I remember Joan Rivers, the year was around 1976, I think of maybe a little before or after, and I was so young and loved to laugh. But who doesn't? There she was, stretching a little sausage link shaped mike on an absurdly short cord toward her audience at "The Little Club" in Beverly Hills. "What! You thought that was funny? Are you nuts? I almost took it out of my act! What was funny about it? Why did you like it?" Then Ms. Rivers would record comments from those fans stuffed inside the little club called The Little Club. She was hysterical and we all had a blast.
Five minutes more of hilarious stand-up later (in her case "sit-down" because she stayed glued to a stool), the same out-stretched mike would inquire (when we were convulsed with laughter), "What? Are you nuts? I thought that was funny! No one laughed! All right. Let's get to it. Why wasn't it funny?" And Ms. Rivers would carefully record all the comments the tiny club goers could reveal. She was so serious about her humor that it was funny in and of itself! Plus, she couldn't push the buttons on the recorder correctly -- erasing when she should have been recording and she was just plain funny trying to record her show comments!
I remember her telling us that a postage stamp should be issued for those women brave enough to have survived an ob/gyn exam, a comment as funny now as it was then. Most of her humor was like that. She was always on top of her game. She made fun of her body parts and of her husband. She and Phyllis Diller had a lot in common that way -- different material but similar themes.
How and when she became friends with Phyllis Diller I am unsure, but Phyllis was my neighbor and friend and I got to write for Phyllis after my rambunctious and crazy friend drove a car on her lawn but that's another story for another day! Joan gave the eulogy for Phyllis and I wondered who would be more right to give it for Joan than Phyllis would. But she's not here, nor is Robin Williams, whose death must have affected her deeply as she worshiped him.
Of my friends who knew her or crossed paths with her, they had nothing but high praise for her. Joan had endorsed my friend, Julie Spira's book, and my other friend, Drew James, had done her make-up for a charity awards show and found her to be a delight. My other friend, Carol Meltzer, who also has a line of jewelry and is on QVC quite a bit, knew Joan and loved her loads for her sweetness and humor.
After Johnny Carson really helped Ms. Rivers with her career, Ms. Rivers had bad blood with Johnny Carson but that was because of some bad advice she was given and took. I remember it all through a Carson child's eyes, one who prefers to stay out of show business and with whom I grew up. Carson was responsible for so much of her success and when she didn't show him loyalty for that, he was not happy. Who could blame him? He was right! She went up against him on Fox when she could have taken over for him and should have! But entertainment can be like that! It's a rough business and I even wonder whether Joan ever even took a vacation! What energy; what verve!
What most people take for granted in funny people is that they are naturally funny. Funny people are funny, yes, but humor can take a great deal of painstaking work, too. While Ms. Rivers made us laugh effortlessly, it was tireless work on her part. Apart from having her act, books, and show, there was always new material to worry and think about.
And in her case, while her parents gave her brains -- I believe her father was a New York doctor -- God gave her talent. She could have been content to be a funny person on the planet but she took her talent as far as it would take her and never stopped working, not even for a nanu nanu second. She overcame the suicide of her husband and recently, Joan was less popular with industry insiders because she didn't hire guild writers for her popular Fashion Police show which is a no-no in Hollywood especially for someone as gifted a writer as Joan. She had tried to make it as both actress and writer so she should have known better here but again, everyone makes career mistakes.
And, Ms. Rivers was so perfect in so many ways -- her humor, timing, the impeccable way was she dressed, the way she made the red carpet something to take notice of, bringing attention to designers, becoming a top comedienne for an entire career, rising and staying on top, inspiring young talent, and more. I miss her already. We all do. Her legacy lives on...little sausage mike and all...
Photos from the public domain