Joan Rivers and the Importance of the Bitter Comedian

This Thoughtful Thursday is very sad. With someone like Joan Rivers, you’re always surprised to hear old how she actually is. That kind of person, the Hollywood fixture, seems like he or she will live on forever. Death strikes me as particularly harsh when it happens so suddenly. Anyone who is of good health and mobility, who goes from the norm to death, takes the air right out of you.

It doesn’t feel right.

Many will remember Joan Rivers as the cranky old woman with the plastic face who made fun of celebrities. Sometimes I think she took a sort of pride in this, though I did not know her nor could I speak for her, but I think it was one of those things where she said, “Well, they’ll talk about it and then they’ll remember me for it.

And we are.

I’ve also never understood how people become so upset or defensive when she made fun of celebrities. Sure, sometimes she was way harsher than she should have been. Sometimes she was crass and offensive. I’m not sure how that’s different from other celebrities of her nature. Celebrities are put so high up on a pedestal, and okay yes I am guilty of this as well, but in reality, we should be making fun of them as much as we are making fun of ourselves for being so obsessed with this culture. No one should have as much power and wealth for doing what they do. Our culture being as it is, and again I do perpetuate that so I say this with a smile, celebrities do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t point out how ridiculous this is.

The biggest thing for me and so many about Joan Rivers was that she was the first true female comedian. Many point out that she had a bitter edge to her, causing her to make the jokes she did in the manner she presented it. Of course she did. In all great female comedians, and in male as well, there is a bitter tendency to them. This could in part be due to the fact that they are struggling through a male-dominated business, always needing to defend themselves as funny.

Not funny for women, but funny in general.

Chelsea Handler has too been called a bitch and a crank, but it forms a more interesting personality. We remember her for that. There’s also an intelligent purpose behind it, knowing that in order to succeed and to do her job well, she will be loud-mouthed and she will put the celebrities on blast when they do stupid things or take themselves too seriously. Celebrity culture is fun, but it’s absurd.

We see this from Tina Fey and Lena Dunham. Their shows are quirky and hilarious, but always with a touch of bitterness, as though as to say, “Eff off, just laugh.” Even in shows like Parks and Recreation, where the humor can be softened and sweet, though still hilarious and wonderful because Amy Poehler is a goddess, there is still that bitter undertone emanating from Leslie Knope as she too struggles in a male-dominated field. She, and Amy as her pen, are saying, “Enough already, I’m here, I’m successful, and that’s okay!” Julia Louis-Dreyfus certainly held her own on Seinfeld and in so many other excellent shows. (Sidenote: I want to watch Veep!) But Elaine, surrounded by men who are her friends, is the voice that’s saying women are funny too and she is hell on wheels if anyone tries to dispute that.

I’ve been told that my humor borders on the bitter and to that I say, thank you. Because that means in some way, I have something in common with these hilarious icons who are a fixture in our culture. Whenever I watch The Emmys- except for this year because my television was broken!- I don’t care who wins Best Actress in a Comedy because I love them all (though Amy deserves a win), but I love watching to see what antics the nominees are getting up to when their names are called. Even this year, when announced as a presenter- the only moment I saw- Amy asked to be introduced as “Beyonce,” clever, funny, and slightly bitter because who isn’t bitter that they aren’t Beyonce? Maybe Oprah…

I am not saying that females base their humor off of being pissed off by men or whoever stands against them. But there is something to this bitterness and their success. Miss Congeniality is one of my all-time favorite movies. Sandra Bullock is a gem, not afraid to fall face first and look anything like glamorous. Gracie Lou Freebush is a bitter woman trying to navigate through the FBI with her majority of male co-workers and she does it with a rough exterior and an attitude that will tell it like it is. In The Heat, both Sandra’s and Melissa McCarthy’s characters are pissed off at the world for whatever reason, are told that they have too strong a personality or too much gruffness, but they don’t care, they just are.

That’s funny, male or female. We’re just starting to see it represented in women more and more.

That is the epitome of what Joan Rivers was about.

Yes, she was acerbic and borderline, okay downright, rude. She wasn’t afraid to tell someone if they looked like a turd in a dress because they did look like a turd in a dress. The woman had a crutch on her shoulder, was bitter as hell, but I’ve realized all the great comedians do. That’s what makes them want to make the world laugh. Because at the end of the day, with all the ridiculousness of this world, the stupidity of people, and those moments in everyone’s life when irony bites you in the ass, you have to laugh. Laugh, laugh, laugh or else we’d cry. And that’s just sad.

I’m still laughing Ms. Rivers, though I might be crying a bit now too.

RIP

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