Joan Rivers, 1933-2014

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Oh man. The hits just keep on comin’.

Less than a month after we had to unexpectedly say goodbye to Robin Williams, we lost another comedy legend with the passing of Joan Rivers. It’s hard to believe that a woman that was so full of life is gone; I have no idea what whatever higher power above us is up to, but he/she is obviously putting together one hell of a show in heaven. There’s no other way to say it – this one stings, especially since the recent reports gave the impression that Rivers’ condition may have been improving. The last info that I heard was that she had moved out of intensive care, so to see that she passed away was the worst possible news. Just when I thought that she was going to be OK, she was gone.

Joan Rivers is among my earliest memories of comedy in general, but she is also one of the first female comics that I was exposed to. Comedy has always been dominated by men, but thanks to trailblazers like Rivers I never thought that it was something that women couldn’t do. Sure, I noticed that there were a lot fewer female faces in stand-up, but women like Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller were so funny that they helped people realize that comedy was not just a man’s world and that female comics could easily go toe to toe with male comics. Women comedians could be aggressive and confessional, just like their male counterparts – the fact that this doesn’t seem revolutionary to us is a credit to women like Joan. She challenged the conception of what it was appropriate for a female comic to talk about and helped open up doors for those that followed her. Funny is funny and Rivers made people realize that; without Joan Rivers, there may not have been Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer or any of the other hundreds of women working in stand up today. One joke at a time, Rivers helped break down barriers for women in comedy and helped redefine the idea of what comedy could be. Joan Rivers was one tough broad and I have no doubt that she would take that as the compliment that it is intended to be.

One of the things I loved most about Rivers was her fearlessness; she was always chasing the laughter and would look for the joke in the most unlikely of places. She was edgy and pushed the envelope – she did not worry about offending people. To achieve greatness in comedy you have to be willing to take risks and Rivers was not afraid to step on a few toes along the way. Rivers spoke her mind and crossed lines and while I didn’t always agree with her, I always admired her willingness to “go there.” I subscribe the school of thought that if done well, you can make a joke about anything and that is partially thanks to my early exposure to Joan Rivers. I’d much rather watch a comic that takes chances and fails than someone who always plays it safe. You might not have liked what Joan had uttered, but you always knew where you stood with her. She pulled no punches and said what she had to say, without worrying about what you thought about it. She was ballsy and brash and more often than not, ridiculously funny.

Joan could be hard on other people, but she was also hard on herself. Rivers taught me about the value of self-deprecating humor; if you are willing to make fun of yourself, it gives you more license to make fun of others. Rivers was the first to point out her flaws and make jokes at her own expense. Self-deprecating humor makes some people uncomfortable, but I see great power in it; making fun of yourself makes it a lot less fun for other people to do it. Because Joan could turn her focus on herself, it made it harder to stay mad at her when she said some less than charitable things about other people. With Joan, there was nothing that was off limits and if that included saying mean things about her in the process, so be it. Joan Rivers didn’t always have an easy life – her husband committed suicide in 1987 and she had a very public falling out with Johnny Carson – but she showed the power of laughter in confronting even the worst that life has to offer. “If you can laugh about it, you can live with it.” I am so glad that she got to appear on The Tonight Show again before she passed after being banned for 30 years.

Rivers had her ups and downs in her career, but her work ethic was unparalleled. The woman was always hustling and reinventing herself; many tried, but you couldn’t keep Joan Rivers down. She constantly wrote jokes and she had a drive that I envied. Take away her talk show – she’ll design a jewelry line; count her out and she’ll make you sorry. Some found Rivers’ penchant for taking any and all opportunities that came her way off-putting, but in my eyes she was a survivor. She was going to make it and stay relevant no matter what and if she didn’t, it wasn’t going to be from lack of trying. To still be part of the pop culture lexicon at 81 is a testament to her scrappiness. She was a force of nature that simply could not be denied. If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work for an inside glimpse of Rivers ambition and motivation.

Joan Rivers was the kind of person that you kind of always secretly believed would live forever; it is really hard to believe that she is gone. I’m kicking myself for not going to see her the last time she was in the area. I put it off, assuming that there would be plenty more opportunities to see the legend on stage. Sadly, that is not the case. My heart breaks for her daughter Melissa, who she was extremely close to, and her grandson Cooper. I imagine having Joan Rivers as a mother/grandmother wasn’t always easy, but I guarantee that it was never boring.

Rest in peace, Joan.

 

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Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Time on My Hands edition

Because I had such a slow weekend last weekend, I had a lot of free time to surf the web and collect news stories the few hours that I wasn’t watching House of Cards or sleeping. My boring weekend is your gain – this week’s edition of the pop culture roundup is jam packed with fun stuff. But don’t get too used to this – I think my next completely free weekend is sometime in October.

  • Jon Stewart is taking a three month hiatus from The Daily Show.  John Oliver will fill in as host.
  • Speaking of The Daily Show, this recent segment on maple syrup slayed me. I was literally laughing out loud. Well done.

