Category Archives: Comedy

Rest in Peace, Joanie: The Loss of Joan Rivers

I realize I’m a little late, but this has been a tough one.

One of my favorite movies growing up, and my earliest memory of Joan Rivers, was Spaceballs. In it, Rivers played a C-3PO Android Jewess named Dot Matrix with a Joan Rivers-esque wig of the times and some of the best lines of the movie. Rivers’ own wit was injected into the character:

Can we talk? OK, we all know Prince Valium is a pill. But you could have married him for your father’s sake and had a headache for the next 25 years.

Of course, while she was trained in the famed Actors’ Studio, Joan Rivers was known more for her stand-up career and later her interviews on the red carpet.

Since her death, Joan has been lauded for what she did for women in comedy. And it’s true. Without a Joan Rivers, there likely would be no Kathy Griffin or Sarah Silverman or perhaps even Lena Dunham today. Joan paved the way for all free-thinking women to get their say in the din of white male sameness.

Chris Rock perhaps said it best, though:

I know people are like, ‘Joan Rivers broke down all these barriers for women, blah blah blah,’…I think it’s a disservice to even group her in any — Joan Rivers is one of the greatest stand-up comedians to ever live. She’s better than [Don] Rickles. She’s one of the best female stand-ups to ever live. No man ever said, ‘Yeah, I want to go on after Joan.’ No, Joan Rivers closed the show every night.

People have said Joan was shocking for her time, and she was, having joked about sex, marriage, and abortions in ways that weren’t done until Phyllis Diller before her. But she was shocking everyone right up to the day she died, which was why she was so important. Joan Rivers’s humor and voice was the kind that could be at once outrageously horrifying and yet make you think about things on a systemic level.

In short, Joan was Joan to the end:

When I heard she did a one-hour set the night before she died, I cried. I can’t help but feel she was taken from us too soon.

It used to be a dream of mine to be one of Joan’s writers. I quickly realized this was unrealistic and modified my hopes to seeing her live and meeting her one day. I never will, but Joan’s comedy lives on forever. You can YouTube her original days on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. I recommend you watch the documentary A Piece of Work on Netflix. For any comics or comedy nerds, you’ll be blown away. Netflix also has one of her stand-up specials. I daresay Joan lives on in Chris Rock and even Louis C.K. as well, and all of the comics who’ve taken a page out of her book. And, of course, Joan lives on in her daughter and grandson.

I didn’t know Joan, but I think she would love being the center of attention and beating out Royal Baby #2 on magazine covers.

Thanks, Joan.

Molly

The Death of Robin Williams: Mourning Within a Community

I have to confess something right up front: I was not a huge fan of Robin Williams. At least, not in recent history. The past few years, he had become more of a cliché to me than a comic. I don’t think I am alone in this opinion.

The past eight weeks I have been taking a stand-up comedy class at the Comedy Parlor in Tulsa. This Sunday, the night before Robin’s death, was the last class and my third time on stage. I plan to write another post about the experience as a whole, but over the last two months, I’ve slowly ingratiated myself in the world of Tulsa comedy, though I don’t know the half of it yet.
I didn’t really process Robin Williams’s death until I got on Twitter that night and saw the dozens of comedians I follow grieving.

As I read through posts, I kind of remembered who Robin Williams was. That my first memory of him was actually watching Mork and Mindy as a kid on Nick-at-Nite. That I used to watch Hook all the time with my sister. That I’ve seen Aladdin hundreds of times and Genie was my favorite character. That I can still remember the scene in Mrs. Doubtfire when his boobs catch on fire and laugh to myself. That he was such a part of the cultural lexicon when I was growing up the comics I admired as a kid did amazing impressions of him that I tried and failed to live up to.

What I’m saying has already been said by other people in far more eloquent ways. Paul F. Tompkins wrote a wonderfully concise tribute. Conan broke the news during the taping of his show on Monday then paid a beautiful tribute to him on Tuesday. Others focused using his death as a way to highlight the importance of treating depression and reaching out to the mentally ill.

Monday night, there were tribute shows at the Laugh Factory and Comedy Store among other places. I had been asked to do a room in Tulsa on Tuesday. After his death, it was planned to be turned into a tribute show until a comic decided that it was “too soon.”

However, Tuesday night, I found that many of the comics were simply lost. They didn’t know how to cope except to stand up and talk about Robin and his impact on them, what a loss it was. A few had had the opportunity to see him live and re-told his jokes with reverence. Some were so distraught they meandered about the depression they suffered from and how they understood him.

I think that’s why Robin Williams’s death has effected everyone so much, but the comedy world in particular. Comedians are predisposed to depression. In order to be a comic, you generally have to observe the world and comment on it in a unique way or have gone through some stuff. And the world is not a pretty place all the time. Telling jokes and making people laugh is also a heck of a way to make yourself feel better when your day isn’t so great.

In short, I haven’t been a comic for long and I did not know Robin Williams or his darkness. But I know the people upon whom his death has made an indelible mark forever. And as a new member of the comedy world, I’ve seen his death from two sides in a way.

Robin, we’ll miss you.

Nanu nanu,

Molly