In 1978, Rivers made her directorial debut with the comedy Rabbit Test, which she also wrote and starred her friend Billy Crystal in his film debut as the world's first pregnant man.
The film flopped at the box office and was panned by critics. Billboard 200 and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.
During the early and mid-1980s, Rivers found further success on stand-up and television, through the decade subsequently proved to be controversial for her. By August 1983, Carson established Rivers as his first regular guest host on The Tonight Show.
The year 1983, in particular, was very successful; she performed at Carnegie Hall in February, did the March stand-up special An Audience with Joan Rivers, hosted the April 9 episode of Saturday Night Live, and released the best-selling comedy album What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most? At the time, she spoke of her primary Tonight Show life as having been "Johnny Carson's daughter", a reference to his longtime mentoring of her.