Opinion: Close Encounters With Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

Every comedy journalist will have their own memories of Joan Rivers. Here are a couple of mine.  I had an insight into her real personality behind the bulletproof onstage confidence when I watched the acclaimed 2010 documentary about her life, A Piece Of Work. Part of the fly-on-the-wall doc followed her as she performed her one-woman play in London at the Leicester Square Theatre, A Work in Progress By a Life in Progress. After the press performance she was filmed reading her reviews in the back of a car. She could clearly be seen holding an Evening Standard and reading my review.

I thought I’d been quite nice about her and generous about her energetic solo performance, but I had only given the show three stars. To Rivers this seemed like the worst insult of all. I’ll dig out the clip later and get the precise quote, but her general depressed response was on the lines of ‘is it worth all this effort just to get a measly three stars?’ People may not have liked some of the things she said, but Rivers worked really hard and always pushed herself to the limit in every sense. That’s why she was doing a gig just before she was hospitalised last week. It was the work that validated her and the more she did and the better the reviews were the more she was validated. For many people their biggest fear is public speaking. For Rivers her biggest fear was an empty diary.

My other encounter with Rivers was on the telephone. I interviewed her for the Times around five years ago. I was in London, Rivers was in New York. Before the phone rang I had an image of a glamorous, immaculately coiffured, cosmetically-enhanced, svelte figure clad in sequins and expensive jewellery. The funny thing is that when she spoke she sounded just like my mother, who was actually older than Rivers. It didn't matter how much time and money she spent reconfiguring her face, inside and away from the glare of the camera she was still elderly Joan Molinsky from Brooklyn. Which made it even more amazing that she could walk onstage and transform herself into such a comic powerhouse night after night after night until the very end.



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