Boy oh boy, Joan Rivers. Dead at 81. This one really hurts my heart. Following the suicide of Robin Williams, which was a proper tragedy….but this is a different kind of tragedy. If life is a party, Williams quietly slipped out the back door. He made a choice to leave early. Rivers, on the other hand was still holding court in front of the crowd, and hadn’t even finished her drink. Award season is just getting started. That seems like a cruel joke from the universe. Her red carpet commentary is the very best. I no longer have the E channel, but when I lived in New Zealand, that channel was my North American touchstone, and Joan Rivers my acid-tongued fairy Godmother. Feeling homesick, lonely or blue? For my money, it doesn’t get better than Fashion Police.
I loved her fearless, searing, ruthless cracks. That kind of ‘axe to the chest’ humor, a cutting, bone cracking blow. Like an unexpected medicine ball chucked at your belly, one that you just barely catch in time. And then she’ll hit you again and again until you die from laughter.
Rivers was speaking about her last book, Diary of a Mad Diva, where even this acid-tongued misogynist slashed a little too deeply for many people’s taste, causing a flurry of threatened lawsuits, including one from Kirsten Stewart, who was upset by Rivers’ allegations she had slept her way into her role in Snow White and the Huntsman. “I can’t wait to get into a courtroom with her,” Rivers cackled. “I’m going to bring a Ken doll and I want her to show me on it just where she touched her director.”
This kills me. You would have to be seriously uninterested in pleasing everybody to make these kinds of cracks. I think it’s hilarious, but then again she’s not saying it about me. Still, I’d like to think that Rivers could roast me and I’d still appreciate the crack.
“Everyone thinks Angelina Jolie was the first celebrity baby hoarder, but she wasn’t. Before Angelina there was Mia Farrow. Mia had an entire farm full of children. I think she got them at Costco.”
“Most babies are not actually attractive … (They’re) kind of like Renee Zellweger pushed up against a glass window.”
“I said Justin Bieber looked like a little lesbian – and I stand by it: he’s the daughter Cher wishes she’d had.”
“She’s such a disaster, they now call train wrecks Lindsay Lohans”.
Often crippled by the opinions of others, I do self-censor my wisecracks, especially in the blog. I wouldn’t write something about a friend, but a celebrity crack is fair game…nobody, famous, important or influential reads anyway. Only a select few know the true extent of my salty humor. My friend Margaret, for example, is one who witnesses my comedic axe-wielding at it’s sharpest. The night of River’s death, Margaret came round for dinner, which led to getting a little tipsy, and watching Sex and the City 2. Our particular friendship unifier is our love for the ‘good-bad movie’. The film makers sure had the best of intentions, but the humor is buried deep within that intent. SATC 2 is a glimmering jewel of this genre. It’s a ludicrous premise, the costumes are ridiculous, it’s sexist and wildly racist.
Samantha is a horny wax statue in the baking sun. Charlotte, in her Ground Zero parenting moment, up to her ears in needy, attention seeking, crying, ugly children, foolishly tries to make a phone call to Carrie while icing cupcakes in a cream-colored Vintage Valentino. What a fucking idiot. Thank God the bra-less nanny, came to restore order. Then at the end of this nearly two-and-a-half hour masterpiece, the true conflict comes from Samantha’s arrest due to reckless, public sexual displays, the consequence being kicked out of their extravagant hotel. Before they head to the airport, Carrie–a professional woman in her forties– realizes that she lost her passport at a souq. Here’s a question: WHY ARE YOU TAKING YOUR PASSPORT WITH YOU TO A MIDDLE EASTERN MARKET PLACE? WHY IS IT FLOPPING AROUND LOOSE INSIDE YOUR BAG? (insert obvious joke here). That’s the Superbowl of identification in the travel world. That’s dumber than wearing vintage couture while baking at home. Is that tiny book and a slim bundle of spices so buxom that you need to remove them completely from your large bag to make room for a measly pair of shoes. And is the Call to Prayer so enchanting that you can’t do a quick glimpse over your shoulder to make sure you haven’t left anything behind? Of course, her blunder is all part of a bigger picture. It all leads to this:
Once Carrie retrieves her passport, from the friendly vendor, more high-jinx ensues. Charlotte has a ‘forbidden experience’– is lured into a room with sweaty, swarthy men and their black market wares. Samantha’s $10,000 Birkin bag being confused as an excellent knock off, and the bag being inevitably ripped open and as many condoms as dollars spent on the bag rains like confetti on New Year’s Eve. Samantha screams obscenities, hurls said condoms at fist shaking men, and grinds the air, replicating all the hot relations we’ve known her to have. Now they are on the run from some a horde of conservative, Middle-Eastern types that are out for their blood. Meanwhile, the big issue is that they are trying to catch a cab so they will not get bumped from first class. That’s an actual line in the movie, said in the same tone as: “The Apocalypse is coming, we’re all going to die”. Meanwhile, Carrie Bradshaw is a cocktail of shrewish wife and anorexic racehorse, who badgers to husband to be more socially adventurous. She’s been chasing him for a sold decade, and just when everything is comfortable and happy, she goes to shake the snow globe once again. She runs into her hunky ex-fiance Aidan in Abu-Dhabi, then meets him for dinner in a dress that is like a black wash cloth on a giraffe, wearing more liquid liner than a teenaged goth girl. They ‘accidentally on purpose’ kiss under the stars and she then runs away, flailing about as if on fire. She then runs home to call Mr Big–who is at the office toiling away while she runs around the Middle East in feather boas, nine inch heels, and hats larger than the one Eliza Doolittle wore to the Ascot Opening in My Fair Lady.