 

  • Rest in Peace, Bonnie Franklin. The actress, best known from One Day at a Time, passed away at the age of 69.
  • I don’t watch the show Switched at Birth, but this is very cool – Monday night’s episode was done entirely in sign language.
  • Happy birthday to The Big Lebowski, which turns 15 years old today! The Dude continues to abide.
  • This doesn’t quite reach the beauty of the death star construction request, but there is an active petition request to the Obama Administration to change the national anthem to R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix).” I’m not saying it is a good idea, but that would be way more fun way to kick off sporting events (added bonus – no high notes):

What’s more American than “it’s the freaking weekend, I’m about to have me some fun?”

  • My red hot disdain of Kristen Stewart has been duly noted on the blog, but she doesn’t have a monopoly on my fury. In fact, I might even despise Taylor Swift more. Her latest crime? Implying that Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are going to hell because of a joke they told about Swift at the Golden Globes.
  • While we’re on the subject of people who I dislike, Halle Berry is confirmed to appear in the new X-men movie.
  • The Hold Steady is recording a song for the third season of Game of Thrones, lyrics by George R.R. Martin.
  • A trailer for the new season of Mad Men has been released. Can’t wait!

 

  • A new trailer for Iron Man 3 was released yesterday:

 

  • Fox has renewed The Following, New Girl, Raising Hope and The Mindy Project.
  • Joan Rivers has launched a new webseries where she interviews celebrities in bed.
  • Ben McKenzie has been cast in a pilot at CBS, which means that the renewal of Southland is not a sure thing.
  • I still don’t understand what is going on with Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un.
  • Ha! This timely House of Cards parody, House of Cardinals, gets the tone just right.

 

  • Color me intrigued – Christian Bale is rumored to be reprising his role as Batman in the upcoming Justice League movie.
  • It pains me to say this, but the new episodes of Community this season haven’t been good. However, I am intrigued by the idea of doing an all-puppet episode.
  • Tyler Kitsch has resurfaced. He’ll appear in the HBO movie The Normal Heart.
  • Watch Mark Wahlberg and Diddy play a drinking game on Ellen:

 

  • Wahlberg hasn’t closed the door on a reunion with the Funky Bunch. This is a terrible idea, but I totally hope this happens.
  • I’m super excited to possibly be going to see Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake play Yankee Stadium this summer. One person I can guarantee won’t be there is Kanye West.
  • JT will be hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend and will be on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon every night next week. I can only assume “The History of Rap, Part 4” is in the works.
  • How bad have things gotten for NBC? A local affiliate has opted to air Matlock instead of the network’s Thursday night’s lineup.
  • This sounds interesting – Speilberg is developing a miniseries about Napoleon that was written by Stanley Kubrik.
  • Albany peeps – local musician Sean Rowe made his national television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Monday night. Good for him!

 

  • In pilot news, Naveen Andrews (Sayid, Lost) has landed a role in an ABC drama.
  • Presented without comment – Gary Busey discussing hobbits:

 

  • Feeling lucky? A new website will randomly select a Nicholas Cage movie for you to watch (Netflix streaming account required)
  • The George Lucas museum is coming to San Francisco.
  • This is disappointing – Sam Mendes will not return to direct the next James Bond film.
  • Carrie Fisher will return as Princess Leia in the new Star Wars movie.
  • This may be the greatest interview of all time. I already like Mila Kunis beforehand, but this sealed the deal. Gotta support a fellow Blue Moon fan.

 

  • Neat-O. A portrait of Stephen Colbert, made up of all the words uttered on The Colbert report:

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  • Jason Bateman will team up with Tina Fey in This Is Where I Leave You. The funny duo will play siblings.
  • 90210 is ending its run at the end of this season. I honestly didn’t even know this show was still on.
  • Alexis Bledel (Rory, The Gilmore Girls) is returning to TV is a starring role in a comedy pilot for Fox.
  • Jon Hamm voiced a talking toilet on this week’s Bob’s Burgers and it was glorious:

 

  • Tom Hardy will appear on Discovery Channel’s new show, Driven to Extremes.
  • This mash up of “Call Me Maybe” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole” is actually pretty catchy:

 

  • Just because it is awesome, the opening credits of the Dutch version of Golden Girls:

You can check out versions from other countries here.

  • If you ever dreamed of owning a closet like Cher’s in Clueless, you are in luck. We have the technology.
  • Happy news – both Jimmy Smits and Donal Logue will return next season on Sons of Anarchy.
  • And finally……A Star Wars/School House Rock mash-up:

 

See a story that you think should be included in these bi-weekly roundups? Want to see your name in the blog? Want to do my job for me? Feel free to send any suggestions my way via the blog’s Facebook page, the blog’s twitter account (@AsHeathersworld) or in the comments section of this post. I post random pop culture stories on Facebook, so don’t forget to like the page so you don’t miss anything. Thanks to avid blog reader and faux-cousin Chris for the suggestion!