Joan Rivers: business woman, fashion icon, comedy legend. Aside from being the poster child for plastic surgery, Joan was probably most notable for her crude and hilarious comedy. As we’ve discovered throughout the semester, there are certain aspects of society that get little to no notoriety. Some acts, such as anal sex, gay marriage, and other sexual and/or moral discourses are often swept under the rug or kept out of the spotlight. Not for Joan. In her standup comedy, she left nothing on the table. Anything and everything was fair game, often times even discussing her own (Jewish) people in jokes regarding the Holocaust. Joan, always being criticized, banned, or boycotted, showed how important comedy and laughing can be. “Life is tough. If you don’t laugh, it’s tough,” she once said. Throughout her legendary comedy, however, Joan not only proved to be funny, but along with her jokes, she often uncovered more real, social aspects of the culture.
In 1965, Rivers landed her first major gig as a guest on Johnny Carson where she blew everyone away with her crude sense of humor, even going to ‘lecture’ about society not being for single girls. From early on, the roots of her jokes started sounding more and more feministic. As time progressed and she eventually rose to the level of notoriety of today, her jokes became increasingly social in nature; she began pointing out obvious flaws in society and gave the people a voice when others in power didn’t.
“I succeeded by saying what everyone else was thinking.”
As the ’70s and ’80’s began to unfold, Rivers wasn’t going anywhere. After leaving the Carson Show and being banned from NBC for almost 30 years, she started her daytime television show, which went on to win an Emmy. Nearing the turn of the century, Rivers turned her focus to her comedy. As seen in the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Joan housed file cabinets full of jokes from over the years, neatly categorized. Since her death last month, it’s speculated these legendary jokes will make their way to the Smithsonian.
So, looking at a broader picture, how did Joan impact sex and society? Naturally, the two go hand in hand. From MacKinnon, Rich and Reuben, we’ve learned that society is structured to cater to the male body. Men are seen as powerful, dominant creatures, and therefore women are sometimes seen as inferior. Joan, however, decided that women have just as much power in this society to do a (traditionally) man’s job as the men do themselves. By being so outspoken, she reached an audience that was continually captivated by her wit and light, comedic tone regarding more outstanding social issues.
However, not all of Rivers’s jokes were deemed socially appropriate, nonetheless funny. During her routine standup shows, she often talked about the gays. Since Joan is a gay icon and has a huge homosexual following, the gay community often took the jokes with a grain of salt.
“Gays are so stupid. They laugh at anything. The only thing they don’t laugh at is when you say Barbra Streisand is ugly.”
Since Rivers made jokes about the LGBT society, does that mean it’s okay for everyone to? What about jokes with malicious intent? Is there a difference? Is there a double-standard within the LGBT culture?
To be fair, however, Rivers did include a disclaimer at the beginning of her show:
Ms. Rivers has asked me to mention that if during the performance she says anything that might offend any individuals, families, organizations, races, creeds, religious groups, states, countries, or planets, please know that from the bottom of her heart Ms. Rivers would like to say… Lighten the f*ck up!
Some of her jokes have social consequences. A few months ago, Joan was interviewed entering a building and made a joke calling Michele Obama a ‘tranny’. This, of course, created a social firestorm. Take a look for yourself.
Was what Rivers said wrong? Should there be a sensor to some of what people says? Or is it really a nation with Freedom of Speech? Where should the line be drawn? Is making jokes like this just part of her job or is she just tasteless?
For my 18th birthday, I had the pleasure of seeing Rivers’s standup live in Atlanta, Ga. From the beginning of the show, she came out swinging. She ‘roasted’ everyone from Princess Diana to Al Roker, Michael Jackson to Casey Anthony. Some of her more gruesome topics included menstruation and anal sex. Bending over a stool, she discussed how for a busy woman, anal sex is great.
“You can have him f*cking you away and you can have the Internet. You can answer all your emails! And now that you can get NETFLIX?!? AHH! Take your time.”
What are some of the benefits of discussing anal sex in a comedic way? Does it eliminate some of the stigma? Do some things that are otherwise difficult to talk about become easier in the light of comedy? What are some other areas or field that women can take on that are male-dominated? How does Rivers tear down the wall between funny and raunchy? Where is the line between funny and not funny?
Regardless of whether or not she was ‘politically correct’, Rivers certainly had a way with her audience. As a comedian, philanthropist, writer, actor, diva, and queen of her fans (known cleverly as Joan Rangers) she is certainly a larger than life figure the world will greatly miss.