I had a hard time writing anything about Joan Rivers after her death for many reasons. One, (Spoiler Alert), I was not a fan of Miss Rivers. Two, I’m not into writing negative things about someone. But, what the heck, she made her life work cutting people down, so here goes.
I only worked her live twice. The first time I gave her the benefit of the doubt. After the second, I added her name to my ‘Life Is Too Short, and My Seniority Is Too High To Ever Work This Act Again’ list, along with the likes of Hank Williams Jr., Alice Cooper, anything produced by Tyler Perry, and several other acts or events, especially those involving an excess of pyro.
In fairness, when she was Queen of Late Night TV, my young family and my work schedule left me little time to watch TV. I never watched much of her when she was in her prime. It was years after her tragic fall from the A List to the D List, and after she botoxed herself into looking like a reject from a wax museum, and after her ‘humor’ changed from insult to downright vicious, that I really got acquainted with her shtick.
The first time I worked her was a benefit for Jewish Charities at the Convention Center.
Like so many ‘stars’ Miss Rivers wasn’t a whiner. She didn’t have to be. Her daughter, Melissa was a pro at complaining.
‘The catered food was unacceptable.’
‘The dressing room mirror was cracked in the lower corner.’
The toilet seat was cold.’ Etc. Etc. Etc..
The audience gave her a standing ovation as she walked on stage. They were ready to laugh, to applaud, to make her feel at home. And they did – at first. But ‘bold and brassy’ turned to raw, vulgar, and vicious.
Racy? Much more sophomoric humor than adult.
Racist? I suppose she thought that since both her and the audience were Jewish, Jewish stereotypes were fair game.
Tasteless? To attempt to solicit humor out of the Holocaust… Sick! Sick! Sick! Instead of laughter, she only got a few boos from the audience on that topic.
I was sitting in the wings at the light board. During her act, the main lights came from two spots a the rear of the house. I just had some low blue backlight to provide atmosphere. I was as uncomfortable at her act as most of the audience. And I couldn’t help but look at her face, even in side view, it made me wonder why would anybody do that to their face.
I heard a shout of ‘You can’t go on stage!’ behind me; and as I turned my head to see what the commotion was, I got crushed by a very large woman who was trying to get at the light board controls.
‘Turn that bitch off,’ she shouted.
‘Lady,’ I said, as I grabbed her wrists, ‘This is the lights. The sound board is in the house.’ While I quietly agreed with what the woman wanted to do, I had to keep her from the board.
‘Then put the slut in the dark. Shut her up! We didn’t pay money to listen to this kind of talk.’
I saw Rivers turn her head at the noise, and I glanced back as Melissa and a squad of security men were pulling the woman off me. ‘Bitch! Bitch! My grandparents died at Auswitch’! She screamed as she got pushed out into the hallway.
That was just about the end of act. Melissa stood next to the board holding a penlight down to help her mother get offstage.
‘You should have let that bitch come on stage,’ Joan told her daughter, ‘Maybe a good cat fight would have put some life in that bunch of schmucks.’
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ shouted the emcee, ‘ Let’s hear it for Joan Rivers! Joan Rivers, ladies and gentlemen! He got some polite clapping from the audience. ‘Let Joan hear it. Joan,’ he shouted to the wings, ‘Come on back and say a few more words!’
She had stopped right next to me and turned back to the stage. ‘You want a few words,’ she yelled at the emcee, ‘Here’s a couple words for you…Fuck You!’, and she raised both arms in one-finger salutes. Then she disappeared through the side masking.
The emcee stood silent for a several beats. ‘Ah…’ he said when he regained his composure, ‘All of you who purchased the V.I.P. tickets, just line up against that wall and as soon as Joan is ready, I’ll come and get you.’
But when he got offstage, the dressing room security guard met him. ‘They’re gone. That old lady, her maid?, brought the suitcase and dog out of the dressing room and stood by the door. When Joan got off, she grabbed the dog, the old lady dragged the suitcase and off they went. Oh, the daughter told me to tell you she left some autographed pictures in the dressing room that you can hand out.’
The second time I worked Miss Rivers was at the State Theater. It was a more conventional show, a straight up comedy act. I was on spotlight and as soon as I checked in, I went right up to the booth. I didn’t want to see Rivers anymore than I had to.
Oh, I did stop briefly backstage and asked the house electrician if the toilet seat was too cold. She smiled, nodded her head, and rolled her eyes. Melissa had done her thing.
It opened with a very forgettable male comic. The last thing a main act comic wants is a funny opening act. He was on for about twenty minutes. Then intermission so more booze could be sold. Finally, it was time for Joan Rivers.
