Gina Barreca: Joan Rivers: Stiletto Wit, Brave, Honest

By Gina Barreca
The Hartford Courant.

I once opened for Joan Rivers.

She was coming in from New York to do a fundraiser, and the house was packed. I was there to warm up the crowd and introduce her.

As somebody who had spent her life working on women’s comedy, Rivers was my idol.

I could recite several of her older sets by heart. (“I have friend who made a mistake with her medications. She confused her birth control pills with her Valium. She has nine kids but she doesn’t give a s—.”)

Eager as I was to meet Rivers and as devoted as I was to her work, I was entirely unprepared for how tiny she was.

You could have put her in a Happy Meal. But she was larger than life, and a woman’s life, especially when Rivers first started working, needed to be let out a little.

So, after listening to my short talk and introduction, she came up to me and said, “I hate you. You’re funnier than I am.” She said “I hate you” with such natural affection and authentic appreciation that it was like getting a big hug and a bouquet of roses. Joan Rivers announcing “I hate you” made me feel loved.

A comic whose act was built around her stiletto sharp wit rather than, for example, storytelling, which was far more acceptable for women comics, she nevertheless was warm and generous to many people.

A friend, Robin Kall Homonoff, tells a story about how she was walking to her car after seeing Rivers’ show and Rivers made her limo slow down to make sure my friend arrived safely. Not only that: Rivers insisted she flash her lights once she got into the car, just to prove she was safe.

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