Has taking pot shots at the bleeps and blunders committed by Joan Rivers as she hosts her red carpet reviews become too popular a sport? It would seem so, judging by the comedienne's increasingly benign take on E! Entertainment Television's awards show staples — most recently evidenced by this year's pre-Oscar special. With daughter Melissa tucked away in a sky-box safehouse, Joan is now on her own at limousine level, greeting the stars with nary a trace of her trademark tang. For these days, everyone is her best pal; everyone is her pick to win. The infamous "I'm not going near that woman!" stance held by Tinseltown's finest is now an anxiety based more on myth than reality. "This is a kinder, gentler Joan," the host herself said early on. And while there was a trace of sarcasm in her tone, those were nonetheless such disquieting words to hear!

Set up with choice real estate — adjacent to a star-magnet Australian media outlet — Joan stumbled across a galaxy of A-listers. Yet armed with questions seldom heavier than "How many awards shows have you been to?" — someone help me out here, what is the interesting answer to that oft-asked question of hers? — the mistress of sartorial ceremony frequently dealt us dead air. Save for these few choice snippets:

A Beautiful Mind

's Jennifer Connelly let slip that she isn't a member of the Academy. "How do you become one?" the nominee sheepishly asked. Irony alert: Elijah Wood, having braved wizards and goblins in Lord of the Rings, last year's most fantastical offering, said of Oscar day, "It's all a bit surreal."In The Bedroom nominee Marisa Tomei was glad to have finally escaped the shadow of her My Cousin Vinny character. "I was perceived as that person," she lamented, "but I'm not like her." Of daughter Angelina Jolie's recent adoption of a child, Jon Voight shared, "She is a big-hearted gal... with a wonderful instinct."Samuel Jackson, having filmed against a green screen for much of this summer's effects-heavy Star Wars sequel, exhibited an anxiousness to view the final product. "I can't wait to see what I was doing!"Helen Mirren owned up to being nervous about her role in an upcoming television pilot. "It's a real jump off of a high board," said the acclaimed stage and screen actress.

Also sprinkled through the special were a few of the goofs and gaffes which Joan is known for: Referring to acclaimed Brit actor Jim Broadbent as Australian; repeatedly flubbing Glenn Close's role in the awards ceremony (Presenter? Nominee? Nope, announcer); suggesting that Denzel Washington directed himself in Training Day. (Editorial aside to Denzel, who mentioned the millions he makes as an actor: At what point do we upgrade from the clip-on bow tie?)

In the end, although Joan may be pulling her verbal punches — and/or saving the catty quips for E!'s Fashion Police wrap-up — the stars whom she slammed in days gone by were more than up to the task of taking her on. "I don't look like a swashbuckler, do I?" asked Will Smith. "Because that's what you said about me five years ago!" Then, as the red carpet began to be rolled up, pretty woman Julia Roberts put her interviewer on guard. "I don't want to hear, 'Oh, that skank!'" she jokingly warned Rivers. "I know how you talk!"

Well, at least how Joan used to talk.