The late, great Joan Alexandra Molinsky (June 8, 1933 – September 4, 2014), known professionally as Joan Rivers, was an American stand-up comedian and TV personality, who revolutionized the world of comedy as we know it, being recognized by many of her peers as a trailblazer for women in comedy.
Born and raised in New York City, Rivers attended the prestigious Barnard College for women, where she earned degrees in English literature and anthropology. She began her comedy career in the late 1950s, performing at coffee houses, Borscht Belt resorts, and strip clubs (where she appeared in between strip shows). While her act was initially deemed too risqué for television, her big break came when Bill Cosby recommended her as a last minute fill-in for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Her ten-minute routine killed, and she became a regular on the show, even earning "permanent guest-host" status in the '80s.
Soon after this, Rivers received an offer from executives at the then-fledgling Fox network to host her own late night talk show. This came when Rivers found out that she wasn't in the shortlist of potential replacements for Carson as host of The Tonight Show despite her long association with the series. In a fit of envy, Rivers agreed to the executives' requests and The Late Show with Joan Rivers premiered in 1986, making her the first woman to host an American late night talk show.note The move forever ruined Rivers' relationship with Carson, who felt Rivers had betrayed him and he never spoke to her again. The show didn't achieve the ratings the executives expected, and the antics of her husband, producer/manager Edgar Rosenberg, culminated in Rivers being fired from the show in 1987 and replaced with Arsenio Hall.
Rivers' career and life would suffer greatly from this, as she was banned from The Tonight Show (a ban which would last until 2014, when Jimmy Fallon took over the show) and she struggled to find decent work in Hollywood (with the only notable work at the time being the voice of Dot Matrix in Spaceballs). Her husband, Edgar, would then take his life after both of them were fired by Fox, something Rivers blamed on the humiliation he felt after being fired.
In 1989, Rivers took another shot at hosting a talk show, this time in daytime syndication. The Joan Rivers Show lasted until 1993 and even earned her a daytime Emmy Award. After its cancellation, she was hired by the E! network to cover the red-carpet show for the Golden Globe Awards and Academy Awards along with her daughter Melissa. Rivers' dry wit, interest in fashion, and catchphrase "Who're you wearing?" made red-carpet coverage a new form of journalism, and both the show and red-carpet fashion became industries which have lasted until this day.
In the following years, Rivers would participate in a series of TV shows, such as Big Brother, Celebrity Family Feud and Celebrity Apprentice (In which she would win first place) She would also start her own show on QVC promoting her jewelry line and a reality TV show called "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?" on WE TV.
In 2010, Rivers returned to E! to host a fashion-focused show by the name of "Fashion Police" in which she judged people by the clothes they wear at different award shows. The show would turn out to be a massive success and quickly went from a half an hour show to an hour, with several specials. She would also start a Youtube podcast called "In Bed with Joan" in which she would interview different celebrities in a bed from her house.
Sadly, Rivers passed away in September 2014, after a throat surgery gone wrong ended with her on life support, from which she was taken off a few days later. Her funeral was reported to have been filled with celebrities, a red carpet and laughter, as she had requested years before her death.
Rivers' comedy style was brash, sometimes crude and highly satirical, which gained her many detractors during her 55 year long career. She was a highly polarizing figure, as her routines regularly included jokes about the Holocaust, 9/11, all ethnicities and many other controversial topics. Rivers herself would never apologize for a joke, and she believed that life was too tough and laughter was needed to survive. Self-Deprecation + Take That! + Crosses the Line Twice= Joan Rivers.
In spite of all the hardships and controversies in her life, Rivers will always be remembered as one of the best female comedians in the world, a trailblazer and an Icon.
Some of her work includes:
- The Swimmer (1968)
- The Electric Company (1971): She narrated The Adventures of Letterman.
- The Joan Rivers Show: A daytime talk show, for which she won a Daytime Emmy award.
- The Tonight Show: She was a frequent guest and later permanent guest host until leaving for The Late Show.
