A former gag writer for Candid Camera, brashy, sassy Joan Rivers credits Lenny Bruce with being her epiphany to enter stand-up. And he’d probably take it as a compliment. A hard-knocks, Bronx broad who’s never shied away from insults, controversies or expletives, Rivers began appearing on the comedy circuit in the 1960s—the new Phyllis Diller—making a living out of self-deprecating humor and wisecracks about her husband Edgar (likewise, Diller’s punching bag was husband Fang).
Appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, and on memorable game shows such as Match Game (and forgettable ones like What’s the Law?), Rivers steadily built up an audience and reputation for snippy, witty, shock-blocks. In the 1970s she tried her hand at writing films with the occasionally funny stinker, The Girl Most Likely To . . . starring Stockard Channing and Billy Crystal’s Rabbit Test—about a pregnant man. She hit superstardom in the ’80s, however, with her top-selling comedy LP What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most, on which she threw merciless jabs at a then-chunky Elizabeth Taylor: “Liz Taylor is so fat the bumper sticker on her car says ‘Honk if you have groceries.’” Ripping everyone under the sun—especially celebrities, and long before Kathy Griffin got in the game—made Rivers plenty of enemies. Nevertheless, her 1990s daytime talk show ran successfully for five years with a guest list that included many notables, including controversial author Camille Paglia.
Nowadays, Rivers is getting banned (from the UK’s Loose Women), chucked out (from TV Guide’s Red Carpet—as if Lisa Rinna isn’t on her way to Botox Hell), and endlessly ripped for her freakish surgical looks. Does she care? Who knows—but one thing’s for sure: this broad has a cast-iron constitution and never gives up. And why should she? She’s still funny as hell. (Stacy Davies)
Joan Rivers at the California Performing Arts Theatre, 562 W. Fourth St., San Bernardino, (909) 885-5152; www.theatricalarts.net. Sat., Feb. 14, 7PM, $40–$75