Oscar's Grouch

It wouldn't be an Academy Awards fest without a fake Joan Rivers.

Joan of Lark: It's Helene Weinberg, talking up a storm - at Oscar Night America.
Joan of Lark: It's Helene Weinberg, talking up a storm at Oscar Night America.

Can we talk?

Helene Weinberg sure can. And the 40-year-old Cleveland comedienne doesn't just talk the talk. As a fast-gabbing, out-of-breath Joan Rivers impersonator, Weinberg's mouth runs a marathon at Oscar Night America, the annual fund-raiser for the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, held this year at the Madstone Centrum Theater. Like the real-deal Rivers, whose pre-Oscar pans of celebrity fashion air on the E! network, Weinberg greets guests outside the theater, cutting every woman down to (dress) size.

Take the lady who glided down the red carpet in a silver lamé gown last year. "I said, 'Oh, I see you found the Reynolds Wrap,'" says Weinberg. Then there was the woman whose fashion sense made no sense at all. "Look, everyone! That dress -- TJ Maxx!" Weinberg squealed into her microphone, as a video camera beamed the image to a huge screen inside.

Weinberg and her husband run Out to Lunch Events, which provides entertainment for company functions. Despite her packed, Palm Springs-to-Palm Beach schedule, she finds time each year to play the saucy joke-cracker for the five-hour (!) Oscar party -- the only one in Cleveland sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. ("Sanctioned" parties are those where guests may watch the televised ceremony in a public venue without the threat of Oscar Nazis pulling the plug.)

Weinberg says it's a challenge to imitate the Kvetching Queen. "With her, there's a fine line between love and hate," she says. "I try not to be as insulting."

And men aren't exempt from the Weinberg whine. While most partygoers arrive in formal wear, one man showed up last year in khaki slacks and a white shirt, with the top button undone. "I told him, 'I'm sorry you couldn't afford a tie.'"

So what's Weinberg's advice for avoiding her critical sword?

Upper body: "Fat arms? Cover them up, please!"

Footwear: "Don't wear sneakers. I don't care how much they cost."

Your escort: "My mother always said, 'Date a transvestite. You'll double your wardrobe.'"

Weinberg says she still hasn't decided what she'll pull out of the closet for Oscar night. "Maybe they'll have something on QVC I can pick up for a song."

If anyone's going to sing, it's the Taskforce: Since its inception in 1998, the event has raised $15,000 for the organization's client services and food bank. An additional $8,000 is raised from a silent auction of autographed movie memorabilia, theater passes, and certificates for video rentals. "It's the one [event] people talk about and remember," says Judy Price, the agency's director of development. "Some guests will stay until that last credit rolls on the screen."

Or until their tired butts give out, whichever comes first.