Joan of Snark

by Leandra Medine
September 4, 2014
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Joan Rivers once said that if you don’t laugh, life is tough. I’m not sure whether this came before or after she quipped that she’s had so much plastic surgery in life, she planned to donate her body to Tupperware when she died. But who cares.

A common thread among several of the greatest comedians of our time is the unapologetic and often relentless presence of death in their routines. Chalk it up to the textbook ideals that encompass comic relief, or consider it simply a great mind’s approach to life and what comes after, using one’s occupation as a portal to hash it out.

Joan Rivers was a complicated feminist. She tore down women with a brand of brutal snark that became endemic to her success. She also broke a stereotype — that only men could truly be funny — and forged a path paved with self-deprecating jokes for the women who followed. Without Rivers, it’s hard to determine whether Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman or Amy Schumer could now run the extensive circles they do around Hollywood with their witticisms.

There is something distinct to be said about Joan Rivers as a proof of concept — that women can have it all: a sense of humor that is informed only by the limits of the mouth, prosperity contingent on it and a strong enough support system to keep going –  and the sense of invincibility that checking off the criterion propels. Rivers could be crass, rude, hugely insensitive and brazen. She didn’t seem to care at all where popular opinion of her laid. She was honest for better or worse.

But when I was asked to appear on Fashion Police alongside The Great Joan two years ago almost to date, I also learned that she was kind. That she stood firmly by her ideals and took care of the people around her — those who needed her and those who didn’t know they needed her. She said she hated my jeans, I told her I hated her sweater. Together we laughed.

And that’s kind of when it clicked, you know? That perhaps all this time she hadn’t just been tearing women down, but boosting their social immune systems. Getting them ready for the bullshit that emerges as it does with escalating age, depleting heartbreak, rejection and the residual turmoil that manifests as a result, hoping that with the right state of mind, a solid layer of tough enough skin, and the ability to dish it back, we could all just…laugh.

Image from the set of The Muppets Take Manhattan

REPLIES
  • http://www.fashionsnag.com/ Fashion Snag

    I am gonna miss her! I agree with you about the comment she made about your jeans and then your comment back. She was getting you ready for the bullshit!

    http://www.FashionSnag.com

  • AlexaJuno

    This is beautifully written. A+. RIP Joanie.

  • http://www.excusemyblog.com/ Kelsey

    I’m so sad to hear the news of her passing! I truly admired her work ethic and hope to emulate it as much as I can. You are right! She absolutely paved the way for female comics. I’m going to miss her sense of humor!

    Kels
    http://www.excusemyblog.com

  • Quinn Halman

    This was truly beautiful, Leandra. I’ve been compared to Sarah Silverman and Joan Rivers with my frank, witty, and self-deprecation way of humour. I had read Sarah’s book and watched fashion police on the occasion, but the day my mom suggested I watch Joan’s movie “Joan Rivers: Piece of Work” something switched “on” inside my mind. If I could pinpoint a moment in my life when I became a feminist or career-woman in the making; this was it. Thank you, Joan

  • starryhye

    Joan was so damn funny. Such a loss…but now to find the episode of Fashion Police with Leandra!

  • dittoduffel

    Solid GOLD, L!

  • James Cooper

    Rest In Peace – Joan Rivers – The Legendary Comedian

    http://goo.gl/E2qOvh

  • http://www.bybabou.com byClara

    Leandra this text is beautiful…

  • Jessica

    I agree that she paved the way 4 today’s “funny” women.
    “…Perhaps all this time she hadn’t just been tearing women down, but boosting their social immune systems…Getting them ready for the bullshit that emerges as it does…, hoping that with the right state of mind, a solid layer of tough enough skin, and the ability to dish it back, we could all just…laugh” Couldn’t’ve said it better..

  • http://www.littlewildheart.com Alexandra Puffer

    I am so happy for her existence and that she inspired generations of women to speak their minds unapologetically. Keeping her example close to my heart today.

    Warm Regards,
    Alexandra
    http://www.littlewildheart.com

  • Emily

    Not to mention she was racist, transphobic and victim blaming! She wished death upon Palestinians because they have “low IQs” and “they started it”. Should we really mourn the death and humanize someone who saw people as less than human?

