Friday, September 05, 2014

Joan Rivers, we hardly knew you...

Love her or hate her, one thing is certain: Joan Rivers -- a first generation Russian Jew from Brooklyn -- was a trailblazer and a genuine powerhouse that became a hit on The Tonight Show at 32 and never stopped working.  Some performers hope for a victory lap in their old age -- a gig that allows them to step out into the spotlight and shine once more before they leave this world. Elaine Stritch had a wonderful victory lap. So did Alberta Hunter and Eartha Kitt.  Joan Rivers, on the other hand, was sprinting around the track of life and when she checked out of here, her career was on fire.  At the time of her passing, she had a reality tv show, a ridiculously popular youtube show (In Bed with Joan!) and a fashion talk show on E!  Nevermind her stand up comedy appearances, her must-see red carpet interviews for the Golden Globes and the Oscars, and all that  jewelry she was selling -- of her own design! -- on QVC.  She wasn't just working. She was culturally relevant. That's a formidable accomplishment.

She finished at Barnard College with a major in English Literature and anthropology -- which seems ideal, in retrospect. She's one of the few comedians that actually wrote her own material.  Actually, she wrote 12 books (!!!) and released several comedy albums. She didn't win every award out there but she was nominated for a Tony, a Grammy and won an Emmy in 1990 for her daytime talk show.  And she's the first woman to host her own late night talk show on network television.  Think about it: how many women have they allowed to take that coveted late night seat, to even co-host?  Can you name three? Unless I'm seriously missing something, Joan Rivers is the only one I can think of.

After a certain point, I made a point of ingesting as many biographies, autobiographies, documentaries and Behind The Music episodes that I could. Everyone's trajectory is so revealing and important, and teaches so many lessons about what not to do and how this business really works. A part of it is a history lesson but what I look for is the cautionary tale that's inherent in just about all of them. The documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is essential must-see viewing for any performer.  It's a glimpse into her work ethic and the anatomy of the machine that she built to propel her business of show forward.  And somewhere in there is the Joan that hardly anyone ever thought they knew.

Godspeed, Joan Rivers. What a fantastic life you had.  Long may you run.

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