She’s nipped, tucked, Botoxed, and damn proud of it.
So maybe Joan Rivers is a less-than-likely representative of female empowerment, but the woman has certainly made her mark. The new documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work examines a year in the life of the legendary comic, and I certainly got more than I bargained for from the indie flick. Like a new role model, for instance.
Sure, many people know Joan more for the ever-progressing plasticity of her face, but the 77-year-old has been cracking jokes and offending the masses for half a century. Whether or not you care for her current repertoire (she’s lately been known to pick on celebs like Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus via Twitter), A Piece of Work underscores the impact Rivers had on a previously prudish American audience.
Regarding one of her earlier risque routines featured in the film, Rivers said,
I was the first one to discuss abortion, and it was very rough…And I couldn’t even say the word “abortion”…And by making jokes about it, you brought it into a position where you could look at it and deal with it. It was no longer something that you couldn’t discuss and had to whisper about. When you whisper about something, it’s too big and you can’t get it under control and take control of it.
Say what you will about the woman, but bringing an issue like abortion to the forefront of America’s consciousness in the ‘60s was pretty courageous.
Equally audacious was making a joke about Hollywood casting couches and ending it with, “I’m Joan Rivers, and I put out!”
While it seems totally tame for this day and age of gross-out humor, the legendary Jack Lemmon was so revolted by the gag, he declared “that’s disgusting,” and walked out. And while public condemnation by an internationally renowned male superstar might scare some into submission, Joan didn’t change her tune one bit. Not even when all-mighty late night host Johnny Carson abruptly cut their professional ties and had her banned from NBC (to be fair, it wasn’t entirely unprovoked).
So no, she hasn’t led a feminist revolution. And yes, her pursuit of an ever-tighter face has only perpetuated America’s obsession with youth and beauty. But if you’ve ever even mildly chuckled at Sarah Silverman, Kathy Griffin, Roseanne, Tina Fey, Margaret Cho, or Ellen DeGeneres, you have to give some credit to Joan.
She certainly does: “Women come up to me and say I’ve opened doors for them and I want to say f— you. I’m still opening doors.” You can’t argue with that.
Check out the trailer for Joan Rivers: Piece of Work:
— Michelle Konstantinovsky is a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and an avid admirer of shiny objects and preteen entertainment. It would be nice if you visited her website: www.michellekmedia.com. Also, she may learn to use Twitter more effectively if you follow her @michelley415.