Get back to work, Joan.

An old, famous New Yorker cover. How it works in the benighted province of Manhattan.

An old, famous New Yorker cover. How it works in the benighted province of Manhattan.

She was a pioneer. A female standup comedian who started at it fairly late in life. A boundless font of energy who motored on through personal travail, tragedy, and controversy. She idolized Johnny Carson, then was betrayed by him. She could have given up and spent the rest of her life repeating old routines in Holiday Inns. But she never did. (I saw an ex-Tonight Show staple standup opening for Sinatra at an open-air concert in Cincinnati. He was doing, word for word, the last monologue I had seen him do for Johnny Carson twenty-some years before.)

Sure, she’s controversial. She got married late in life, had a child late in life, continued busting comedy barriers by getting bluer and bluer over the years, and she endured the vicissitudes of life — her husband’s suicide among other traumas — and kept on trucking. She got addicted to cosmetic surgery, a horrifying refuge of the insecure, and augmented her comedic income with shopping channel hucksterism because her husband left her penniless and there were all those face lifts to pay for.

In some ways, she’s the ultimate stereotype of a New York Jew, bossy, foul-mouthed, obnoxiously liberal, and sometimes just plain ugly in her insistent egotism.

But hold up for a second. Take a look at the map up top. It makes me think of another trailblazing comedienne named Minnie Pearl.

Yeah, the price tag on the hat was part of her Schlick.

Yeah, the price tag on the hat was part of her schtick. She was from Tennessee.

Do you know of her?

Pearl’s comedy was gentle satire of rural Southern culture, often called “hillbilly” culture. Pearl always dressed in styleless “down home” dresses and wore a hat with a price tag hanging from it, displaying the price of $1.98. Her catch phrase was “How-w-w-DEE-E-E-E! I’m jes’ so proud to be here!” delivered in a loud holler. After she became an established star, her audiences usually shouted “How-w-w-DEE-E-E-E!” back. Pearl’s humor was often self-deprecating, and involved her unsuccessful attempts at attracting the attention of “a feller” and, particularly in later years, her age. She also told monologues involving her comical ‘ne’er-do-well’ relatives, notably “Uncle Nabob”, his wife “Aunt Ambrosia”, “Lucifer Hucklehead”, “Miss Lizzie Tinkum”, “Doc Payne”, and, of course, her “Brother”, who was simultaneously both slow-witted and wise. She usually closed her monologues with the exit line, “I love you so much it hurts!” She also sang comic novelty songs. She often danced with Grandpa Jones.

Pearl’s comic material derived heavily from her hometown of Centerville, which in her act she called Grinder’s Switch. Grinder’s Switch is a community just outside of Centerville that consisted of little more than a railroad switch. Those who knew her recognized that the characters were largely based on real residents of Centerville. So much traffic resulted from fans and tourists looking for Grinder’s Switch that the Hickman County Highway Department eventually changed the designation on the “Grinder’s Switch” road sign to “Hickman Springs Road.”

Parochial in the extreme. But I think Joan Rivers was exactly the same, just as parochial. Just as everything about Minnie Pearl was ultimately Tennessee, everything about Joan Rivers was ultimately New York. She went to Barnard College at Columbia, she had the pre-feminist hunger to succeed, to prove she could best the men at wit and in monetary gain, and she was big city relentless in her ambition.

People carp about her cruelty on Hollywood red carpet events. She was a ruthless fashion critic. What hardly anyone seems to realize is that she was at base a New York fashion snob and an extraordinarily candid old fashioned Jewish girl. Famous women who insist on dressing and acting like whores offended her. She made it the stuff of comedy. But the dripping venom of her jokes was unacceptable to the nouveau riche of Hollywood. She got fired from red carpet coverage. And so reinvented herself again. Now she would be the ‘Fashion Police,’ in which capacity she tirelessly slammed the rising young survivors of the casting couch and used her earthy Jewishness to make anatomical jokes no one had ever heard from a woman, let alone one in her advancing old age.

Yeah, she occasionally slammed conservatives generally and Sara Palin notably. But look at the map. It’s like Minnie Pearl claiming George Gershwin never wrote music. Consider the source.

I just saw what may be her last episode of Fashion Police on the E! Channel. A 90 minute special about both the Video Music Awards and the Emmy Awards. Her very last joke on the show may be one of those perfect last lines. The climax of Fashion Police is always the awarding of the title “Fashhole of the Week.” This time it was for someone named Amber Rose, who went to the Video Music Awards in this:

Really? Really?

Really? Really?

Joan has made herself famous at Fashion Police for vagina jokes. She once gave herself an award for the thousandth one she’d told. Sorry. I should have been outraged. But I kept seeing an octogenarian little Jewish girl fighting back against moral rot in the only tool she had at her disposal — aggressive, uncompromising, disdainful wit.

