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October 1, 2014

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Joan Rivers of yesterday: Skating down the Strip. Today: Chained to a shopping cart

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Chris Morris

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May 16, 1980: Tony Bennett and Joan Rivers' marquee at the Sands.

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Joan and Melissa Rivers report backstage during the 2010 Miss USA Pageant at Planet Hollywood on May 16, 2010.

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British singer Tom Jones, center, blows out candles at a surprise birthday party at Caesars Palace on June 6, 1974. Guests include Joan Rivers, Sonny Bono, Jones, Dionne Warwick, Debbie Reynolds and Liberace.

Joan Rivers has never been known as a prop comic, the absence of props in her act being the foremost reason why.

But away from the stage, she’s fine with props. A shopping cart and bullhorn, for instance. Oh, and a chain, too.

A month ago in Burbank, Calif., Rivers used the chain to hook herself to the cart. She used the bullhorn to amplify her voice as she castigated wholesale behemoth Costco for refusing to stock her latest book, “I Hate Everyone … Starting With Me.”

The reason Rivers was given for the boycott is because she wrote a single swear word on the back cover. The event made for great theater — and TV — with Rivers showing up with her own camera crew and remaining on the scene until every news outlet’s need for comment was sated. The Los Angeles Times book columnist called the event “The Book Publicity Stunt of 2012."

That is likely true, but Rivers does appear to be genuinely miffed at her book not being on the shelves at Costco.

“I think they did a very stupid thing,” she said. “When you’re selling ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and you don’t let in a funny book because it has (a profane word) on the back cover? I think somebody got a little confused there.”

Asked what she thought of the book she mentioned in comparison to hers, Rivers spat out a laugh and said, “Been there, done that.”

Rivers returns to the Venetian with shows tonight, Friday and Saturday, headlining on the same parcel where decades ago she performed at the Sands. Highlights of our interview:

On the passing of Phyllis Diller, who died last month at age 95: “Well, she meant a great deal to me because one of the first jobs I ever had as a writer in television, and I started as a writer, was doing 'The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show.’ (Rivers was a junior writer on the show, which starred Norm Crosby and lasted just one season). She was generous and lovely and gracious and just a very nice person and she had an extraordinarily brilliant sense of humor.

“Three weeks before she died, (Rivers’ daughter) Melissa and I had brunch at her house, and we took my grandson (Cooper, who is 10 years old), which I’m so glad I did, even though he didn’t have a clue who she was. We told him that Phyllis was a really funny lady and without her, Grandma — meaning me — would not be doing what she is doing.”

On being president of her apartment building's resident association, which is an HOA-type organization of tenants, in Manhattan: “Nothing changes for me in this position. I’ve been in it for the last 12 years. Nobody else wants the job. It’s not an honor. It’s a punishment, in my building. I just do it because somebody has to do it.”

On the recent controversy surrounding photos of a naked Prince Harry partying in Las Vegas: “I heard about fallout from that. What fallout? I think it’s great. My assistant told me that there’s a video going around now. Great! I think that, before you go somewhere and get nude, remember that everyone has a cellphone and every cellphone has a camera on it. I’m really surprised that the people around him don’t check people coming into his parties for cellphones.

“Do what you want, for God’s sake, but make sure it doesn’t get out. What did the Victorians say? ‘Just don’t scare the horses.’ ”

On the development of new material: “It comes slowly. It’s like embroidery: I just keep adding and adding and embellishing and changing. It just happens. I don’t put in big chunks like some comedians do. It all grows, little by little, slowly evolving, and pretty soon you look at what you were doing three years ago and you say, ‘I’m not doing any of that stuff anymore.’ ”

On her favorite memories of Las Vegas: “There have been some great moments over the years. I remember when I got to go backstage and hang out with (Frank) Sinatra, those kinds of things, and when the performers all went to the Sands coffee shop after their shows. Those were wonderful moments.

“I think the greatest moment ever was when they closed off the Strip and we all roller-skated down the Strip. I think it was for a cancer prevention charity event. It was at night, and it was memorable. It would never happen today. That was in the early ‘80s, maybe even the late-’70s. Roller-skated down the Strip, at night, and all the lights were gong. It was magical. Unbelievable.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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