Don’t worry, Mr Big took her indiscretion like a champ. When Carrie gets back to New York, she paces the floor for hours, waiting for Big to come home. He does, and in the most Hollywood of endings, buys her an obscenely large black diamond ring. What if she had slept with Aidan? What would she get then? A helicopter? A Ferrari? A 50-foot yacht called the “SS Horseface?” Women everywhere are cheating on their husbands and saying in divorce court “Your Honor, I just don’t get it–when Carrie did it she got a diamond, when all I did it, all I got was the boot”. This may sound horrible, but it’s actually time well spent, the film is fun, frothy, silly, and getting drunk and ripping this film to shreds, is just cream on the cake. Making acidic, occasionally vicious attacks on costumes and characters and cackling wildly, was a wonderful way to honor Joan Rivers, who was not far from my mind that night. I’ve been a fan of Rivers since she got fired alongside Miss Piggy in the classic film Muppets take Manhattan.
When I first came back to British Columbia and had more time on my hands, I had developed quite the routine with my friend Trish the Dish: my coming over on Friday, usually after my noon yoga class. Just us girls, Trish, myself, and her lovely baby Melody. Trish would often take a shower, or take a minute to herself while I sat on the couch and watch The Bold & The Beautiful with her baby. I don’t know how good babies are at deciphering irony, but Melody got an earful of humorous soap opera commentary. I hope she wasn’t just laying there in my lap, in her little jammies, taking me seriously, and cataloging the information for later use. “Don’t worry mom, you don’t have to explain men to me…boozy old Aunt Alicia told me all about them a long time ago”.
One afternoon after class, I came up the stairs and saw a vintage Joan Rivers comedy album on the kitchen table.
I’m exclaiming my enthusiasm for such an awesome relic, when I notice the envelope with my name on it. (Well, it actually says “Hippy”, a nickname from our younger days, along the same era where she was christened Trish “the Dish”). A present? For me? Fabulous! When she was pregnant, I had given her this book, to help her with the difficult days.
And then I came home and wrote this blog, in honour of Trish the Dish, and to the advice I may someday give to her daughter…for which I was apologizing for in advance. It was also in honor of the now late Joan Rivers, who at the time was “80 years old, fearless, bitchy as hell and she’s got a mouth on her like you wouldn’t believe”. On a late Sunday morning her funeral already passed on East-Coast time, I pull out the record–which has rested along a ledge in my office, since the day I brought it home, next to a Joni Mitchell album, and other strange knickknacks. I listened to it in the kitchen, drinking coffee and cutting vegetables, periodically buckling over with laughter, and giggling until my eyes watered. The album was produced in 1983, so when she says that Bo Derek is so stupid that “studied for her pap test”, it’s a little dated, but the punch line still stands up. It’s all in her delivery. She talks about how she used to be “happy” in her marriage and how now she is just “happy”. The tone of her voice shifts so perfectly, it’s simply incredible–this one word in this particular tone paints a perfect picture of a marriage at a particular point in time. Like a bitchy machine gun, she targets beauty, marriage, childbirth, money, class, death. There is such intelligence behind the barbs: “Every joke I make, no matter how tasteless, is there to draw attention to something I really care about.” Don’t let that foul mouth fool you, Joan Rivers was a brilliant businesswoman, a woman who suffered many hardships and setbacks, but whom always fought back with a wisecrack on the tip of her tongue.
“The ideal beauty is a fugitive that is never found”.
“There is not one female comic who was beautiful as a little girl”.
“I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door — or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present”.
“I was smart enough to go through any door that opened”.
“Don’t tell your kids you had an easy birth or they won’t respect you. For years I used to wake up my daughter and say, “Melissa you ripped me to shreds. Now go back to sleep”.
“People say that money is not the key to happiness, but I always figured if you have enough money, you can have a key made.”
“I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking.”
“There are many self-help books by Ph.D.s, but I hold a different degree: an I.B.T.I.A.—I’ve Been Through It All. This degree comes not on parchment but gauze, and it entitles me to tell you that there is a way to get through any misfortune.”
“Look, Winston Churchill once said making someone laugh is like giving them a little holiday. What’s wrong with that? And if the jokes I make call attention to things that aren’t right in the world, that’s why I do it.”
I heard that quote for the first time while listening to the CBC. That thought choked me up a little, laughter being a little vacation. That at the heart of her comedic style, to spew venom in every direction, to brandish a hammer, swinging indiscriminately, was to deliver surprisingly soft blows.
Good Night Joan Rivers. Thank you for a million mini holidays.
All Images Courtesy of Google