To bring Joan Rivers back, drag queen Joe Posa memorized a lifetime of jokes

Joan Rivers died Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where she was rushed after she stopped breathing during surgery on her vocal chords at an endoscopy clinic on Aug. 28. Rivers had become a living legend with her unapologetic style of comedy and daring sense of fashion. Here's a look back at the diva's ultra-glam ensembles over the years. Rivers, who had recently written the book "Diary Of A Mad Diva," signs copies at Bookends Bookstore on July 1 in Ridgewood, N.J.

The true legends of entertainment never die, they live forever as kitschy tribute acts. And if they are a certain kind of diva, they live on in drag.

Joe Posa got his start in the drag scene 25 years at in “An Evening at La Cage” in Vegas, lip-syncing to Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Gloria Estefan. But in 2004 he added a comedian to his repertoire of characters: Joan Rivers.

He’ll be in Arizona to perform “The B***h Is Back” Nov. 15-17 at Phoenix Theatre. The show opens with some reminiscences from the late Rivers’ onetime head comedy writer, Phoenix native Tony Tripoli.

Rivers, who died in 2014, first caught Posa’s act eight years earlier at a Texas fundraiser where he was working the red carpet (the real Joan was the headliner). They kept in touch.

“The comedy of Joan spoke to me, her spirit, her insight,” Posa says.

‘I get away with a lot more’

“They say comedy today with young comics is difficult because of being politically correct, you can’t really get political, you can’t get this, you can’t get that, but Joan onstage is very freeing because people know that that is sort of Joan’s way and have given her license. So I get away with a lot more as the character. …

“I’m very improv, like she was, just including the audience, but in a good way. I don’t berate people or put them down. People want to be, especially these days, lifted up, be noticed, be heard, so it’s done, as she did, with a heart … I include everybody, as she did.”

There are other Rivers impersonators out there, both male and female, but Posa’s long experience means every show is different, says his producer — and husband — Frank Ribaudo of Florida-based Celebrity Management. The two have been together 18 years and married for five.

“The difference between what Joe does and what comedians do in general is that his show is not scripted,” Ribaudo says. “He has all the material in his head, thousands of jokes of Joan’s that she’s done over the years, and he uses the audience’s response to fuel where he goes next.”

QUOTES: REMEMBERING THE ICONIC, IRREVERENT JOAN RIVERS

Thanks ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

Drag queens are more popular than ever thanks to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” but Posa says the latest stars are all about club-style glamour, while his old-school generation focused on creating characters.

“Everything is heightened,” he says. “A man needs to not only become a character but become a woman first, cross that gender line. So everything’s heightened because of that, and because of the icons, like Joan, Barbra, Liza, they’re bigger than life anyway.”

Interviewed on Halloween, Posa was game to improv a little bit, in character:

“On this day especially, when all the people are out and trick-or-treating — you know, I don’t mind a trick now and then myself. I have very active sex life, yes, yes, yes. I only wish I had a partner.

“Treat? Buy me jewelry.”

Reach the reporter at kerry.lengel@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4896. Follow him at facebook.com/LengelOnTheater and twitter.com/KerryLengel.

‘The B***h Is Back’

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 15-17.

Where: Phoenix Theatre, 1825 N. Central Ave.

Admission: $29-$49.

Details: 602-734-5734, davissonentertainment.com.

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