Comedy As Coping Mechanism: Remembering Joan Rivers
In one of the most riveting scenes in the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Rivers is attacked by a heckler during a show in Wisconsin.
“I hate children,” the comedian jokes. “The only child I think I would have liked ever was Helen Keller because she didn’t talk.”
“Not very funny!” shouts the male voice.
“Yes it is,” Rivers shoots back without hesitation. “And if you don’t — then leave.”
“It’s not funny if you have a deaf son,” the heckler continues.
Rivers pounces, no longer annoyed, but angry.
“I happen to have a deaf mother. Oh, you stupid ass. Let me tell you what comedy is about … Comedy is to make everyone laugh at everything, and deal with things. You idiot …”
She continues her rant, bringing up a tragedy only to turn it into a joke. She concludes with the observation, “9/11? If we didn’t laugh, where the hell would we all be? Think about that. Where the hell would we all be?” Then she tells a show-stopping joke about Osama bin Laden to break the tension.
In Joan Rivers’s act, no celebrity sin was out of bounds, including the sin of dying. If a topical joke elicited more groans than laughs, Rivers would ask the crowd, “Too soon?” She understood there was a line — it was that thing she loved to cross. Rivers joked about her husband’s suicide. She joked about the death of her beloved dogs. So in this spirit — and in her distinctive style — here are jokes about her extremely unwelcome departure.
- When the doctor said, “We’re gonna put you under,” I didn’t think he meant 6 feet.
- Don’t bother pulling the sheet over my head. Just use my breasts.
- In my will, I leave everything to Melissa … except my furs. I want them turned into merkins for Paris Hilton so the entire world has the chance to enjoy them.
- Someone must’ve heard wrong. I wanted to be on wife support, not life support. Wife support. You know, that’s my one regret in life. I never got alimony. You know how much Mel Gibson’s wife got when they split? Four hundred million dollars. For that kind of money, I’d hate Jews more than he does. I’d spit on myself every time he walked by. Peh! Oh, oh, I’d watch Schindler’s List backward so it had a happy ending. Remember that movie he made, What Women Want? I’ll tell you what women want, Mel. They want 400 hundred million dollars and not to have to live with you!
- My plan is to donate my organs to people who really need them. Like my liver could go to some kid with cancer … or Lindsay Lohan. She’s only 28 but her liver just turned 106. I also want to donate my corneas to Katy Perry. I mean something’s obviously wrong with her eyes since she married Russell Brand. Ugh. Also, I asked my doctors to remove my fat and send it to Angelina Jolie so she can keep her lips plump. Oh, yes. Brad Pitt will kiss my ass. What else? I don’t know. Then just mail the rest of me in a box marked “spare parts” to Melanie Griffith.
- Wouldn’t you know, my whole life began to flash before my eyes … and then they cut to commercial.
- I’m worried they’ll send me to heaven. Ugh. No Kennedys. No gays. Just me exchanging beauty tips with Mother Teresa. I know she was a good person, but she was ugly. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Even the lepers would say, “Stay away! Not so close!”
- But I’m glad I’m not going to Catholic heaven. There, if you’ve lost a leg, after you die, you get reunited with it. I never want to see my old face again.
- Oh, and here’s the saddest part: Brad and Angelina got married last weekend; George Clooney is getting married next weekend … I’ll never know who got divorced first. And they will. They all divorce. Fortunately, Brad and Angelina have six kids, so they can split them right down the middle: “Three for you and three for me. I’ll take the blond ones, you can have the others.”
- I hate dead people. So boring. Have you ever been at a dinner party with a dead person? Well, how about Bo Derek? Then you know.
- What’s so scary about death? I’ll be lying next to Edgar for eternity, never moving. It’ll be just like our honeymoon.
- People keep asking what the surgery was really for. Here’s the truth: I’ve had so many tummy tucks, my belly button was sitting on my vocal cords.
- I think the worst part was when I couldn’t breathe on my own — I felt like a Kardashian.
- Tell you what, bury me in that ugly dress Lena Dunham wore to the Emmys. I’ve already seen how it looks on death.
- At first I was happy when I found myself floating over the operating table. I felt so thin! Fat people don’t float, right? Then I heard a voice call out, “Joan, Joan, go into the light!” And I shouted back, “Not without a filter!”