Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

by Melissa Silverstein on June 11, 2010

in Comedy,Documentary,Women Directors

Joan Rivers has not been at the top of many a feminist’s list because she has probably had more plastic surgery procedures than years she’s been alive — 77 as of this week.  But don’t let your feelings about plastic surgery, or her obsession to staving off aging deter you from seeing this revelatory and substantive look into one of the hardest working women in showbiz today.

The film, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work directed by Ricki Stern and co-directed by Annie Sundberg follows Joan for over a year of stand up performances, theatre openings, family events, and yes procedures on her face and you are not bored for one second.  It is fascinating to see a woman work so hard in a business where women her age are scarce.  And boy does she need to work hard cause she lives like a queen (she made a joke that Marie Antoinette would have lived like her if she had money), and has a huge and loyal staff to support to whom she is very generous.  I never expected Joan Rivers to be the type of person who would have staff work with her for decades, but that just gives you a little insight into how different at least my perception of her was from the real Joan.

But needing money to support her lavish lifestyle is not the only thing that drives Joan.  She NEEDS to perform.  She is always on.  She came in to meet with a group of writers and she was working all of us even though we were asking the questions.  She had us in the palm of her hands in five seconds.  That’s how good she is.  Performing to Joan is oxygen.  When she is not working or thinking about working she is not happy.  She’s one of these people who is very clear that she knew she wanted to perform since she was in kindergarten.  And the amazing thing is that she did it and and did it all on her own.  She had no connections but she made it.

This is a hard business and Joan has had some serious ups and downs that have all been played out in the public.  She was the first female guest host on the Tonight Show.  She was the first woman to get her own late night show on Fox.  Her show flamed out spectacularly which sadly helped lead to the suicide of her husband, producer and partner Edgar Rosenberg.

What the movie shows is that at 77 Joan is way funnier, and way more tenacious that people half (or even a quarter) her age.  She makes no bones about wanting and needing to continue working and while I think she is happy to have paved the road for many a female comedian who came after her (and by the way she was the first person to tell abortion jokes), she is adamant about not going away.  She believes — and this movie shows — she still has a lot more to give.

Don’t miss it.  Opens in NY and LA today and in other major cities shortly.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist June 11, 2010 at 10:12 AM

that is so awesome. Im happy you liked the documentary. I have been meaning to see this but Imma wait for the DVD release so I can watch it with subtitles.

Joan Rivers is AWESOME, HILARIOUS and AMAZING. She gets a lot of hate from guys, but she doesn’t slow down and she doesn’t give a fuck. I hope at 77 (if I’m still alive, lol) that I will still be a hard working playwright, filmmaker, and who knows what else?!?!

as for plastic surgery– who cares? She does it for herself. If she wanna look young and it makes her feel sexy and happy, MORE POWER TO HER. just like I’d feel sexy with blue hair!!

Jenny June 11, 2010 at 11:20 AM

For me, my feminist hackles aren’t raised by her plastic surgery but by her woman-on-woman crime over the years with her and Melissa’s red carpet commentary, lambasting actresses and such for their appearance.

However, the disappointment of that is matched by admiration for the career she’s managed to carve out. She really can hold her own with anyone, not the least of which the boys’ club of her contemporaries. And she was part of the Late Night Wars Vol. 1, wasn’t she? Let’s face it, if Joan Rivers were a man, she’d have taken over The Tonight Show.

jajajaja34 June 11, 2010 at 12:42 PM

Gosh its like Christmas eve lol, which I guess makes Joan Rivers Santa? Idk, but either way I’m super pumped to see her new movie tomorrow

Anika June 11, 2010 at 1:10 PM

I heard an interview with Joan on NPR the other day and it was really engaging. I am looking forward to her film after that glimpse. I feel it is very aptly named!

Sally June 11, 2010 at 2:21 PM

It seems like there is a limited city run of the movie. If there is an online venue or DVD to buy, I hope it is announced here.

There is a phenom where women, successful visible women, go through a period of mocking and hating by the younger crowd, then if they keep going, they are then appreciated again. I don’t believe that men have the exact thing. For example: Martha Stewart, Oprah, Madonna, Cher, Suzanne Somers….insert aggressively successful visible woman here…has been mocked by the younger crowd, then re-appreciated. I have read comments from people I could normally respect about how Joan should quit, how Barbra Walters should quit, how Madonna should quit and get out of the way. It’s worse when it’s a woman making them, and they make them as if there can be only one great position and they should quit to give it to a younger woman. Hey – there is more than one great position. There is no “next Madonna” or even “next Gaga” (looking at you Katy) to craw out of the way. How about making your best art and being the next you if you have the stuff?

What I appreciate is that these women are women who actually did something, had talent, produced art or business and were not a celebrity for just being a reality star or for, really, not being anything but famous for famous.

Also – I love that a woman is older than 50 and is still “getting her own.” How many times is a woman only featured by being the “mother of -” “the grandmother of –” whatever. Joan is a fierce mama but in art and media coverage, older women are sorta like very young women — they only get media attention in relation to a famous man or offspring or marriage. I ask you – can there be any more articulate young women in the world than Sarah Palin’s kid or John McCain’s kid or a Bush kid? Where’s their Today show gig? Likewise, the older women must be “MOM-of” past a certain age and not want for themselves.

There is a thrill to create and to speak and to make your own business and anything that counters the message that life is over after you have kids or after 50 for women is great. Look around your workplace – how many greying women or women over 50 are still around and vibrant or is it Logan’s Run (scifi reference where they kill everyone over 30)? If you don’t support loud, bodacious older women, what does your future look like?

wanda_psyche June 11, 2010 at 4:55 PM

Going to see Joan Rivers’ new movie tonight. Who’s with me?

Thomai in L.A. June 13, 2010 at 4:51 PM

I love Joan Rivers and have always thought of her as a feminist. As female comedians go, she has been ground breaking / trail blazing. I don’t care what she does to her hair, her face, teeth, body, what she wears, what shoes she walks in-
none of that matters in comparison to what she has accomplished as a comedian.

Antoni June 14, 2010 at 12:14 PM

Can We Talk? I saw Joan Rivers- A Piece of Work the other day and it was sooo funny!

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