You either loved Joan Rivers or you hated her.
Her stand-up red carpet catcalls, and colorful over-the-top humor – insult comedy, shock humor, ribaldry, just to name a few of her hallmark styles – was as lethal as she was legend.
For example, in commenting on a 2013 celebrity event about the German model Heidi Klum, Rivers – unfiltered and uninhibited – stated the following: “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.”
Yes, you read that correctly.
“When some groups complained the comment was anti-Semitic, she retorted that the only people who had a right to complain were Nazis,” the New York Times reported. Only someone with a good heart can be as beloved as River’s was while managing to include everyone as a target of her style.
“Rivers not only used the word “tranny,” which many transgender people find offensive, but she used it (in 2014) to describe Michelle Obama, and then doubled down, defending herself with her usual gusto and attacking political correctness itself. Some in the LGBT community grumbled, but many more resonated with her brash feminine bravado,” Jay Michaelson wrote in “The Very Jewish Reasons Why Gay Men Loved Joan Rivers.”
Sadly, Rivers’ shtick came to an unexpected end on September 4th when going in for a procedure on her vocal cords and went into cardiac arrest at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The LGBT community took River’s death hard, especially coming on the heels of Robin Williams’.
Her style of humor and feminism made her an icon. River’s time, energy, contribution, action and love for the LGBTQ community made her a hero. The self-proclaimed “Queen of the Gays” thanked us every chance she got.
“My gay fans have been wonderful from day one,” Rivers told The Advocate just this past May. “I remember when I was working at the Duplex in Greenwich Village in New York at the beginning of my career and the only ones who would laugh at my jokes were the gay guys. I think if I had started out in straight clubs and bars I never would’ve gotten anywhere.” Her embrace of us goes back decades. In the 1990’s Rivers used her talk show “The Joan Rivers Show,” as a vehicle to promote both unabashedly and unapologetically LGBTQ visibility in the arts.
In the fight to legalize marriage equality in New York State, Rivers offered her celebrity endorsement stating, “All New Yorkers believe in fairness, that’s why we should support marriage equality. For goodness sakes, come on guys.” And when New York State legalized same-sex nuptials, Rivers, as an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, officiated a gay couples wedding atop the Empire State Building in 2013.
And when CNN’s Anderson Cooper finally came out of his glass closet Rivers was applauded his courage. “I am thrilled that Anderson Cooper finally came out, because this explains why he never tried to date me. I saw him as the perfect package,” Rivers told Huffington Post. “I would have loved Gloria Vanderbilt as a mother-in-law. This explains everything.”
In the third season of their reality show Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? the septuagenarian Rivers explored her bi-curiosity when she disclosed she kissed a woman romantically for the first time.
“Lily Tomlin, who is my very good friend, she and Jane Lynch had a dinner party, and I met this lovely woman,” Joan explained. “At this point, all the men I go out with remind me of my father – dead. I figured I might as well try it at this point. Maybe I’ve been missing something.”
But this isn’t Rivers first time kissing a woman. Playing opposite the then unknown Barbra Streisand in the 1959 play Driftwood in New York, Rivers excitedly offered to play the role – that was originally cast for a male-only if the characters she and Streisand played were made lesbians.
“The first play I did was in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s. Barbra Streisand and I played lovers and we kissed,” Rivers recalled in 2010. “This was before she was singing, before anything. I knew she was talented, but you never know what someone will be. She was a fabulous kisser, that’s what I knew.”
Rivers influenced a younger community of female comedians, like Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman, Roseanne Barr, and Whoopi Goldberg, to name a few. She feminized comedy by not donning frumpy attire like her predecessors Phyllis Diller or Moms Mabley. She always dressed glamorously. Also, Rivers brought controversial women’s issues of each decade to the forefront making audiences think as much as laugh.
“Women should look good. Work on yourselves. Education? I spit on education. No man is ever going to put his hand up your dress looking for a library card,” Rivers told Time Magazine.
Rivers was a loud, brash, irreverent Phi Beta Kappa Barnard College grad who mastered her comedic craft well. This 81-year-old nipped and tucked caustic comedian was a cause célèbre that will be greatly missed by many.
Rest In Peace.
By Reverend Irene Monroe