Eulogies for Joan Rivers continue to pour in. I’ll confess I was never really a fan of most of her comedy and I could not have cared less about her fashion chatter, but her self-mockery was just incredible. She was brutal, but seldom more brutal to anyone else than she was to herself. That made people like her even if they didn’t want to.
And she did have a knack for saying what people were thinking but never would say themselves.
She goes into one of those self-mocking riffs in this clip from 1982.
It’s usually funnier to see someone mocking themselves than trashing someone else. We’re laughing with them, not just at them, and it doesn’t feel harsh because they said it themselves. Rivers knew that and she was ninja-skilled at both.
She stood up for Israel recently. She stood up for Reagan back in the day. She ripped every celebrity, the famous and the infamous, of the past 50-odd years. So Joan Rivers had something for everyone. But no one would ever mistake her for any of the classic beauties over the years, not in decades that included everyone from Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn to Cindy Crawford, Kathy Ireland, Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton.
For some reason, Rivers’ “friend” Barbara Walters used her obit of Rivers to bring that up.
But there are a few things that are important to know about Joan Rivers; and she would not be shy about me saying so.
She wasn’t a great beauty and she didn’t have great success with men. She had a disappointing marriage to a man who almost ruined her career and then, sadly, committed suicide.
What a weird thing to say. Everybody knows this. Rivers was 81 when she passed away, and she never kept her own life a secret, especially if she could get a laugh out of it. Joan Rivers tried to get a laugh out of everything, and she usually succeeded.
Rivers’ love of plastic surgery and her passing have now become a joke that she would appreciate: Joan Rivers died at the age of 81, but her face was just 25. Her breasts were a youthful 15.
Whatever Walters’ aside is, it’s not exactly hard-hitting journalism to observe that Joan Rivers was not a supermodel. Rivers succeeded by knowing she wasn’t a classic beauty and played that up for far more than it was worth. She lived by her wits, and her wits had the power of a hydrogen bomb.
I won’t even move to the subject of Walters’ appearance, other than to note a couple of things. Why does the feminist icon Barbara Walters think Joan Rivers’ appearance and “success with men” are even worth mentioning the way she mentions them, as if it’s a state secret? Who is Barbara Walters, who admits to having had an affair with a married senator, and who has married and divorced three times, to talk about anyone else’s “success” with men?
Perhaps that’s “success” to a climber like Barbara Walters, whose career did depend a great deal on looks. It’s not success to anyone with a clue.
Joan Rivers made the rest of us laugh at her imperfections, and our own at the same time. That’s among the reasons that she’ll be missed.