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A Rivers goes with her flow

Shutting Joan Rivers' mouth may be a nigh impossible engineering feat. It's hard to even imagine it in that state. Rivers without her yapper would be Niagra Falls reduced to a trickle-down drip. She is what she is -- a voice box amid constantly changing surroundings. You can nip and tuck her, but you can't zip those lips.

Best known these days as a red carpet fixture, Rivers, 73, gets back to where she still belongs as the leadoff hitter on Bravo's Funny Girls, a new series of standup specials premiering Tuesday night, Oct. 24 (9 central, 10 eastern). Her contribution, subtitled "Joan Rivers: Before Melissa Pulls the Plug," is a bawdy, frequently bleeped attack on just about every sensibility known to humankind. She hates, in no particular order, old people, ugly people, the Olsen twins, vegans, kids, love, the Clintons (and their "ugly daughter Celery"), the Bushes and, to a certain degree, herself.

"I use my left boob now as a stopper in my tub," she tells a mostly receptive crowd at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. And her dates are getting so ancient that "one guy gave me a hickey, left his teeth in my neck."

In a teleconference tied to the special, Rivers says she's had to change her act or be irrelevant.

"I ratchet it up because comedy is ratcheted up. The times are so rough."

The special was taped before Mel Gibson's infamous drunken tirade against Jews. She now incorporates him into her act, joking that his other car is a gas chamber and that he has an "I (heart symbol) Hitler" license plate.

"I think he's an anti-Semitic sonofabitch, and he should (expletive) die," Rivers says in the phone interview. "He is what he is. And how refreshing that we all now know. The ones I hate are the ones who say they all love everybody."

She has a substantial following in the gay community, and regularly plays off that fact. "Gays booing!" she retorts in the Bravo special after telling a thoroughly tasteless joke about how Heather Mills seduced Paul McCartney.

Without her gay fans, "I'd probably be a dentist's wife in New Jersey," Rivers says. "They just love strong, ugly women. They love Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Liza. I think they love us because we try harder and we're not the stereotype of what we're supposed to be."

Rivers also has taped a pilot for Bravo, Straight Talk, which she describes as "The View with four gay men. We talk about current events, or as we now call it, 'pop culture.' Gay men have the best sense of humor, the best sensibility."

Bravo asked Rivers to do the standup special after hearing about her regular Wednesday night performances at New York City's The Cutting Room. She agreed with the understanding that "I'm not going to change anything."

It seems certain that she hasn't. Rivers' humor is filtered through a sewer pipe, emerging raw, rank and ribald. But she knows how to deliver it while also playing the crowd. Those are her saving graces on a special that's both indescribably malicious and far funnier than expected. Whatever it is, she's still got it.

Grade: B-minus