Betty White & Joan Rivers Put on Comedy Masterclass in Resurfaced 1982 Clip From ‘The Tonight Show’

by Caitlin Berard

Beloved Hollywood icon Betty White is best known for her role in the classic TV series The Golden Girls, in which she plays Rose Nylund, a “terminally naive” woman from Minnesota who would never dream of using insults to express her love for her friends. However, this couldn’t be further from the real Betty.

Like many comedians, Betty White had an endless supply of good-natured insults, which she frequently used against those she loved. And, as comedian and television host Joan Rivers had a similar approach to friendship, their conversation on The Tonight Show back in 1982 was just as hilarious as you might imagine.

From the very beginning, the admiration the women feel for one another is palpable, which only increases the frequency of their barbs. As she welcomes her guest, Joan Rivers calls Betty White a “really genuinely funny vicious lady,” and Betty wastes no time in illustrating this point.

When she sat down, Joan lobbed a less than complimentary comment about Betty’s dress. Betty then replies, “Oh, well I would like to say you look lovely, but unfortunately…,” drawing raucous laughter from both the audience and Joan Rivers herself. “You can’t see, probably, that far anymore!” Joan fires back at her 60-year-old friend.

Betty White and Joan Rivers Continue to Trade Hilarious Insults

From start to finish, the segment is filled with continuous laughter. After a few more insults, Betty exclaims, “This is just silly!” and tells Joan they should “fly right” for the rest of the interview. This lasts for all of five seconds, though. Shortly after, the Golden Girls star explains that she hasn’t had power for days.

“It’s been freezing and you don’t realize the number of things you do electrically. It’s just terrible,” White said, bursting into laughter. The audience groaned in response, understanding the sexual innuendo. “I’m so lonely!” White declared, confirming their suspicions.

“I know my Christmas gift to you then will be a lot of D-cell batteries,” Rivers responds.

Betty White then explains the premise of her new show Just Men! and the “young studs” around whom the show is centered. This, of course, inspires even more jokes between herself and Joan before the host turns the conversation toward parties.

“Once in a while, I get myself girded up to give a party. But I like to give real small ones,” White said. “My idea of a nice big party is two people.”

The only moment in the entire segment in which Betty White was at all serious was in discussing her love for animals. Joan asked Betty what career path she would follow if acting was off the table. “A zookeeper,” Betty responded simply. “Seriously, very seriously. I would like to be a zookeeper and work in a zoo.”

For those who don’t know, Betty White eventually got her wish! In 2013, the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers made her an honorary zookeeper, a title she proudly held until her death in 2021.