miss you, Joan Rivers.”

Craig Ferguson

Craig Ferguson also offered a tribute to “one of the all-time greats” on his “Late Late Show.”

"It’s terribly sad,” he said. “I just hope that when Joan meets the man upstairs, he’s wearing something she can insult.”

Jon Stewart

On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart prefaced the show-ending “Moment of Zen” segment – a clip of her 1967 stand-up set on “The Ed Sullivan Show” – by offering his condolences to her family.

“There are very few people in my business that you can say are, or were, actually groundbreaking talents,” Stewart said. “Joan Rivers was one of them.”

Follow writer Chris Serico on Twitter.

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