Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work at the Little

I went to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. I've never been much of a fan of Joan Rivers — my mom was, and I remember my parents going to see her live years ago and that they were shocked and unhappy that she swore a lot. By the sheer volume of media, I know that Rivers was on the Celebrity Apprentice, and that she gets cosmetic surgery, and that she does some kind of fashion critique at the Academy Awards. In total, I barely had any opinion of her — not her person, her acting, or her comedy.

So I went to the film about as unbiased as I could have. In general, I found it to be absolutely fascinating. It's a year-in-the-life kind of thing, edited more topically than chronologically.

I found Rivers to be generally likable and vibrant, but with a manner of living that is outside how I can imagine myself. She's a powerhouse in media — understanding it on a level that I can barely comprehend. She can somehow digest negative opinions of her and her work and continue to thrive, whereas I'd be back living in anonymity at the first sign of complaint.

She's constantly working on the cutting edge — heck, she's a 75-year-old woman who can still make audiences squirm in her comedy (which is nothing new: consider her joke cut from The Ed Sullivan Show in the late 1960's on abortion, [paraphrasing] "she had 14 appendectomies, flying back-and-forth to Puerto Rico; then she walked down the aisle in white") and she was on Celebrity Apprentice of all things. She has a well-contained big heart — generous and kind in what she cares about, but never for purposes of image (despite her claims that she will do anything for a buck).

As I watched, I came to realize Rivers was in charge of the film. I mean, obviously it was a documentary about her, but she expertly used the documentary medium as a means to advertise herself. She constantly sees herself as a brand (and rarely tips her hat to reveal that she sees herself as anything but) so this film was a way to reach another audience. I wonder if I was some part of her target audience — someone who is media-averse and human-interaction oriented. Whether I was deliberately in her cross-hairs or not, it worked for me — I'd even go see her comedy as I found myself genuinely surprised by her punch-lines, uncontrollably laughing out loud. If nothing else, the film greatly improved my opinion of Joan Rivers.

And now I've got another thing to talk with my mom about.

(even her joke cut from The Ed Sullivan Show in the late 1960's on abortion was more risqué than some I've heard today: (paraphrasing) "she had 14 appendectomies, flying back-and-forth to Puerto Rico; then she walked down the aisle in white")

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