BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
``Someone told me -- and I hate the term -- stars have very distinct voices. You know Cher, immediately. You know Liza, immediately,'' says Rivers, who performs Wednesday night in Miami. ``When I was a little girl, I picked up the phone and someone said, `Little boy, put your mother on.' I almost died. Now, Chastity Bono would have loved that!''
Johnny Carson put Rivers on the map, booking her on The Tonight Show in 1965. Two decades later, she became his permanent guest host.
When Rivers learned she wouldn't succeed Carson at NBC, she signed in 1986 with the new Fox network, to become its first late-night talk host -- and directly compete with him.
Carson stopped speaking to her.
``He was not a nice man,'' Rivers says. ``I called him and he hung up on me. He kept a feud going for 16 years. You suddenly saw why Johnny got to be Johnny.''
Rivers' talk show lasted six months. And she's blunt about the man who did replace Carson, Jay Leno, calling his comedy ``boring.''
``I like Leno because once I watch the show, I won't be able to handle heavy machinery for a couple of hours. I never watch it,'' Rivers says. ``A Leno punch line is like seeing Aretha Franklin coming at you on the beach. You can see it a long way off.''
Brooklyn-born Rivers, 76, still lives in New York, though she's on the road about two weeks a month. When in town, she performs Wednesdays in a 97-seat Hell's Kitchen nightclub.
Over the summer, Rivers taped two episodes in Miami Beach of her TV Land reality series, How'd You Get So Rich?, in which she visits the fancy homes of wealthy celebrities.
She says she'll go anywhere for the show. ``If there's a really rich Eskimo, I'm there. `Now that's what I call an igloo!' ''
``Everybody made it on their own. I love people like that,'' she says. ``I hate people that say, `I can't do it.' `I came from a broken home.' `My father was a drunk.'
``I love what I do, that's why I don't consider it work. Everybody says, `When are you going to retire?' I say to do what? Tell jokes to the mailman?''
Rivers says her New York penthouse on East 62nd Street off Fifth Avenue is still for sale. Asking price: $25 million.
``For $30 [million], you get the furniture. For $35 [million], I will work for you for a year. For $40 [million], you get me to perform once a week in your living room.''
Rivers appears with special guest Brad Zimmerman 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org; $34.50-$69.50.
Joan Rivers portraits by Charles William Bush