Why Joan Rivers Matters..
So, in case you’ve been living under The Rock for the past 16 hours, you’re probably aware that semi-famous, fully-infamous octogenarian Joan Rivers passed away today. The irony that this was the result of a surgical procedure that was NON-cosmetic is not lost on anyone. Not even on Alanis Morissette. And most definitely not on Joan of Arc(h Comedy) herself, who is almost surely taking time out from zinging Saint Peter about the cut of his gowns to fully appreciate the gallows humor to be found in all of this.
Now, the internet is already overflowing with outpourings of think-pieces about the cultural relevance of Miss Rivers who, lets be honest, is probably torn between enjoying the attention and getting vaguely pissy about the fact 78% of those people weren’t writing about her when she still had enough of a pulse to revel it. I mean – that’s the odd thing about celebrity deaths in the internet age – there seems to be more appreciation in passing than there is in those dark last years of living, which is both sad and as perfect a summation of the ridiculousness of the human condition as you’ll ever find. SO, why am I spending the final hours of my Friday Night (AUSTRALIA TIME) sitting naked on a Swiss Ball, drinking Red Wine and writing about Joan Rivers instead of doing the dozens of other things available to a semi-handsome chap in a semi-big big city? Because, my dear friends, to me – Joan Rivers matters.
There are a lot of great articles today celebrating the life and times and zings and rhymes of ol’ Joan – honouring her place as not just a trailblazer in television (as both the proud host to a vagina and as a comedienne in general) but as a feminist icon and all-round pop culture great, so I’m not going to cover any ground that others have already covered more thoughtfully, comprehensively or eloquently than I ever could (Peter Taggart’s wonderful piece on how she taught a young gay man how to use humor to not just survive but thrive is a particularly beautiful and thought-provoking tribute – read it HERE). The one thing I do feel compelled to commemorate though, that hasn’t really been mentioned enough in life OR in death, is how important her complete and utter sense of no-bullshit total honesty was and still is.
I’ve always very much enjoyed Joan Rivers. Growing up in buttfuck nowhere Australia in the 80’s, she was mostly that woman who had all the plastic surgery who made fun of the women who wore bad dresses, and she was pretty great. But what always stood out to me was how, no matter what, she made fun of herself just as much as she did everyone else. Now, anyone filled with even a moderate amount of self-loathing (let alone one who works full time in comedy, which is a field ripe with it if there ever was one), knows that all the greatest self-deprecating zings come from a darker place than most publicly care to admit. But the thing that always stood out to me was just how HONEST hers were. Here was a woman who spent her time making fun of herself and those poor saps who stumbled into her orbit with with equal aplomb. It never felt mean or hypocritical, because she treated everyone the same way she treated herself, and it was always rooted in making the people laugh, not in the ugliness or ego that drags down a lot of mean-spirited comedy these days. For as long as I’ve been aware of Joan Rivers, she’s been the easy go-to target for any joke a rag could ever make and yet, even at her commercial nadir, no one was shooting arrows at Joan that she hadn’t already slung at herself ten times earlier. And that was always really admirable to me. Because it wasn’t self-deprecation born out of self-defense, but one that comes from a genuine sense of revelling in the completely ridiculous nature of her own existence. You could never make a joke about Joan Rivers that she wasn’t already well and truly in on, and that kind of genuine self-awareness and the joie de vivre that came with was something I always found so admirable and aspirational.
There’s a great quote I stumbled on today, where she said :-
“Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.” Joan Rivers.
There, in one sentence, she sums up the beauty of life so much better than many great philosophers ever could. Because, you see, the beauty of Joan Rivers’s jokes wasn’t her particular sharpness as a comedian (while a trailblazer for sure, her jokes often had more in common with the workmanlike beauty of a Bob Hope-style pro than they did of any modern day Silverman-style social commentator, and I truly mean that as a compliment), but her complete and utter fearlessness to both denigrate and celebrate herself in the same sentence. So much of the celebrity world in rooted in ego and there were a lot of days where Joan Rivers was the only man alive willing to revel in the complete and utter ridiculousness of it all. And that, my friends, is one of the most beautiful things in life. She mocked it not because she was above it, but because she was just as much entrenched in it as anyone else, and she took great joy in how hilarious that fact could be. There’s nothing worse than the posthumous deifying of celebrities, and she’d be the last person to expect us to ignore she very much had as many demons and personal problems as any of her more ubiquitous targets, but there was never a day that Joan Rivers was not just aware but in awe of her own personal absurdity as anyone in her orbit. And she was fucking A-OK with that.
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the most important personal legacy she left for kids today. That it’s not just okay to make fun of yourself, but it’s pretty fucking awesome fun to do. And it’s okay to not be so goddamned serious all the time. Have a crack, make a joke – and if you happen to offend The Jews or The Gays or The United League Of Former Hispanic-Lesbian Church Ministers, just be an adult, own it and move on. Because making people laugh isn’t an exact science, and it’s better to occasionally offend than live a life hamstrung by fear, even if it isn’t always as appreciated in life as it is in death.
“Screw kindness. You have to tell the truth, that’s what comedy is all about..” Joan Rivers
Which brings me to my other point. It’s easy to get sad because the world lost one of its most irreverently acerbic voices – but why not take joy in the fact that this workhorse of a woman went out at the top of her game. I mean – I’m not glad she’s dead (we’ll save that for Annie Duke) – but I personally derive great joy from the fact that she went out at 81 one years old and at the very top of her game. For someone so open and candid about how her work was her life, there is a real beauty in the fact that she passed away suddenly and very much appreciated by many right up until those final moments. No one can know what was going through her head in her final minutes, but you can rest assured they weren’t clouded by all the fears and doubts of obscurity that she so beautifully and admirably laid bare in her utterly perfect and wildly successful award-winning documentary A Piece Of Work (which is basically the gold-standard of artistry as far as artist documentaries ever – read more HERE. Or, better yet, legally rent it on iTunes because she’s fucking worth it and it’s really that damned good). And you see, that’s the thing – death is never easy, not at any age. But there is a real joy to be found in someone having the good fortune to go out having every single thing in life that they ever wanted, in that very moment. And while I’m sure Joan would rather be there on the Red Carpet getting to make fun of Anne Hathaway in person next Oscar Season, she probably still has a pretty good seat from where she is. And she’d just be happy that she’s not forgotten. Because all Joan Rivers every really wanted was to stay relevant and to make people laugh, in whatever order that happened to be. So, as I sit here alone and naked aloft a giant inflatable blue ball, I raise my glass and remember her – because it’s the most ridiculous and true thing I can possibly do..
PS – If you’re looking for something to watch to remember Joan, obviously the aforementioned A Piece Of Work is the GOAT of all Joan-related media (her daughter non-withstanding, obvi). However, a lesser known highlight is her outstandingly poignant and self-refential turn playing herself on the season two season finale of Nip/Tuck (aka the last great episode of a once great show). In a non holds barred performance, she anchors the episode by enlisting the Doctors to reverse all the plastic surgery she’s had over the years in a last-ditch bid to stay relevant. It’s an extraordinarily meta and thrillingly clever affecting hour of television, and she’s just great in it (read more HERE).
After you’ve watched that, feel free to join us while we finish this bottle of red and spend the rest of the evening watching her and Melissa call Annie Duke and Brande Roderick “Whore Pit Vipers” and “PO-KAH PLAYAS’, over and over again. BECAUSE. ❤ ❤ ❤
“I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware.” Joan Rivers, Queen of Fucking EVERYTHING. Rest In Peace, you amazing amazing Piece Of Work.