joanrivers.jpgSome time ago Mike and I were talking as to whether there were some topics that you shouldn’t joke about: child molestation and the Holocaust came to mind (I have several friends who survived torture and are somewhat able to joke about it, so that’s not a taboo subject). My question was finally answered last night while watching Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, a documentary that chronicles a year in the work-life of the legendary commediene. At one point, while taking a limo drive to an award-show in honor of the late George Carlin, she compares compares the Kennedy Center’s honoring of the leftist comedian to having her receiving an award from the Third Reich for being the “funniest Jewess not in the ovens”. I chuckled.
I’m not a big stand-up comedian fan, it’s OK but I don’t seek it out, so I can’t say I’ve been more that marginally aware of Ms. Rivers. I’ve seen her on the Red Carpet before and in the occasional appearance on some TV show, but I only got to “know her” to any degree while watching Celebrity Apprentice a couple of years ago (guilty pleasures, blah, blah). She was definitely the best thing on that show and I got to appreciate her quick wit and intelligence. The glimpses at her relationship with her daughter Melissa, also on the show, were also very tender. It’s nice to see mothers and daughters who truly love each other. So, when I saw Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work as one of the “must see” films of the year in the paper, I figured I’d check to see if it was available on Netflix “play now” (I no longer bother with DVDs).
The film was very enjoyable. Ms. Rivers comes out as a very insecure but kind-hearted woman, with a very sharp wit. She also came out as very funny. The one theme of her life and the movie is that she wants/needs to work. She needs to have every hour booked – both because she needs the money (as she says, she could live within her savings, but not in the luxury to which she’s become accustomed) and because she needs the adulation, or at least the recognition. She is willing to do anything and pretty much say anything, and yet she doesn’t come across as anyone who’d succeed by stepping on other people. When she tells a joke to a live audience about Helen Keller, a man responds by complaining that she wouldn’t feel that way if she had a deaf son. Rivers gets really upset, calls him stupid and lectures him on the reason for comedy (to laugh about the tragedies in life) – but later, after the show, she seems to be actually upset at having hurt him.
The documentary is in no way a biography, you don’t really know where Ms. Rivers comes from and what made her the person she is today, but it is entertaining and definitely worth streaming.