Culture House Daily

Joan Rivers (1933 – 2014) was the best

5 September 2014

Joan Rivers has died from complications resulting from throat surgery. She was 81. For many, she was the best. The funniest, sharpest, most mischievous comic we will ever know. And though she’d hate us for saying it, she was also a true feminist pioneer. Well before it had been settled whether women should be doing stand-up at all, she was not only doing it but shaping it – and subtly shaping society too. Her early routines, like the following 1967 set from the Ed Sullivan show about how crappy the female experience could be, were laying the ground for political feminism:

But her radicalism was restless. And when the political tides turned, so did she. Women, gays, 9/11, the Holocaust, Oprah’s weight – nothing was off limits. Where there was a sacred cow, there was Joan with a gun. Her plain-speaking got her into trouble, such as in this spectacular bust-up with Darcus Howe on Radio 4’s Mid Week:

Claim your gift

In an age of puritanical political correctness, it was truth that we craved. ‘I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking,’ she once said. The chat shows understandably loved her:  

As did The Spectator‘s Lloyd Evans when he saw her in Edinburgh in 2009:

‘Topping the bill is Joan Rivers with her blend of twinkly-eyed misogyny and taboo-busting mischief. She was the first American stand-up to make gags about 9/11. She’s still making them. “Two and a half thousand widows, each with a cheque for five million dollars. There’s got to be six happy.”‘

Never was there a time when her ‘taboo-busting’ spirit was needed more. She will be sorely missed. Here are three of her best:

‘I’m Jewish. I don’t work out. If God had wanted us to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor.’

‘When I was born, my mother asked the doctor, “Will she live?” He said, “Only if you take your foot off her throat.”‘

‘The whole Michael Jackson thing was my fault. I told him to date only 28-year-olds. Who knew he would find 20 of them?’


Give the perfect gift this Christmas. Buy a subscription for a friend for just £75 and you’ll receive a free gift too. Buy now.

Show comments
  • Shenandoah

    My love to Joan Rivers. I sure hope that throat surgery was one she desperately needed, seeing as it killed her instead.

    I resolved long ago to stay out of courtrooms and medical facilities in any way I can (that includes my dog). I’m dandy just as long as that is so.

    Longtime participant in blogs — as I am — I want to know: does Spectator allow ‘off topic’? On the Telegraph we had (I won’t mention where) a ‘night shift’ where we let our hair down when the commentators had mainly gone to bed (except the Americans, Aussies, New Zealanders, and Canadians, among one or two others on occasion).

    Here’s to the Spectator International, and the night shift (from Florida, and you know what country that’s in) — a native son: Morrison from the Gulf Coast where I live:

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh I must tell you.a blogging chum of mine and I used to go
      off topic at Con Home rather a lot.They eventually stop you
      by bringing the walls of the thread stop you writing
      They will try to
      Squeeze you

      We’d end up only having enough room for one word per line.

      Those night time shifts are the best, chatting in some clandestine cave…but the English and Australian chats are
      difficult, your night is their morning so it wrecks the atmosphere.

  • Ooh!MePurse!

    RIP to a wonderful lady. You made me laugh. No greater tribute than that. R x

  • Kasperlos

    A feminist? Why not put her in for sainthood – now there’s a laugh. All the accolades for her ‘artistry’? Yeah, right, let’s see if anyone in the offices, schools, public, even in private said the things she did and gets away with it. Most people outside of her theatre schtick who would hear such things from others would be aghast and call the police for hate speech or sue for insults. She wasn’t a feminist, but a loud mouthed shrill entertainer who happened to play on humanity’s crude and crass side and earning untold financial wealth in the process. A fool and his money…Note: not all folk were fans of her. Surprise.

    • Jabez Foodbotham

      “She wasn’t a feminist, but a loud mouthed shrill entertainer”
      I couldn’t give a stuff about her feminist credentials, but otherwise you nailed the shrill harridan.

      • gerontius

        What was phoney about her iconoclasm?

  • rjbh

    no doubt Rivers was taken by the Big Man upstairs for wishing death on Palestinian children,

    • finzi_holst

      As a rule I don’t generally feed trolls, but from time to time I get tired of all the lies about ‘Palestine’ and the so-called ‘Palestinians’.

      In article 95 of the Treaty of Sevres the sovereignty of Palestine, which the Ottoman Empire had exercised for 400 years, was transferred to Britain in trust for a national homeland for the Jews. As the local Arabs had never exercised sovereignty over Palestine they lost nothing, but their civil and religious rights were protected by a clause in the Treaty. That proviso has been fully observed by Israel, that’s why it ‘isn’t so bad after all’.

