Feature

Joan Rivers’ offensive defense

“Telling jokes is how I deal with bad things,” says the comedian.

Joan Rivers has an advantage over other comedians, said Guy Adams in the London Independent. “It’s because I have no boundaries anymore,” says Rivers, 77. “What are people going to do? Fire me?” Since her heyday in the 1970s, Rivers has specialized in venomous jokes about ethnicity, race, religion, and death; as she’s aged, she’s become more unrestrained than ever. “Telling jokes is how I deal with bad things,” she says. “Say I was on a plane that’s about to crash. I would turn around and tell my neighbor: ‘If my goddamn insurance isn’t paid, I will kill my broker.’ I would have been laughing at Auschwitz.”

No one’s feelings are spared, especially not her own. Consider this joke about her greed and the 1987 suicide of her husband, Edgar. “When my husband committed suicide,” she says, “I had the watch and the pinkie ring in my mouth before the body hit the ground.” The gasps and nervous laughter such lines elicit only encourage her workaholism. “I want to die onstage,” she explains. “In a comedy contract, your show is an hour and 15 minutes, and you have to work at least half of it to be paid. That makes 38 minutes. When I go, I want it to be in the 39th minute of a show.”

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