“People think it comes so easily, they have no idea that what you’re doing is a terrifically difficult thing to do,” says legendary comic Joan Rivers as she rifles through her immense collection of jokes. The wall-full of punchlines that Rivers has assembled over the years resembles the card catalog at your local library, at once both daunting and impressive, much like Rivers herself. The newly released documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work aims to take us inside the world of one of the most recognized female comics working today.
Lampooned as Hollywood’s resident plastic surgery freak, mocked for her age and countless red carpet hosting gigs, the documentary spends a year following Joan on tour and in action. From smaller venues like the local New York comedy club she performs at every week to “keep sharp”, to high profile appearances like the George Carlin Memorial Roast, she lets the cameras in on every detail of her hectic life.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work also exposes the funny lady’s rocky past, chronicling her failures as a serious actress and writer (her 1972 play was slammed by critics), her falling out with Johnny Carson (the last time they ever spoke was the day she gave up her slot as guest host of his iconic show to host her own late night show, a failure), and the suicide of her husband and business partner Edgar. Not shying away from the tribulations of her life, Joan insists that the only thing capable of hurting her are critiques of her acting, something she keeps near and dear to her heart.
A relentless achiever, Joan works at an unbelievable pace, remarking that her greatest fear is “an empty calendar”. She lives lavishly, hosting a staff that includes two assistants, live-in-housekeepers, and a bevy of relatives that Rivers supports financially. However, despite her success, furs, and fine living, the documentary chips away at the real Joan, a woman plagued by an underlying self-doubt. Worries about the way she’s perceived in the business– “old”, “plastic surgery freak”–lurk in the back of her mind, and despite the brash jokes about her younger competitors, it’s clear that Rivers sense that fellow comediennes Kathy Griffin and Sara Silverman are gaining on her.
However, despite this self doubt, Rivers soldiers on. Her jokes remain raunchy, her humor punchy, and her ability to captivate, after over 50 years in the business, still a constant. Beyond a look at the lifestyle, plastic surgery, and hilarity of Joan Rivers, what the documentary really exposes about the comic is her fragility. Like any woman, Joan battles bouts of self doubt, but manages to balance it all with her unstoppable drive and brash humor. For Rivers, self doubt does not, cannot, and will not equate to self-pity. No matter the obstacles that stand in her way, whether they be tragic or comedic, she refuses to remain down, and sure as hell wont concede to a blank page in her calendar, even if it kills her.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is in theatres now. Check out the trailer below!
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