She got a standing ovation when she came on. The audience, mostly all female, had come to enjoy Joan. When they calmed down, she grabbed the mic and walked downstage and yelled, ‘Can we talk? Can we talk?’ Another eruption of applause.
She started out with some dirt on what some celebrity that had walked the Red Carpet. The audience laughed and applauded. ‘You know what I’m talking about. You know! You watch ET every night. You read the news at the check out line. You know what I mean!’
She was a pro at getting the audience to think they were actually in on what she was talking about. Something she had failed miserably the first time I worked her. She played around and finally got to her favorite celebrity to throw darts at, Elizabeth Taylor. The way she talked she made like she actually was an acquaintance of Taylor. Probably only met her a couple times, if any.
Miss Taylor had many things a comedian could milk for laughs out of, like being a serial bride, marrying her handyman, her defense of Michael Jackson and his monkey; but instead her routine centered around Miss Taylor’s looks. Rivers tore her up because Taylor no longer looked like she did twenty years before. And, according to Rivers, she was doing nothing, like botox or liposuction, to stop looking old.
And when she finally milked that bit dry, she screamed out, ‘And she’s Fat! Fat! Fat! You know what I’m talking about!’
Some more smoozing with the audience and then she launched into Marilyn Monroe. Now I doubt if she ever saw Monroe in person, let alone ever talked to her. More of the same old, same old, and she finished up by screaming, ‘And she’s Dead! Dead! Dead!’
The audience loved it, but she lost me a long time before. The next ‘celebrity’ on her cutting board was, believe it or not, Mary, the biblical mother of Christ.
Enough! I reached up and turned off the audio feed in the booth. I had to look at her, but I didn’t have to listen to her. And because I no longer heard her, I found myself starring at her face. Even from the booth, I could tell she had more work, all bad, done to her face since the last time I saw her. When she looked in a mirror, did the mirror lie to her? Did she really think…
At the risk of trivializing Shakespeare, her rise to the A List, which took years, and her fall, which took only a little over a year, resembled a Shakespearian Tragedy. Queen of Late Nite Talk. Johnny Carson favorite and most frequent guest and guest host on the Tonight Show. Her hubris got the better of her. She let the new network, Fox, con her into believing she could succeed in her own talk show, even if was in direct competition with her friend, her mentor, her biggest employer, Johnny Carson. She betrayed him and couldn’t figure out why he never talked to her again.
The show started out strong; but as time went by, and both the audience and potential guests, had to choose between Rivers and Carson, it ceased to be a contest. Fox fired her producer, Edgar Rosenberg, who was also her husband of 22 years. Her hubris again. She told Fox to hire Edgar back or she would walk. Fox jumped at the chance to to break their contract with Rivers and wishing her well, warned her not to let the door hit her in the ass when she left.
Her next big play was to tell Edgar that the vow she made 22 years before were a sham. She even went into details about taking side trips in the marriage, and with who. This, on top of being humiliated by Fox, was too much for Edgar to handle. He committed suicide.
The Queen of Late Nite was now just another comedian.
If her rise and fall resembled a Shakespeare Tragedy, her death was like a black comedy penned by Joe Orton. She was to have a procedure done on her vocal chords. Actually needed? Or another vanity operation? She had it done at a clinic that wasn’t experienced with the procedure by a medical team that also was not experienced with the procedure. Her vocal chords swelled, cutting off her windpipe. She went into cardiac arrest, something neither the clinic or medical team had any experience in. Someone hit 911 for an ambulance that took her to a competent hospital and staff, but too late. Her brain had been robbed of oxygen for too long a period.
One of the doctors on her original medical team was experienced in taking pictures with his smart phone though. He placed his face next to the unconscious Rivers and took a selfie.
Since she had once stated that at her funeral she didn’t want a long haired rabbi crying over her body, her daughter Melissa saw to it that not happen. She had Howard Stern deliver an eulogy. Sad, sad, sad. It was reported as possibly the ‘dirtiest’ eulogy ever delivered. Sick, sick, sick.
Her will was straight forward. Melissa got the biggest share. Melissa’s son a big share. And Joan’s three dogs got their fair share.
Melissa had begun a lawsuit against the clinic and the medical team. Melissa says it’s not about the money. She plans to use the money to see to it that no one else will ever die like her mother die??? Quite a task! Kind of like the Miss America candidates who vow to work for peace on earth.
I see where she is going to be replaced on her TV gigs by Kathy Griffin. A wise choice. Griffin can not only spew venom to equal Rivers, she can surpass her. Another member of my Not Work Again List.
I find great irony in the fact that someone who is known for the words, ‘Can we talk?’, died because her vocal chords choked her.
I’ll agree that Joan Rivers was an unusual talent, loved by a wide audience. And perhaps under different circumstances I might have actually been a part of that audience. But I doubt it.