Joan Rivers, comedy legend, has died at age 81. Three stories from the Longreads Archive:
GROSS: So, like, that’s kind of a paradox to me that you live to be on stage and at the same time, there’s this dread of being on stage.
Ms. RIVERS: Not a dread of being on stage, a dread of not doing well, of disappointing them. I you know, I always you think I have one friend who’s a very good, very, very famous comedian, comic, who once said to me: I give them five minutes. If they don’t like me, I go on automatic.
And I thought: They have bought the tickets, they have paid for a babysitter, they have come out to see you. They want to have fun. I want them to walk out of a show and say, that’s the best show I’ve ever seen.
I fight to the end. I worry to the end, worry are they having a good time?
At the age of 76, it seems, she has been rediscovered. Much of it has to do with a new documentary about her life, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, which opens in theaters on June 11. Roger Ebert wrote, in one of the film’s many rave reviews, that it is “one of the most truthful documentaries about show business I’ve seen. Also maybe the funniest.” The film comes at the end of a remarkable year for Rivers, one that began when she won The Celebrity Apprentice (after one of the uglier reality-TV showdowns), outfoxing all those bimbos, has-beens, and two-bit poker players to emerge—somehow—as the sympathetic character. At long last, not fired! It’s unfamiliar territory for Rivers: to be the one people root for.
I didn’t realize what a liberated lady I was. I always said, “My life is liberated. Leave me alone. I have no time to join a movement, because I am the movement.” I didn’t have time to go up to anyone and say, “Go out and make it in a man’s world.” I just said, “Look at me and you can see what I’m doing.” I never wanted to say that because I was a woman, things were harder for me or I was judged separately. It took two incidents — my book and this business about leaving the Carson show — to turn me around. With my book, as I said, women seem to understand it more than men. And when I left The Tonight Show, I got such good wishes, such support from women. I didn’t realize how nice it was that women were behind what I did. It’s wonderful.