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Exit laughing as only Joan can

Monday, September 8, 2014

When the news came that Joan Rivers had stopped breathing during a throat procedure in a doctor’s office, I heard Joan’s voice screaming, hoarsely: “It’s not what you think, you little perverts. Get your mind out of the gutter.”

Joan, 81, was the queen of the dirty joke, the mean joke, the joke that we would wince at publicly, and then run to the bathroom to snort like plugged-up drains.

When her death was announced by her daughter Melissa Rosenberg on Thursday, the world must have first thought it was a gag. We all thought she was indestructible, like the non-biodegradable implants she had acquired during her plastic surgery hobby.

She made a career out of shocking people—how could a nice blonde Jewish princess say those things? She made jokes about abortion, sex, race, class, colour—all the taboo subjects, and in the ’60s too, when women weren’t even allowed to be funny.

Her tongue was pure acid. If you had not learned how to laugh at yourself, Joan made sure you got a crash course. No one was safe—not the president (she called Obama gay); not royalty (she offered to buy Sarah Ferguson a chin as a wedding gift); not even herself. 

She joked famously: “When I die they will donate my body to Tupperware,” because of all the silicone.

She even planned her own funeral in comedy: “When I die, I want Meryl Streep crying in five different accents.” Appearing on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon last year, she talked about death with her usual uncensored humour: “I’m not worried about death. My father was a doctor so I was around death all my life. I was very used to it because he was a sh**ty doctor.’’

She and I did not get along all that well because she had a special mean bone for fat people. Elizabeth Taylor was a favourite target (“She puts mayonnaise on aspirin”). Still, that didn’t stop her from secretly calling me up for my impeccable advice before every Fashion Police episode. 

My failsafe advice to her was that anything from the Kim Kardashian collection deserved to be washed in acetone and run through the dryer twice, along with the rest of the stuff she harvested from Cee-Lo Green’s lingerie drawer. 

I once lent her an ostrich boa, which she never returned, for an appearance at the Academy Awards, so I retaliated by borrowing one of her classic retorts. Whenever someone was asking me some silly question such as why I was buying another pair of shoes or if Beyonce wears a weave, I would hit them with this: “Oh, grow up.”

Gays, on the other hand, Joan loved. They were laughing at her jokes when nobody else was paying attention in the clubs in Greenwich Village in New York where she started out being obnoxious.

She used to say that once she saw eight gay guys in the front row, she knew it was going to be a great show. Drag queens specialised in Joan Rivers impersonations—another sign of how famous and enduring she was. Only Liza Minnelli has perhaps been impersonated more.

Can’t wait to see what her funeral will be like. Everybody will appear in red-carpet gowns and tuxes. Dennis Rodman in sequins will do the eulogy. Kelly Osbourne will dye her hair back to blonde in tribute. 

And Michelle Obama will wear her best Louboutin boots just to kick her casket as payback for the time Joan called her a transgender. Then Joan’s ghost will say: “Harder, harder. I haven’t had this much fun lying down since I hid under Jay-Z’s bed to witness the rematch between him and Solange Knowles.’’ 

But who would really say something like that? Oh yeah, that’s right. Only Joan.


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