Friday, September 05, 2014

Thank you Joan Rivers

I guess if I were to script the exit of an 81year old female comic, she would do one last great show at a club, go into a coma and die a week later.  That seems to be the way it was with Joan Rivers, she did it her way and made a quick exit.
When a comic is so much of the moment, so prolific and has no filter on her pointed wit, humor is sometimes eclipsed by their acerbic nature. That is to say, sometimes I think Joan Rivers went too far in her quest for the joke. I often found myself laughing out of embarrassment.  But I did laugh, even if I thought the joke was a little cruel, there is no doubt it was funny.  There is no line in the sand, funny is funny even if to laugh is sometime against polite society or political correctness. 
Joan influenced so many comics, blazing the trail for female comedians to become accepted in a male dominated profession.  But she was so much more than a female stand up. She was a quick draw with a perfect one liner and never stopped working on new stuff in front of a club crowd.  
Waylon Flowers said that his original routine with Madame was a monologue too blue for Joan to perform. However, Waylon felt It was just right for the unfiltered horny old lady puppet that became Madame. 
I knew Joan Rivers in a professional way. I did a week of $20,000 Pyramid with her, was on her talk show, her radio show and she came to see my solo show "Jay Johnson:The Two and Only" off Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre.  After she saw Jay Johnson:The Two and Only, she had me back on her radio program in New York to promo the show.  She was really wonderful to me. 
I knew Joan Rivers as a staple of the Tonight Show and even the Ed  Sullivan show. She was a headliner when I was fighting acne.  In fact she is responsible for one of my characters.  It is a story I got to tell her personally the week we did Pyramid together.
I was looking for a new character and it seemed all the great ideas had been done.  I really needed to reach for something different.  It was the mid 70's when the love generation had turned drinking age.  People were communing with nature and the popular notion of the time was to converse with your house plants. New research at the time suggested that talking to your house plants and even playing music for them improved their health.  It became a popular notion.
Joan Rivers was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson one evening. I tried never to miss Johnny. In that perfect conversational style of comedy that Johnny mastered, talking to plants came into the moment. Johnny said to Joan, "Do you ever talk to your house plants?"
Joan said, "Yes, and the other day they said to me... For God's sake shut up Joan."
It is difficult to remember the actual moment of inspiration when you are creating a character, but not this time. This was it, the lightning flash; it was what I was looking for.
House plants that had experienced enough conversation and were speaking up in their own defense. Phil O'Dendren was born at the second Joan Rivers' line settled into my brain. 
It took weeks to make the puppet, and more time to come up with the routine, but Phil and I went on to do most of the major talk shows of the day. Joan Rivers is Phil's muse, and always will be. 

I have been looking for a picture of Joan, Bob and me taken backstage at the Atlantic.  It must be in a box marked Broadway stuff in my office storage, but I can't seem to find it.  Joan made a joke at the time that Bob's face was more flexible than hers.  Her sessions with the plastic surgeon were not above her own acerbic wit. We laughed, but that is too be expected when in the company of a great comedian. 
A lot of people miss you Joan. 
As you were,


Kathy Brodrick said...

I had her on 3 different flights! I thought she was beautiful & so nice. She had her cute dog always out of his case resting by her side by the window so no one could see. Precious dog! She was never rude to us & always traveled with a young woman who wasn't as nice, but took good care of Joan. She took up the whole right side of F/C overhead bins with her huge LVitton square luggage, AAL handlers would come on before boarding & throw it all up there for her,then put her in her seat. I loved seeing her, so petite in such gorgeous traveling outfits moving so fast it was a blur! i Brought her Diet Cokes.thruout the trips as she seriously studied her papers & notes with reading glasses perched at the end of her nose. So damn cool every flight! just the best.
PS Hi jay! Love Dulcebella. do

Cheryl said...

Great piece about Joan - and I love hearing that she is Phil O'Dendren's muse. Always loved the Poison Ivy number! Hope you find that photo, Jay - would love to see it.

Pete Biro said...

Again, your writing is on the money.. great story.