Badass Writer of the Week: Joan Rivers

  Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

By Daniel Ford  

I saw Joan Rivers live at Foxwoods Casino last year with Stephanie Schaefer.

I wasn’t supposed to go. Stephanie only had two tickets and she was taking her mother. I was tasked with palling around with her grandmother while she played the slots. I was looking forward to a few free drinks and some conversation about the good old days when an elderly couple shoved an envelope in my hand.

“You want to see Joan Rivers?” The old man said.

“How much are you selling them for?” I asked.

“Take em,” he said.

So I did. Stephanie’s grandmother reluctantly agreed to be my date and we settled in for Rivers’ act.

Holy cow did that woman put on a show.

For an 80-something-year-old, Rivers had no fear of physical comedy or offending every race, gender, and sexual preference known to man. I laughed my ass off the entire time.

Sadly, the trailblazing comedian died Sept. 4, 2014 at the age of 81. Here at Writer’s Bone, we could think of no better way to honor her than naming her Badass Writer of the Week and discussing some of the highlights of her career (Stephanie Schaefer is going to handle Rivers’ "Fashion Police" era for obvious reasons).

“I’m Wearing 1965 Hair”

Joan Rivers got her break on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show.” She was named Carson’s permanent guest host in 1983. She made people fall out of their chairs with her biting humor and quick wit. She did all of this in an era defined by white men treating women (and most of the rest of humanity) like a public toilet. Rivers told them to shut the fuck up. And did it while make them soil themselves from laughing too hard.

Rivers would eventually “betray” Carson by launching her own late night show in 1986. He never spoke to her again. The rift would in large part define her narrative for the rest of her career, but from the above clip, one can see she was every bit his equal and would have never settled for being his second banana. Rivers explained why she thought Carson got so upset in an article she wrote for The Hollywood Reporter:

“I think he really felt because I was a woman that I just was his. That I wouldn’t leave him. I know this sounds very warped. But I don’t understand otherwise what was going on. For years, I thought that maybe he liked me better than the others. But I think it was a question of, “I found you, and you’re my property.” He didn’t like that as a woman, I went up against him.”

Predictably, Carson’s show wiped the floor with her. But a glass ceiling had been shattered and Joan Rivers proved women were every bit as funny and conniving as their male counterparts.

“It Doesn’t Get Better. You Get Better”

It doesn’t get more honest than this. Louie CK has a wonderful ability to get pitch-perfect performances from his guest stars on “Louie.” Joan Rivers was no exception.

“It’s a calling," she says, "We make people happy.” There’s a beat there where you realize how miserable comedians can become despite bringing joy to others. Her monologue is both inspiring and soul-crushing. 

And then Louie totally ruins the moment by trying to make out with Rivers. She’s appalled at first, gives it a second thought, and then shrugs. “Why not. But don’t tell anyone. No one likes a necrophiliac.”

Can you imagine any other comedian delivering that line?

“It Looks Like She Just B$%^ the Grinch” 

By Stephanie Schaefer

I’ll admit that over the past few years while most 20-somethings were out taking shots on a Friday night, I was more often than not sitting on my couch laughing out loud from the witty, hilarious, and usually off-color jokes of an 80-year-old.

Rivers gained a whole new generation of fans (#JoanRangers)myself included—when her television show “Fashion Police,” which critiqued red carpet looks, premiered on E! in 2010.

No matter how rough a week I was having, up until last week I could count on Rivers to make me laugh with her sassy sayings and fearlessness to say what everyone else was thinking (or wish they were clever enough to think of).

RIP Joan Rivers. You were one of a kind and you will be missed.

“If there is a secret to being a comedian, it’s just loving what you do. It is my drug of choice. I don’t need real drugs. I don’t need liquor. It’s the joy that I get performing. That is my rush. I get it nowhere else.”—Joan Rivers, The Hollywood Reporter, 2012

BADASS WRITERS OF THE WEEK ARCHIVE