I write a pop culture column over at Beacon. So it would be remiss of me to not talk about the passing of one of pop culture’s loudest satirists, the inimitable Joan Rivers.
I’ve spent most of my life not a huge Joan Rivers fan.
I know, I’m not supposed to say that now that she’s passed away (she died yesterday at the age of 81), but considering how outspoken and brash she was throughout her career, I’m sure she wouldn’t begrudge me the opportunity to speak my mind.
Her jokes always seemed a bit dated to me – women either being sluts, or “not being able to catch husbands,” etc – and I found the way she tended to laugh between each joke, as if she wanted to fill in just in case no one in the audience found her funny, a bit grating. People of my generation have known of Joan Rivers’ existence for our entire lives. However, unlike Robin Williams, she rarely appeared in a context that we were allowed to enjoy as children, so we didn’t “grow up” with her in the same way. Her stand-up was either on late-night talk shows, which we couldn’t stay up and watch, or it was on cable, where it was allowed to be as raunchy as she could make it, and we weren’t allowed to watch. So, unless we were specifically interested in pursuing comedy as a career, my generation primarily grew up knowing Joan Rivers as That Annoying Woman on Awards Show Red Carpets Who Doesn’t Have Her Facts Straight and Is Embarrassing Us All. We grew up with parodies of Joan Rivers, and very often, Rivers seemed like a parody of herself.
And this is a horrible shame.
It wasn’t until I watched the brilliant documentary about her life and career,Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (IFC, 2010), that I truly began to understand just how much she contributed to comedy, to show business, and to feminism.
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