Her last joke?

“This dress reminds me of a chain link fence at the border. Hundreds of Guatemalans tried to escape across her vagina.”

Add your own final punchline. Did they escape by going over, under, or through that chained up vagina?

Joan was 81. No saint. Hardly anyone who makes it past 50 is, if you want to know the truth of it. I wish her well. And hope the map of her heaven looks like a certain New Yorker cover.

Get up, Joan. Let me tell you the Eddy Rickenbacker story.

Get up, Joan. Let me tell you the Eddy Rickenbacker story.

He was in a commercial airline crash in 1941:

When Rickenbacker arrived at a hospital, his injuries appeared so grotesque that the emergency surgeons and physicians left him for dead for some time. They instructed their assistants to “take care of the live ones.” Rickenbacker’s injuries included a fractured skull, other head injuries, a shattered left elbow with a crushed nerve, a paralyzed left hand, several broken ribs, a crushed hip socket, a pelvis broken in two places, a severed nerve in his left hip, and a broken left knee. Rickenbacker’s left eyeball was also blown out of its socket.

He was dying. Until he heard a radio announcer proclaim that he had died. With his remaining strength, he smashed the radio to bits and proceeded to recover.

As I said. Get back to work, Joan. More than half the population have vaginas. That’s many more jokes to be made. Get better soon.

UPDATE. This doesn’t sound good. Camille Paglia weighing in with less to say than I have said but somehow more finally. Wake up, Joan!

  1. Alfa’s avatar

    Praying for her recovery. She is unique and outrageous and always funny. I appreciate what you wrote about her.

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  2. Tim’s avatar

    Fashion Police is a show I never, ever would have watched except that you recommended it once in a post. You were right, it was hilarious. Sad news. I hope she recovers.

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  3. Barbara’s avatar

    Robert, have you seen the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”? If not, order it immediately from Netflix. It’s riveting.

    I don’t think it’s likely she’ll “recover,” whatever that means. When you’re 81 and have been without oxygen to your brain, even for a few minutes, the outlook is dark. Being reawakened may be a terrible punishment. I can’t imagine a more appropriate end to her life: turning in a piss-and-vinegar performance late at night, in her 80s, entering the void the next morning. We should all be so lucky.

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  4. Barbara’s avatar

    And speaking of Eddie Rickenbacker: My first husband, now deceased, used to go flying with E.R. when he visited Hawaii. My hub sat in the left seat, Eddie sat in the right, because the latter was getting on in years by then. I mention it to brag that I’m a part of history, once removed. I’d bet if you stood on a streetcorner in any city and asked passers-by to tell you who Eddie Rickenbacker was, not one in a hundred could identify him.

    I once had lunch, all by myself, with Pappy Boyington, when he was dining alone at a small airport and sent a waitress out to the lounge to tell me he’d like me to join him if I were willing. Anyone remember who Pappy Boyington was? Be honest now. Don’t Google.

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    1. Instapunk’s avatar

      I know of Pappy, no Googling. Pacific fighter ace in WWII.

      Amazingly, my dad met Rickenbacker once, shortly after the war. He and a buddy had a harebrained scheme to start an air freight service. Got an audience with ER to pitch the idea. He told them to be grateful they had survived the war and go home and have a real life. Which they did.

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    2. Ron’s avatar

      I remember Pappy Boyington, because my Dad always watched “Baa, Baa Black Sheep”. I was just a little kid, but I fell in love with the Corsair. What a gorgeous plane.

      He was a Flying Tiger before that. Charlie Bond, one of the Tigers, lived here (and died) in the Dallas area. There’s a P-40 at a local museum (on “Claire Chennault Avenue”, no less) painted up like Bond’s plane. The Tigers were so cool…

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    3. Ron’s avatar

      BTW, speaking of pilots… There was an old fellow who was a docent at another flight museum. His name was Charlie Mohrle, and he flew a P-47 over Europe in WW2. He had a little section in the museum where he would sit and tell stories… hair-raising stories. I always liked heading over to his area and just sitting and listening. I was looking him up just now and learned he took his final flight last year, apparently. Some kind soul has posted video of Mohrle telling stories.

      RIP, Capt. Mohrle.

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    4. Barbara’s avatar

      Thank you, Ron, for that link to Charlie Mohrle’s story. I began watching it alone. My husband, a WWII vet, came into the room when I was about 15 minutes into it and asked me to stop so we could watch it together later. We will (as soon as he finishes sanding our lanai before re-staining it. He’s like Charlie — a vigorous example of a stronger generation). Thanks again.

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