Laughing Until the End: Inside Joan's Last Act

It's a Wednesday, and I'm spending the night with Joan Rivers. My dear friend Marybec and I are squeezed into the back of a basement theater with 100 Joan Rangers. I come here often. The Laurie Beechman Theater is an easy place to meet up with friends for a glass of wine and a cheap drag show. And every once in a while, Joan performs. The act is much of the same. Quick jabs at celebrities, politically incorrect humor, and jokes about her death. I remember some of the bits from a previous show last winter, and I recite jokes with her. Tonight was a last-minute decision, but I told Marybec that we had to see Joan. You never know when they'll close the lid.

If you've seen Joan's autobiographical documentary A Piece of Work, you would know that her greatest fear was not working. At the Laurie Beechman, she was relevant and just as bawdy as always. Joan Rivers didn't want to spend a single second on this earth not being herself. And she didn't.

I wish I had known Joan Rivers. Something about her always intrigued me. At 22 years old, I sit here writing this on a quiet plane back to New York, laughing hysterically to myself. The audiobook of Diary of a Mad Diva -- Joan's last memoir -- has been playing in my ears for the last five hours. Her death was around three weeks ago, and I still want her show to go on. I keep envisioning her grabbing a bouquet of flowers from the edge of the stage, smiling and thanking the audience, as she walked offstage, one final time.

Joan didn't always say the right things, but she was a quiet philanthropist and activist. After Joan's death, my older gay friends, many of whom are HIV-positive, took to Facebook to remember her legacy. They remembered Joan as the pioneer she was. Like Joan, not too long ago, their close friends were dying from AIDS. At a time when people were fearful to touch a person living with a HIV, Joan Rivers offered what she could; a hug, a meal, a spot on her show, and most importantly, her love. God's Love We Deliver is a remarkable organization, and Joan was one of its earliest supporters. From Joan's short-lived talk show highlighting the lives of drag queens to giving Laverne Cox a voice on Fashion Police, Joan opened her arms and provided space for those often ignored in our society. After her husband took his own life, Joan became an advocate for mental health and suicide. These issues affected Joan's life, and she did what she could to support her friends and family.

People can and will say terrible things about Joan Rivers. She wasn't the most remarkable woman in the world, but she was something special to many people, including myself. There were few comedians like Joan. She dared to make us laugh about the tough times. Dared to make us think. Up until her last show, she said the wildest things. We may never have understood Joan, but Joan understood many of us. So, farewell, Joan. The lights may have dimmed, but your legacy lives on through the many lives you touched.

"I could go at any moment. I could lay here and go over. It would be in the papers and you all could look at each other and say, I was there the night Joan Rivers passed." - Joan Rivers 08/27/2014