Saturday, 6 September 2014


In case you missed it online yesterday, my obituary of Joan Rivers is in the paper paper today (Saturday). If you insist on cyber-browsing the G, here's the link to it. I wrote it a couple of years ago, but at the beginning of the week I added about 300 words and re-edited it. After it went up, the Guardian then asked if I'd like to include her final controversy: some comments she made to a TMZ 'reporter' about the Israelis and Gaza; I passed after watching the interview and realising that her viewpoint meant almost nothing and that the callous, controversial part of it was drawn out of her doggedly for effect.

What I would have liked to do was write a bit more about her comedy style, because it involved a lot of soul-baring which the laughter only partly covered up. That was why I concentrated so much on the difficulties she faced throughout her career--as the very fine documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work made clear, she was her work, and every part of her life for gist for the relentless mill that drove her comedy. It took real talent and a lot of courage, and as the doc showed, it took its toll.

I also would have liked to expound a little further on the difference in her popularity in America and Britain. Here she is seen as the kind of American Britain would like to think Americans are--that's why clowns like Ruby Wax, Rivers' leading imitator here, are so popular only on this side of the Atlantic; apparently, Ruby was on BBC television Friday night; I doubt they billed her as I've described her.

But the difference in perception was crucial. Her talk shows failed in this country because everyone was expecting her to cut her guests to pieces, Dame Edna with fangs, but when Rivers was at her peak as Carson's fill in, what got her there and got her the show on Fox, was her ability to rein in it, and make the guests comfortable. As her career became more specialised, she became more and more aggressive, but that doesn't work in the talk show format unless you're all-out lampooning your guests, and then you won't get the usual big name suspects booked.

The other big question was where her husband Edgar, who killed himself, was born. Some sources say Germany (which Joan herself said: that the family moved to Denmark and then South Africa before settling in England) or England, where he was educated. I lean toward the former, but it's risky to trust spouse's memoirs for your info.

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