Joan Rivers struck into the comedy scene in the 1960s with a sharp tongue – and tough-as-nails style and nails. Rivers threw out the “nice girl” rules and established her own.
“Screw kindness. You have to tell the truth, that’s what comedy is all about,” says Rivers, whose jokes were often at her own expense as she shared one self-deprecating personal anecdote after another with her audiences.
Rivers represented a new direction in comedy. She was totally irreverent and didn’t care about anything except the audience in front of her. River’s jokes were utterly frank, addressing things people were thinking but didn’t dare say out loud.
Rivers started off as a serious actress on Broadway and quickly moved into stand-up comedy, making her rounds in New York City comedy clubs. By 1965 she appeared on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” which led to hosting one of the first syndicated talk shows on daytime TV, “That Show with Joan Rivers,” in 1968.
While a mainstay of the talk show world, Rivers’ other projects including writing and directing the film “Rabbit Test,” producing a Grammy-nominated comedy album and writing several bestselling books. In 1990, she won both an Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1994, she was back on Broadway starring in the comedic play she co-wrote, “Sally Marr…and her escorts,” earning a Tony Award nomination for her performance.
With her trademark sass, biting wit and underlying compassion, she continues to be one of America’s hardest working and most admired first ladies of comedy.
Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson
Joan Rivers’ work blew open the barriers to women in comedy. It took her seven years to land a guest appearance on “The Tonight Show,” but she would eventually feel right at home there. Rivers frequently filled in for Johnny Carson and eventually became his permanent guest host. Despite earning the esteem of both Carson and the network, Rivers thinks she won the position because her gender meant she wasn’t a threat to replace Carson. “NBC would never give it [the host spot] to a woman. Very smart, it was no competition for him,” is her blunt assessment. When Rivers landed her own late-night show in 1986 that ran at the same time as Carson’s, he broke off their friendship and never spoke to her again.