I realize I’m a little late, but this has been a tough one.
One of my favorite movies growing up, and my earliest memory of Joan Rivers, was Spaceballs. In it, Rivers played a C-3PO Android Jewess named Dot Matrix with a Joan Rivers-esque wig of the times and some of the best lines of the movie. Rivers’ own wit was injected into the character:
Can we talk? OK, we all know Prince Valium is a pill. But you could have married him for your father’s sake and had a headache for the next 25 years.
Of course, while she was trained in the famed Actors’ Studio, Joan Rivers was known more for her stand-up career and later her interviews on the red carpet.
Since her death, Joan has been lauded for what she did for women in comedy. And it’s true. Without a Joan Rivers, there likely would be no Kathy Griffin or Sarah Silverman or perhaps even Lena Dunham today. Joan paved the way for all free-thinking women to get their say in the din of white male sameness.
Chris Rock perhaps said it best, though:
I know people are like, ‘Joan Rivers broke down all these barriers for women, blah blah blah,’…I think it’s a disservice to even group her in any — Joan Rivers is one of the greatest stand-up comedians to ever live. She’s better than [Don] Rickles. She’s one of the best female stand-ups to ever live. No man ever said, ‘Yeah, I want to go on after Joan.’ No, Joan Rivers closed the show every night.
People have said Joan was shocking for her time, and she was, having joked about sex, marriage, and abortions in ways that weren’t done until Phyllis Diller before her. But she was shocking everyone right up to the day she died, which was why she was so important. Joan Rivers’s humor and voice was the kind that could be at once outrageously horrifying and yet make you think about things on a systemic level.
In short, Joan was Joan to the end:
When I heard she did a one-hour set the night before she died, I cried. I can’t help but feel she was taken from us too soon.
It used to be a dream of mine to be one of Joan’s writers. I quickly realized this was unrealistic and modified my hopes to seeing her live and meeting her one day. I never will, but Joan’s comedy lives on forever. You can YouTube her original days on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. I recommend you watch the documentary A Piece of Work on Netflix. For any comics or comedy nerds, you’ll be blown away. Netflix also has one of her stand-up specials. I daresay Joan lives on in Chris Rock and even Louis C.K. as well, and all of the comics who’ve taken a page out of her book. And, of course, Joan lives on in her daughter and grandson.
I didn’t know Joan, but I think she would love being the center of attention and beating out Royal Baby #2 on magazine covers.