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Friday, September 05, 2014

Can We Talk? My Memories of Joan Rivers

I know that this is supposed to be the time of the week where we get into a really flavourful discussion about pasta, chocolate, donuts, and Kentucky Fried Chicken in the topic known as FOODIE FRIDAY.

But, given the recent news coming out of the world of Hollywood, I didn't think that it would be all that appropriate to discuss. 

Instead, this is going to be a post about the late Joan Rivers, who passed away on September 4, 2014 at the age of 81.  By now, you've heard all about how she died.  On August 28, Rivers went to a clinic outside of New York City to undergo a surgical procedure on her vocal cords, and during the procedure she experienced complications and had to be put in a medically induced coma.  Though it was touch and go for the next few days, Rivers died at 1:17 pm EST.

With the death of Joan Rivers, millions of people all over world will forever remember her contributions to the world of comedy.  She was a real trailblazer in stand up comedy, paving the way for women comedians everywhere.  When she spoke, she always said things the way that she saw them, and her brutal honesty on certain subjects caused just as much controversy as it did laughs on some occasions.  But through it all, Joan Rivers didn't care what others thought of her.  If she liked you, she would let you know it.  If she hated your guts, she'd tell you to your face.  And whether you loved her or didn't like her at all, you have to at least give it to the woman...she did speak her mind no matter what.  Perhaps that was why she got to cover so many red carpet events with her only daughter, Melissa.  Maybe that was the reason why she often sat in for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show" (well, before their famous falling out in the 1980s).  It could even be the reason why she even had her own show on E! entitled "Fashion Police", where she often shared her views on what the celebrities were wearing, and questioned some of the bad choices they made.

Certainly, Joan Rivers made an lasting impression in the world of comedy, and certainly many are grieving the loss of a true legend.

And in this blog entry, I share some of the memories that I have of Joan.

Granted, I never met her in real life.  I haven't had the pleasure of meeting any celebrities at all.  But, I imagine that had I had the fortune to meet her, I think we would have exchanged pleasantries and she totally would have trashed my clothes because that was how she rolled (and honestly I wouldn't have been offended because I don't really feel like I have a good sense of style anyway, so she probably would have been telling the truth).

But Joan Rivers certainly made a little bit of an impression on my own life.  Oh, sure, I didn't become a stand-up comedian or anything like that (though I have always wanted to try performing at an open mic night or something like that).  But let's just say that the first time I remember having a memory of Joan Rivers was during my childhood.  And, it happens to be quite a funny one at that.

So, this story will be going back to when I was about seven years old.  Being the youngest child in the family, I was always sneaking around the house, trying to find out what places I could invade without getting caught by my parents or older siblings.  As it so happened, one of my sisters was sleeping over at someone's house at the time, so her room was wide open for me to invade.  Granted, I never really did much snooping in there (I wasn't one of those kids who purposely looked for people's diaries or anything like that).  I just liked to hang out in her room because it was much larger than mine (my room was the size of a shoebox back in those days, and ironically enough when she left home, I ended up with her room).

Besides, she had a stereo that could play cassette tapes, and it was the best way to listen to those children's books on tape that I liked back then.

(Yes.  I said cassette tapes.  We didn't own a CD player until at least the 1990s.)

So, anyway, I had gone into her room while she was out, and I had some books and tapes to listen to, but somehow I tripped over something and somehow my tapes got mixed up with her music tapes.  And because I had listened to my tapes for my books so much, the writing on the tapes had faded, and I couldn't tell which one was which.  So, I grabbed a black coloured tape from the pile and played it thinking that it was the tape for one of the books.

So imagine my surprise when I pushed play, and here was this raspy voiced woman screaming and shouting and all sorts of things that were not meant for the average seven year old to hear on the tape!  I honestly don't even remember what the tape's content was.  All I knew was that I didn't have a book like that!  This was just some crazy lady that talked about how God divides or something like that!

(To this day, I have no idea how my sister even ended up with a copy of Joan Rivers' 1984 comedy album "What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?", but nevertheless, it was there, and I was hearing it all.)

Now, this attracted the attention of the eldest sister, who had heard the commotion, and immediately ran towards the stereo and shut the tape off, thinking that I was emotionally scarred for life and shooed me out of the room so she could hide all the albums with questionable content on them so that I would never hear them again! 

Truth be told, I didn't understand what was so bad about it.  Well, that is until I heard the album in its entirety and understood completely.  Joan Rivers was a respected and witty comedienne, but I was definitely not ready to handle her at age seven, that's for darn sure!

But over the years, I did eventually see the woman whose comedy album caused such a kerfuffle on that particularly warm weekend.  In fact, one of the first times that I saw Joan Rivers on television was when she was the center square on the 1980s revival of "Hollywood Squares".  Here's an episode of the show from 1987.

Now, mind you, "Hollywood Squares" was considerably tamer than Joan's stand-up material, and granted, I was still too young to understand any of the funny jabs that she was saying, but all I remember was that I liked her.  She had a distinctive voice that I found very interesting, and she definitely looked like she was having a good time no matter what she was doing. 

And, over the years, Joan would make quite a few appearances in my childhood through television and film.  Again, I was too young to remember her having her own talk show called "The Joan Rivers Show", but I can remember skimming across it while channel surfing.  I was definitely too young to remember when she was a huge part of "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson", but from what I hear, she and Johnny were brilliant together, and she was basically the "yang" to Johnny's "yin". 

Though, that friendship would be broken beyond repair when Joan was offered her own late night show in 1986 which aired in direct opposition to Johnny's show - and perhaps what hurt Johnny more than having to compete against Joan was the fact that he heard of the show from FOX executives, and not from Joan herself.  The two never spoke again, and Johnny passed away in 2005 without ever reconciling with Joan.

She also was a part of many childhood memories, although I never realized that it was her until later.  She made an appearance on the 1984 film "The Muppets Take Manhattan", but I had no idea that it was Joan Rivers until...well..."Tape Gate '88".  She was also a part of Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special, which I remember taping and watching over and over again until the tape got eaten by our ever-so-volatile VCR.  And she also did a voice on "Shrek 2" playing - what else? - a red carpet correspondent for Far Far Away Land!

And, I suppose one reason why Joan Rivers not only survived, but thrived in a male dominated industry as stand-up comedy was because she wasn't afraid to make fun of herself, nor was she one to hold her tongue.  If she had something to say, you better believe that she'll say it, such as in this clip from "Celebrity Apprentice 2", in which she and her daughter Melissa were contestants.

Joan won, by the way.

And regarding her multiple plastic surgeries?  Well, the first one took place in 1965 when she had an eye lift done in hopes that it would further her career, but since then, she's made no apologies over the work that she had done over the years, and even wrote them into her act.  After all, in her world, nobody was off limits - especially herself.

And as we say farewell to a real comedy legend, we must also remember that because of her, many women have managed to achieve their dreams of being stand-up comics and have gone on to great success.  Whether it be Roseanne Barr, Rosie O'Donnell, Margaret Cho, Elayne Boosler, Kathy Griffin, Sandra Bernhard, Sarah Silverman, and countless other female comics in the world today, Rivers was one of the main trailblazers (the other being the late Phyllis Diller) for female comediennes to find their voices.  And, I think a lot of people will remember her for being exactly that.

Rest in peace, Joan Rivers.

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