Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

By her own admission, Joan Rivers is a workaholic.

If she’s got a day in her calendar without a commitment it’s a day wasted as far as she is concerned. Filmed during her 75th year, this documentary illustrates she is happiest when she is busy, preferably before an audience.

Rivers grants access to a crew at home, at work and with family. If you’ve ever wondered how much of her act is just that, an “act”, then this should help you understand her methodology.

Despite living in what should be her sunset years Rivers doesn’t hold back. No word is too profane, and no subject is off limits. She tests her gags out with her inner circle (they reject her idea of a Michelle Obama gag dubbing her as the new ‘Blackie O.’) Another audience member protests a gag about Helen Keller, insulted for his deaf son. But Rivers gives as good as she gets. She had a mother who was deaf.

“Comedy is to make everybody laugh and deal with things you idiot,” she shouts.

“I lived with a man for nine years who had one leg you asshole!”

“9/11? If we didn’t laugh, where the hell would we all be?”

Yes, Rivers is defiant, and that’s why they have loved her for generations. But don’t dare call her a legend. Don’t dare tell her she opened doors for female comics. “I’m still opening doors!” she insists.

Rivers got her big break on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson Show, but after years of service she was offered her own Tonight show by FOX and Carson never spoke to her again.

Her daughter, Melissa, went into entertainment against her advice. These days they double on red carpets and Fashion Police but none of that is here. Still there is plenty of mother and daughter together, including her re-emergence through The Celebrity Apprentice.

Then there is her lifestyle of limousines, opulent home and tenuous relationship with her manager. Snapshots of her gag archive, all documented on filed cards, is extraordinary. A desire to be recognised as an actress sees her perform in Edinburgh -but does it succeed?

No Rivers doco would be complete without referencing her numerous surgeries and make-up. Rivers openly admits she was never attractive enough in entertainment. “No man has ever called me beautiful,” she insists.

Her driving need for validation and to be loved underlines all her work. Through the caked-on make-up , that disguise her laughline years, it’s still possible to gain insight into the woman behind the performer.

And you’ll have more than a few laughs along the way.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work 9:30pm Wednesday, 12 December ABC2.

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