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.
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:
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.
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!