As a fan of streaming TV shows such as “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Hacks,” starring, Rachel Brosnahan and Jean Smart, respectively, I have increased my interest in female comics exponentially. Loving the acerbic wit delivered by the fearless characters in each of those shows, I am also a fan of real-life stand-up comedians such as Amy Schumer, Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, and Chelsea Handler. But before them all, there was trailblazer Joan Rivers who laid the foundation for all the women comics who followed her.
As my national performing arts coverages widens, I am increasingly alerted to artists deserving of exposure. One of those performers is Joe Posa, best known for his impression of Rivers, and who anointed him “My favorite Joan Rivers impersonator.” Posa, who is managed by his husband, Frank Ribaudo, was brought to my attention by a mutual friend who lives in Ft. Lauderdale, adjacent to Posa’s home in Wilton Manors, Florida.
Posa, a NYC native, has performed internationally for 30 years as an actor and female celebrity impersonator in cabarets, nightclubs, TV, and in films. Most recently he has performed in “Back & BITTER Than Ever,” his tribute to Rivers who died in 2014. Posa, who performed alongside Rivers several times, often shares the stage with her former head comedy writer, Tony Tripoli, who was co-executive producer of E Networks’ “Fashion Police” and her opening act. As a celebrity impersonator, Posa has performed as Liza Minnelli, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson, and others. A trained dancer who was a cast member of “Evening at La Cage,” Posa sharpened his characterizations of the performers he has impersonated in venues throughout the U.S. and Mexico.
Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with the affable Posa by Zoom from his Wilton Manors home about his alter ego Rivers and the career he hopes to further expand. My first question was “Why Joan Rivers?” to which he replied, “Like most gay men, I am a fan all the divas such as Barbara, Liza, and I loved watching Joan. I thought I could do Joan after watching her on the ‘Tonight Show,” her own show and upon doing research on her. She is a New Yorker, I am a New Yorker, and we are similar in the way we roll… ‘Oy! whatever, been there, done that.’ There was this spirit of New York about her and her Jewish humor that spoke to me. But I also learned that she was compassionate and caring, like I have been told I am.”
According to Posa, the popularity of his act, which he says attracts both straight and LGTBQ+ audiences, rests on the fact that Rivers and her irreverent, off-color humor is missed. “She told it like it was. These days no one wants to insult one another. People miss her because she was not politically correct. She could talk about Jews, politics, ugly people, gay people. Nowadays you have to be so politically correct or else you get slapped at the Oscars or people cancel you. When you see Joan, you are going to get off-color humor. People miss the honesty in her comedy. Now everyone must watch what they say and that gives me, an actor playing her, the freedom to crack jokes like, ‘Oh you’re old. The good thing about old people and sex is you don’t have to change the sheets. The nurse does it.’ Or ‘You buy at Costco. Why? 98-years-old and you buy 18 large jars of mayonnaise. You’re not even going to make it to the checkout counter. Why?’ or ‘Gays are the best audiences in the world. Let us hear it for the gays. They laugh at anything. They are so stupid.’ She had a twist on everything. She would talk about categories of people but if you really listened, she was never too harsh. She got people. There was a Ying and a Yang. She was heartfelt. She addressed everybody but did it with humor. She let people in on her jokes.”
Since Posa performs in drag as Rivers, I asked him if he felt that female impersonation is now more mainstream thanks to entertainers such as RuPaul to which he answered, “RuPaul has helped open the doors, but there is also a backlash, like what is happening in Tennessee to outlaw drag shows and here in in Florida with DeSantis trying to save kids from drag artists. What about the guns that are killing kids? Why are we going after drag artists? I have hope, however, because young people are voting and are more aware. They do not care and are more fluid about their sexuality. I live in the space of hope and optimism. Yes, drag is becoming more mainstream and it’s fun. People need to be entertained, especially post pandemic, but there is also pushback.”
When asked if feels he has made a major breakthrough as an entertainer, Posa said, “A few things are in the works, and I am in talks for something big. In the meantime, I am in Palm Springs playing The Purple Room, March 31 and April 1. Last March, Steve Campbell, who was the manager for the great Jim Bailey, who performed Barbara and Liza, saw my act there. Insisting I needed to be seen in London, he made a call and I eventually played there to great reviews and am scheduled to return. They love Joan in London.”
As far as what the future holds, Posa said, “I met Liza once and she said, ‘You do the work and be ready for when things happen.’ Joan is quoted as saying, ‘If you stand in the rain long enough, lighting will strike.’ I really hope it happens quick because I am not getting any younger. (laughs) But I do feel like things such as meeting you and your interest in me is encouraging. My work is ripe now. Joan has been gone for nine years in September, so the grief period has also passed. On a national level, people are ready to see her again. On an emotional level, everybody is ready. Joe Posa is ready. My costumes, my wigs, and my act are ready, so people are calling. People in the industry have me in their sights, and I am ready for lighting to strike. I see something on he horizon.”
For more information about Joe Posa visit Joeposa.com.