- The Late Show: The original host, before Arsenio Hall. (Not to be confused with the currently-running series on CBS with the same title)
- The Hollywood Squares: She was the center square in the John Davidson version beginning in 1987 (the show's second season).
- Pee-wee's Playhouse: She made a brief cameo in the Christmas Special on Pee-Wee's TV in the Hollywood Squares set.
- The Fashion Police: She co-hosted with her daughter Melissa Rivers. They also did various Emmy Award pre-shows, and even presented awards during the show on occasion.
- The Muppets Take Manhattan: She made a cameo as Eileen, a department store saleslady whose attempt at making over co-worker Miss Piggy drives both of them to hysterics.
- Spaceballs: She was the voice of "Dot Matrix", the C-3PO parody character.
- Shrek 2: She basically voiced herself, giving commentary on the various fairy-tale characters attending the ball.
- Dave the Barbarian: She was the voice of Queen Zonthara; the mother of Dave's sometimes girlfriend Princess Irmoplotz, who was voiced by Joan's Real Life daughter Melissa.
- Arthur: She was the voice of Francine's aunt Bubbe in the episode "Is That Kosher?"
"Can we trope?":
- Black Comedy: Her specialty, which often got her in trouble; she had no qualms about making fun of Anne Frank or making Holocaust jokes.
- The Bus Came Back: After being banned from The Tonight Show after falling out with Carson in the 1980s, Rivers finally returned to the show for a cameo during Jimmy Fallon's first episode in February 2014. She returned a short time later as a scheduled guest, for the first time in nearly 30 years — and for the final time before her passing.
- Catchphrase: She had MANY, such as "Who're you wearing?", "can we talk?", "Grow Up!" and "It is JUST!"
- Cluster F-Bomb: Not her original TV routines, but she became much racier as the years went by.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Miss Piggy was a guest on the March 30, 2012 episode of E!'s Fashion Police with Joan Rivers to plug the DVD release of The Muppets (2011). Rivers acknowledged that they hadn't worked together since her cameo in 1984's The Muppets Take Manhattan. The segment ended with Rivers asking Piggy what she thinks when she watches football, since "that's a relative."MISS PIGGY: "Is this going to be another pig joke?"JOAN RIVERS: "No."MISS PIGGY: "Good, because I didn't come here today with any dinosaur jokes."JOAN RIVERS: (Silence, then raises Piggy's hand in victory.) "Miss Piggy, ladies and gentlemen! The Muppets is out on DVD in stores now! We'll be right back!"
- Died During Production: Her weekly podcast and reality show at E! were running at the time of her death.
- Documentary: 2010's Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
- Double Standard: She called out the different expectations for women and men in the dating scene and calls out how Women in their 30s are already considered Old Maids that need to get married right away to any guy on her first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
- Frozen Face : Rivers had many plastic surgeries, and it was often the subject of her self-referential humor.
- Gallows Humor: She endured every hardship in life with laughter, making jokes about her looks and even her husband's suicide.
- Refuge in Audacity: There were no taboo topics. Rivers always said the best way to get through difficult situations was to make people laugh. This earned her lots of criticism, and it only got worse after her death. Regardless, she had hundreds of outpourings of grief and tributes from others, particularly in the world of comedians. The one time she found a line she couldn't cross was when she interviewed Fred Rogers and just couldn't bring herself to ask him any dirty questions. "I can't ask you something like 'Do you fool around?'!"
- Sarcasm Failure: In her interview of Fred Rogers she was utterly disarmed by his kindness and sincerity, reduced to gushing like a Fangirl about how much her daughter loved his show.
- She would often make fun of her looks, claiming her husband had killed himself after she took the bag off her head during sex once.
- When David Letterman walked out on her during her last appearance on The Late Show, Rivers proved to be a good sport about it and conducted a rather hostile interview with herself.
- Verbal Tic: “Can we talk?” reportedly started out as one, with Rivers having no idea how often she tended to say it until audiences started to treat it like a catchphrase and shouted it back to her.