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” Such rejections seared into Rivers a lifelong identity as a “meeskite”—an ugly girl—even after she slimmed down, bobbed her nose, and became, in society’s terms, attractive. ,” in which a former fat girl murders the men who rejected her.
Later, in 1973, she turned the anecdote into a TV movie, “The Girl Most Likely . In her gritty first memoir, “Enter Talking,” published in 1986, she describes her path as a Pilgrim’s Progress of heartbreak and ambition.
Then, when she was nearly thirty, Rivers’s act finally began to click, creatively. “It may take the form of Bill Cosby’s colloquial stories or Woody Allen’s self-analysis or Mort Sahl’s intellectual nervosities. Benny may be a tightwad on stage and a philanthropist off. They write their own jokes and are expected to live them offstage as well as on.” Funky authenticity was her generation’s fetish. “Female comics are usually horrors who de-sex themselves for a laugh,” Eugene Boe wrote, in published a trend piece about stylish comediennes—titled “The Funny Thing Is That They Are Still Feminine”—in which Rivers claimed that she dressed simply for strategic reasons: “That way you’re less of a threat to women.” Onstage and on TV, she had a girl-next-door cuteness, a daffiness and a vulnerability, that lent a sting to her observations: if this nice Barnard coed, in her black dress and pearls, saw herself as a hideous loser, clearly the game was rigged.
During a stint at Second City, in Chicago, in 1961, she introduced a character named Rita, a desperate, needy, aging single girl. As the rare female New Comedian, Rivers’s persona also hit a nerve, playing as it did off a contemporary slur, the Jewish American Princess.
” she shouted, in 1967, on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” “A girl can’t call. She vomited that news out, mockingly, yearningly, with a shrug or with a finger pointed at the audience.
Girl, you have to wait for the phone to ring, right? “Arf, arf,” she’d bark, joking that a rapist had asked if they could just be friends.
K., stay fat, get diabetes, everybody die, lose your fingers.’ ” In a passionate rasp, she made her case.
Sondra Meredith.” Instead, she took sleazy gigs as a strip club m.c., as Pepper January: Comedy with Spice.
She bombed, twice, on the “Tonight Show” with Jack Paar. Once, after a promising gig, her parents encouraged her to perform at their Westchester country club.
Days after the Twin Towers fell, she called her friend Jonathan Van Meter and invited him to “Windows on the Ground.” According to the loving profile he wrote of her in , she had a pillow that read “Don’t Expect Praise Without Envy Until You Are Dead.” And for decades Rivers proclaimed (sometimes bitterly, but also proudly) that when she died she’d be sanctified, like her hero, Lenny Bruce.
A devotee of rude candor, Joan Rivers had always blown a raspberry at the concept of “too soon.” After her husband, Edgar, committed suicide, she said she’d scattered his ashes at Neiman Marcus, so she could visit five times a week.