    • diane

      And she was equally brutal (and funny) about every other ethnic and religious group, too. As Joan herself would have said: “Oh, grow up!”

      • Emily

        So, commending genocide on a certain ethnic group is funny? “Grow up!” Really?

    • ashley bis

      “Life is so difficult and I cope with it by making jokes about absolutely everything. I just wrote today on Twitter: ‘Hitler: like him or not, he was a great dancer.’ Some people ask, how can you make a joke about that, or 9/11? I would have made jokes in concentration camps. You have two choices: laugh or die.”

      • ashley bis

        PS – A lot of it was part of her act. In “A Piece of Work” she showed the room in her house where she stored old jokes. She had one drawer labeled “politically incorrect.”

  • Alejandra

    She was a complicated feminist who paved the road for female comedians.. This post is so warm and true, especially knowing how honest your words are.

    • Alejandra

      BTW I once saw her at an airport and it turned out we were taking the same flight.. The whole time I was debating on wether to ask her for a picture. When we got off the plane I asked “do you want to take a picture with me…please?” And she responded with a huge smile and said “No, YOU want to take a picture with me, but yes.”

      • http://Medium.com/@hager_emma Emma Hager

        Hahah, such a good story. What a woman. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://Medium.com/@hager_emma Emma Hager

    Very lovely piece, Leandra. What Joan Rivers did and what she was capable of, goes far beyond merely being a pioneering female. She had a wit about her that was the result of an intelligence and honesty that very few people possess.

    Despite her escapades with plastic surgery, fame, and fortune, she remained humble in a unique way. She was the first person to acknowledge her talents, but she was also the first person to take a stab at her faults. There are, of course, many constants in human existence like selfishness, sex, etc, etc, etc, and she displayed all of these in such a way that was totally before her time. In a world where the slightest comment drives someone up the wall due to lack of political correctness, she almost altruistically brought everything into perspective with her scathing and relentless sense of humor. She never failed to reinforce the fact that we can be a pretty motley, pretty selfish, pretty depressing bunch of creatures. But she also never failed to reinforce that such human qualities were okay, and what made them okay was our ability to realize them in the first place — then laugh at them.

    I cannot stand insular ways of thought, and you can tell that she didn’t either. She puts people in their place and breaks down archaic ideas surrounding our importance and preciousness. When she critiqued someone’s dress, she was critiquing a lot more. Social commentary one-liners were her thing. And no one can replace her.

    P.S. If anyone is looking for a good interview w/ Joan to listen to: http://www.npr.org/2010/06/09/127556307/comedian-joan-rivers-is-a-real-piece-of-work

    and: http://www.npr.org/2012/06/11/154753767/joan-rivers-hates-you-and-everyone-else

  • http://blushingbetta.com Blushing Betta

    She will definitely be missed and inspired me to be a no bullshit bitch. Thank you fro sharing your Joan Rivers story.

  • giselaandzoe

    Wow, well said!

  • http://www.accidentalicon.com Accidental Icon

    Beautifully written, the best tribute so far!

  • http://myhippiesoul.blogspot.com/ Jessica

    This is fantastic. What an honor to have worked with her on FP. She was definitely a pioneer. I’ll miss her twisted sense of humor.

  • wilddarts

    Lovely! RIP Joan xx

  • Cristina Feather

    Beautifully written! We will miss her crazy jokes that made us all go “SHE SAID WHAT!!??” She was fantastic!

  • http://www.dominiquecandido.com Dominique
  • sarah

    wow, i feel like all I’ve been doing lately is commenting on the unexpected deaths of great people…joan, robin, philip. i guess she’s up there ‘killing him for killing himself’. can’t imagine fashion police without her. we miss you already mrs rivers. ;-(

  • Whitney V

    Brilliant article, I thought exactly that about her -funny, careless, clever, tough and incredibly kind, too! She was confident enough to be all of those things, all at once! She’ll be so missed!

    http://www.whitneyswonderland.com

  • Catherine Lajoie

    lovely tribute.

  • Ana

    That was beautiful

  • Hudson Berry

    Well written
    RIP Joan (Rest In Pizzacrusts)
    I’ll be a Joan Ranger 4 life

  • atelierjen

    I’m so going to miss Fashion Police, no one could take her place there.

  • Johanna

    I will miss the Fashion Police…. and the original “lean in” woman.

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