Joan Rivers is 79 years old today, which means she’s spent almost a half century being underrated. Think about it: Though modern-day legends like Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho always sing her praises, you rarely ever hear male comics speak of her influence. In fact, it wasn’t until her glorious stint on FX’s Louie that she gained any traction with Gen Y males, which just comes to show that many dudes only accept funny women when a funny man endorses them. (Twitter is a perfect exhibition of this principle too, but that’s a post for another day.)
Let’s celebrate Joan’s 79th year with a look back at nine underrated facts about the legendary comic. I suppose the right way to kick off this post is with a simple squawk of “Can we talk?”
1. She innovated red carpet reportage as we know it.
Though Joan struck fear (and a little bit of rancor) into the hearts of celebrities with her candid red carpet reportage, there’s no denying that she and her daughter Melissa basically invented the “Who are you wearing?” school of pre-event coverage — and thank God. Red carpets are unbearable without heavy doses of irony and harsh humor, so it’s safe to say that Joan and Melissa secured the future of lively Oscar pre-shows for generations to come.
2. She wrote the nutty and hilarious TV movie The Girl Most Likely To…
Before you bring up Grease, The West Wing, or Six Degrees of Separation, a list of Stockard Channing‘s greatest roles must include Miriam Knight of the TV movie The Girl Most Likely To. In this cult classic, a smart but unattractive girl (Channing) gets into a car wreck, must undergo facial reconstructive surgery, and comes out of the operation looking gorgeous. Naturally, her first act as a brunette bombshell is to exact vengeance on all the kids in school who made her life a living hell, which is such a Joan Rivers move. It’s no surprise that Joan penned this movie, and it’s a shame that we’ll probably never have TV movies as ruthlessly wicked as this one. Ah, the ’70s. We loved deliciously cruel kids back then.
3. She’s the subject of the The E! True Hollywood Story‘s only parody episode
Imagine my surprise when I tuned into the E! True Hollywood Story of Joan Rivers in 2001, and the first thing I saw was Julia Roberts declaring that Joan Rivers’ life story is “sad, really.” The melodramatic documentary series made fun of itself and Joan with this pretty hilarious (and star-studded!) mockery. My favorite part? The introduction of Joan’s twin Joanna Harriet Riversberg.
4. She’s the brassiest woman in game show history.
With all due respect to my Match Game girls Brett Summers and Fannie Flagg, as well as Weakest Link doyenne Anne Robinson, Joan Rivers’ appearances on Hollywood Squares gave us the most raucous distaff humor we’ve ever seen on a game show. Sexual, too. One of my favorite exchanges included the following riff with host Peter Marshall.
Peter: “Your baby has a certain object which he loves to cling to. Should you try to break him of his habit?” Joan: “Yes. It’s daddy’s turn.”
Joan’s 2010 documentary A Piece of Work was just that, a very insightful glimpse into her nonstop workaholic nature, insecurities, personal dramas, and sense of humor. What I loved most about the movie was the presence of Joan’s joke catalog, a staggering display of drawers containing nearly every one-liner from her massive career. Look at the labels! The stacks of cards! In case you can’t see what’s on the drawer she’s pulling out in that picture, let yourself be wowwed by the specificity of her categories. Who’s the boss? Joan.