Rivers spent most of her adult life immersed in the smoky, cologne-scented universe populated and dominated by insecure, pathologically sarcastic, sexist male comics. And she didn't flinch. She was fearless. Or at least she appeared that way. I'm sure there were times in which she was trembling inside. But she didn't show it.
A tough but fragile survivor, Rivers, who was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky to Russian Jewish immigrants, carved a path for all the outspoken, outrageous, funny women who would follow her. Everyone from Roseanne, Whoopi and Ellen to Chelsea Handler, Kathy Griffin and Sarah Silverman owe Rivers a debt of gratitude.
While most humor is rooted in cynicism, Joan's act was marinated in it. She had no patience for cheaters or liars or fools or big shots. She hated corrupt politicians and shallow, sexy Hollywood starlets. She tore them apart. And we loved it.
Her humor grew increasingly vitriolic as she got older. But being a woman in the masculine domain of standup comedy, and being a widow and single mother, undoubtedly created in her a thick skin and a very healthy cynicism about men in general.
But what was the secret to Rivers' great and durable career success? It's pretty simple, really. In addition to her brilliant wit and comic timing, and her knack for recognizing pomposity and absurdity in almost every situation, Joan's greatest appeal from that very first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson back in 1965 was that she was so real.
Yes. Real. Even later in life, after all those plastic surgeries made her face look freakish and rendered her virtually unrecognizable, Rivers was ironically still about as real as you could get. She still connected with people. A Beverly Hills and Park Avenue maven, she remained skeptical of fame, fortune and celebrity even as she reveled in it.
Despite all her surgical and comedic efforts to run from the little girl she was, Joan could never shake that funny, ugly duckling from Brooklyn. Her calling was to make the world laugh. And she did make us laugh, for 81 years.
So, on that note, I'm sure Joan would approve of this headline I've worked up announcing her death:
JOAN RIVERS DIES!
PLASTIC SURGEONS EVERYWHERE IN MOURNING!