They say all comedy comes from pain. My late college roommate was a stand up comic and his illness was a major piece of his comedy. During the late 90s I worked with Joan Rivers at WOR Radio and I believe this was certainly true for her as well.
Joan lived through the suicide of her husband after they were both fired from FOX, bouts of bulimia, financial issues and a rift with Johnny Carson over taking a show on FOX that competed against his own after mentoring her. The two never spoke again and it caused Joan much anxiety and several times she reached out to reconcile with him to no avail.
I’m sure all of that gave her a lot to cry about, but Joan turned all of that anger into comedy. At times I thought her bitterness was way too angry, but I could also tell that she had only a few outlets for her own personal pain. Her manager and her two writers accompanied her everywhere and often protected her from anyone who tried to talk with her. You didn’t talk to Joan, you talked to her manager.
I worked with her on an evening radio show she did at WOR. One of my jobs was to record commercials that clients paid to have her read. What we didn’t know was the Joan was dyslexic and reading copy was quite difficult for her. In the early days of her show she had 15 or 20 commercials to record over the course of a week. She simply couldn’t do it and often I was the object of her angry tirade over the disability.
I felt bad for her, of course, and knew she wasn’t lashing out at me, but she wasn’t a lot of fun to work alongside. We never hit it off and she had a hard time taking direction from anyone much less, me. The show was often horrible, unlistenable, despite my efforts. My best friend took a crack at working with her and had some moderate success and probably was a bit more willing to take her abuse. I went as far to put in writing:
“I will not work with Joan Rivers.”
Off the air Joan was actually pleasant most of the time. She simply wasn’t an easy person to work with and I can imagine that she was drawing paychecks from a bunch of small jobs after her FOX show failed and comedy work in Vegas and elsewhere had long dried up.
In short, it could not have been easy being Joan Rivers. I’ve come to understand her plight a lot more in these last few days and for that I am thankful. It’s made it easier for me to forgive and that indeed is God’s work at opening my heart a bit further and I hope that Joan was able to let go of some of vileness that she always seemed to carry around in her humor.
My biggest grudge with Joan, which I now laugh about came when she was asked to fill-in on our afternoon drive show. At the time, I was the producer of that show and so I simply switched roles with her producer and ended up on the evening shift, the slot she would usually be in. Joy Behar was hired as a fill-in host and one of the things she wanted to do was to have Janeane Garofalo on the show because she had been feuding with Joan Rivers over remarks that Rivers made about her outfit at the Oscars. (Essentially Garofolo’s trademark is that she doesn’t dress up and Rivers had a field day with that on the red carpet). Full disclosure I had a huge fan-crush on Garofolo and was really looking forward to meeting her.
When Rivers found out Behar’s plan to have Garofolo on the show she nixed it and Behar promptly quit. I had been busy booking other guests for the program and now several hours before the show I find out that all that work was for nothing AND I wouldn’t get to meet Garofolo or Behar. In short, I was really annoyed with Rivers and her anger that really didn’t make sense to me.
But those days are gone. My crush on Garofolo isn’t the stuff of grudge-holding and Joan Rivers probably had a lot of pent-up anger for many good reasons. Nobody deserved the horrible death that she had at the end–too sudden, too tragic. I pray that today she finds some peace.
All comedy comes from pain. Perhaps that is true. And while Rivers faced more than her share of pain, she often chose to laugh through the anger and perhaps that is a good legacy for Joan to leave with us.
So long, Joan. May your anger now also pass away so that you can rest in peace in the arms of God. And may God bring comfort to her family and peace to all who found the brusque end of a Joan Rivers tirade.