A tribute to the one and only Joan Rivers

There she was, resplendent in a black jumpsuit and a gold lame trapeze-style coat with lavish ruffles, no less.

Joan Rivers would be hard to ignore in any situation, On stage, live at the Atlantic City Hilton’s theater back in 2010, she was greeted with wild and joyous cheers by a capacity audience.

My husband and I were there at my instigation. Vic was less curious than I was about this force of nature. I was somewhere between a fan and a woman who still blushed at some of Joan Rivers’ stories. I was there to see for myself what made her tick. And occasionally, outrage.

So the evening started out like any other one might expect: lots of expectation, curiosity about seeing Joan Rivers up close and personal, and surely warmth flowing from the audience to the star comedienne.

But suddenly, the mood changed.

A heckler in the front row was going at Joan Rivers, and after the first few jibes, she was losing patience. Clearly, the fun was about to be over.

“I’m leaving the stage and not coming back until he’s out of here,” she announced.

The audience, not certain whether this was a comedic ploy after all, seemed a bit stunned. And just as the curiosity was spreading from one section of the audience to another, Joan Rivers flung her glamorous coat around herself and stalked off. She clearly meant what she said.

Within a minute or two, the “gentleman” was approached by several security guards, and escorted from the room. The audience, now mobilized to be a cheering section for the performer, stood and applauded long and hard.

Score one for Joan Rivers.

In some ways, the entire incident was a metaphor for who Joan Rivers was and why we’ll miss this sassy lady.

Her show that night was raucous, ribald and entirely hilarious.

After so many years as one of the most ambitious and intelligent performers of any era, Rivers was not about to yield to a lone drunk determined to get his share of attention. Nor was she going to yield to the passage of time.

Rivers ran bolder and stronger than ever in her older years — she was, I now realize, about 77 years old when we saw her in Atlantic City. That was more than four decades after her big break came with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, after which this undeniably loud, brash blonde skyrocketed on.

You could never bring your old Aunt Mabel, who plans church suppers, to a Rivers show. Bad mix.

And forget political correctness: Joan Rivers went after every ethnic group — and after men, women, religion and icons like Cher and Larry King, which delighted the old-timers.

So why did audiences love her?

Because the woman was so funny, so strong, so clever, and in the end, so strangely likable.

Outrageousness aside, Rivers still had managed to become not just a star, but also an international business tycoon with a line of jewelry that knocked your eyes out, yet was semi-affordable.

And she made no bones about her chronic dates with plastic surgeons in her uniquely self-deprecating style.

Would you want to have been in Joan Rivers’ path on the red carpet?

Would you have wanted to be one of her targets because she thought you were phony or look like how she described Nicole Kidman: “She looks like a ketchup bottle!” she insisted, referring to her long body and red hair.

Now we know that there won’t be any more Joan Rivers shows. No more of those gleeful, devilish invectives.

But if there were, this would be advice to heed: Don’t even think of heckling her… because you’d lose! ••