My mother Joan Rivers, the rudest (and funniest) person in the world: Daughter Melissa publishes memoir
Joan Rivers’ daughter Melissa has penned this admiring memoir
She was always pushy and organisational, and never wasted a moment
‘It wasn’t a choice, working so hard. Comedy was her calling,’ says Melissa
Great comedians are great moralists. They point out and mock our flaws, errors and imperfections – our silliness and superciliousness.
Joan Rivers, who described herself as being ‘funny, caustic, and cheap’, was a particularly hysterical scourge of human pompousness and hypocrisy.
Little escaped her derision – from Tommy Lee Jones’s habitual expression at awards ceremonies (‘smiling every now and again wouldn’t ******* hurt!’) to Madonna’s Cockney accent when married to Guy Ritchie (‘Just be thankful she didn’t marry a pygmy. She’d be speaking a click-click language and shooting poachers with a blow-gun’).
I loved Joan. She’d developed a style that was simultaneously elegant and coarse, and lofty and tacky, with which she entertained and harangued audiences for 50 years.
‘The woman was indefatigable,’ says her only child, Melissa, in this admiring memoir. Not a moment was ever wasted. Always pushy and organisational, in the post-war period Joan was to have had the job of marshalling people into the neighbourhood bomb shelter in the event of a nuclear attack.
A sense of urgency never left her. She read scripts in the car, dictated her books on the plane when she flew from New York to Los Angeles twice a week to tape her various television shows, and each night, in some club or dive, she did her 90-minute stand-up act.
‘She said it wasn’t a choice, working so hard. Comedy was her calling,’ says Melissa.
Joan was the daughter of well-to-do Russian immigrants who wanted her to settle down and marry a nice doctor. Instead, she auditioned seven times to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and ‘she’d peddle her wares at every hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard’, where the casino owners treated the female comic as ‘the hired help’, making her come and go through the kitchens.
Melissa admits that, researching this book, she had a hard time determining her mother’s early career, as much of it was embellished. For example, Joan didn’t actually star in any Hitchcock films, as she once stated on her C.V.
But as she’d said, ‘Who really calls and checks? Nowhere, on Kurt Waldheim’s resume, does it say “1935-1941: gassed the Weinbergs”, and he became head of the United Nations.’
A glance at Joan’s school reports, with hindsight, makes her path in life and vocation obvious. ‘Joan’s voice is still loud and she tries to gain attention this way,’ wrote a teacher in 1940, when the comedian was seven. ‘At times excessive talking hampers the movement of her work.’
But nevertheless, excessive talking – brassy jibber-jabber – would make Joan her fortune. ‘Who cares what anyone thinks?’ she announced bravely. ‘I’m gonna do and say what I want.’
She always had enemies and detractors. When Joan began making a name for herself, television networks were ridiculously prudish. On The Ed Sullivan Show, in 1968, though clearly heavy with child, Joan couldn’t mention the word ‘pregnant’ on air – she had to babble about the pitter-patter of tiny feet, ‘as if there were rats in the attic’.
Euphemisms appalled Joan, but in recent times the foe was political correctness. A ‘radical feminist’, according to Joan, simply meant ‘single woman’. A homosexual was any male who mentioned Bette Midler more than once in any calendar year.
For all her outspokenness, Joan was very much conditioned by the ethos and mores of her own middle-class background. Things like sending bouquets of flowers and prompt thank-you notes mattered.
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