All fashionistas, in the know, or anyone who simply likes a good
bitchfest, should surely, by now, be hooked to Joan River’s television
programme, Fashion Police, currently running on E!. Such is its
popularity, it’s weekly UK slot was shifted from late-night midweek
viewing to the prime time of early Sunday evenings. Here, Joan is doing
what she does best – ripping apart anyone who comes in her way. No
matter the self-confessed plastic surgery addict’s questionable
reconstructed face, body etc., crowned by a hard helmet of hair.
Yes, it’s hard to believe that this Jewish matriarch has still got the power to shock at the ripe old age of 75 years old.
Her energy and dedication to her career would put others, half her age,
to shame. Aside from her weekly TV spot, she writes a blog and answers
questions on E! Online; she won last year’s US Celebrity Apprentice, and
managed to sell an estimated $800 million worth of jewellery on QVC. How is this non-pensionable mistress of comedy still on top of her game? The answers can be found in co-directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s excellent warts-and-all feature-length documentary ‘Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work’; a fascinating insight into the queen of mean.
Rivers has been in the public eye for a staggering 50 years and she
is not ready to hang up the towel, just yet. “Age?” she croaks. “It’s
the one mountain you can’t overcome. It’s a youth society and nobody
wants you.” It’s this constant fear, and of being without an income that
is the drive which has propelled her long career, which was not easy
starting out in a male-dominated industry. Her hard-hitting brand of comedy, back in the 60s, was certainly frowned upon,
to put it mildly, as she ploughed her way into one controversial
territory after another. No topic was untouchable, as far as she was
Joan’s career break finally came, as the permanent guest host for the
then popular Tonight Show anchored by Johnny Carson, who himself took
exception, not for her biting wit but for later accepting a Fox contract
to host her own show. She has been blacklisted from NBC ever since.
In one of the best examples of revenge being a dish best served cold,
she went on to win an Emmy, been nominated for a Tony, appeared in nine
films, more than 60 television series and managed to pen ten books.
As she shows us around her opulent apartment, it’s clear that Joan is
a long way off from the poverty line. “This is how Marie Antoinette
would have lived if she’d had money” she muses as she swans about her
pad. And she’s probably not wrong. Joan’s compulsion to work is
underlined by her willingness to perform on stage, any stage, even if it’s in a backstreet club in
the Bronx during the early bird slot, or being on the receiving end of
the US Comedy Central Roast. In her words, “I am a performer. That is my
life. That is what I am. That’s it.”.
Despite her potty-mouth, and the ability to verbally annihilate anyone or anything that unwittingly wanders to into her path, the documentary reveals a surprising vulnerability and insecurtity.
Of course, we witness the ‘expected’ tender moments with her family and
friends but, more surprisingly, is the stifled empathy towards one of
her ‘victims’. When a man, in the audience at one gig, has the audacity
to take exception to a joke about deaf people, she (metaphorically)
pummels him into the ground. “My mother is deaf, you stupid
sonofabitch…” she screams. “Let me tell you what comedy is – comedy is
to make everybody laugh at everything and deal with things, you
idiot… 9/11 – if we didn’t laugh where the hell would we all be? Think
about that!” She later admits that it was a lie, it saved face and
provided comedy. Yet, you get the feeling that this does not sit well
with her. Perhaps the incident takes her back to the suicide of her own husband, which
she talks about candidly, and makes no bones about how she feels
disappointed that he left her in the lurch. Or that she was never madly
in love with him…
Funny, savvy and downright nasty – Joan Rivers is truly a piece of work. Sublime.