      Since 1950 Arabs have built more than twice as many settlements in Judea and Samaria as have the Jews. They filled them with Arabs from all over the place – Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and by the grace of Allah they all suddenly became ‘Palestinians’. The Arabs called Judea the West Bank, because they would have looked foolish claiming that Jews are illegally living in Judea.

      The war against Israel isn’t a dispute about bits of territory that can be solved with a concession here or there, it’s a jihad against the state of Israel, which is the transitional stage for the final victory of Islam. The conflict between dar-al-Islam and dar-al-Harb.

      During the British mandate period from 1922 to 1948, the Jews called where they lived Palestine. They were the Palestinians, they played music in the Palestinian Philharmonic, they read the Palestine Post (later the Jerusalem Post), they even fought in the British army as the Palestine Brigade against Hitler.

      Of course, the Arabs fought too, on Hitler’s side. The Jews from Palestine and those that came to live in Israel in peace with their religion and with goodwill towards their neighbours are certainly not bad. They have a clear conscience and a clean slate.

      And in true Arabic/Islamic form, they teach their children to hate and call Jews all kind of vile things, they dance when Jews are killed, they are pleased when their children grow up to commit atrocities, they nurture terrorists and applaud when the rain missiles on Israel, they use women and children as human shields, they store stockpiles of weapons in UN facilities, hospitals and schools — and when Israel retaliates they cry foul and suddenly get a conscience and the mind numb people in the West, while reading the Guardian and sipping their Starbucks join the chorus of castrati in howls of protest.

      The coward’s indignation. It takes no courage for them to hate the Jews, but it does take courage to address and confront the problems of Islam. What is the response? What was the response in Rotherham and Birmingham and Bolton and Burnley? You get the idea.

      • Kitty MLB

        Thank you for a very imformative post, some like to
        wallow in ignorance.And your gracious reply to that
        poor excuse of a dung beetle.

      • rjbh

        we dont need aslated history lesson to know that Rivera did indeed wish death on Palestinian children

        • finzi_holst

          Sadly, sir or madam, you lose the argument when you resort to invective. Nor do you do yourself any favors. The usual ad hominem response to facts — vapid, empty and ultimately angry.

          There is nothing I wrote that was either pompous or oafish. You on the other hand . . .

          Your knowledge of the Eternal and is word is as wanting as your knowledge of history. May He have mercy on you.

          • rjbh

            no doubt a believer that God gave Palestine to the ZZionists

            • gerontius

              “no doubt a believer that God gave Palestine to the ZZionists”

              Nope, he gave it to the jews. -long may it remain in the hands of these civilised people

              • rjbh

                Funny, that ZZionists now have it. A crime against humanity

                • gerontius

                  The jews are not “ZZionists” as you call them, but a civilised people defending themselves against murderous savages.
                  Soon enough, all the civilised peoples of the world will have to become “ZZionists”. Each generation has its challenges.

                • rjbh

                  always Dehumanise those you wish to slaughter, it make the job of killing Palestians that much easier, if I remember correctly, didnt Adolph dehumanise Jews?

                  now the jackboot is on the other foot it seems, for the time being.

                • gerontius

                  “always Dehumanise those you wish to slaughter”As muslims do to christians and other minorities in Iraq don’t they?

          • gerontius

            Well said

        • Kitty MLB

          Oh I think someone who speaks such a ultracrepidarian way
          does indeed need a history lesson.

    • Baron

      You are not only brainless and deluded, rjbh, but nasty into a bargain, what a life to have.

      • rjbh

        lol.. Dispenser of wisdom and truth…truly I am honoured to receive such praise.

  • picquet

    Loathed, naturally, by the Guardian’s feministas. A traitor by being successful. And highly capable, of course.

    • liz

      Do you have an example of this loathing by a Guardian feminista?

      • Picquet

        Afraid not right now; Friday evening’s no time to be conducting research for someone who I suspect to be Red Teaming (based on the distinctly anatomical evidence of your past posts). However, those who don’t loathe her claim her for their own, of course, deeply misunderstanding her motivations.

        • Liz

          So that was a lie then.

          • Picquet

            Are you a sociology first year type, or do you read the Spectator because your boyfriend tells you to? I only ask because your style is a little 1990s. Try harder and you might annoy.

  • Mc

    Joan Rivers in the Radio 4 Midweek extract exposes as much about Libby Purvis as she does about Darcus Howe – for those who didn’t already know this about Purvis.

    • frank marker

      Oh you mean the kaftan wearing cuddly liberal she purports to be? Always hated that smug and cosy show of hers anyway.

  • Span Ows

    “Life is very tough. If you don’t laugh, it’s tough.”


  • frank marker

    Thanks for including that argument she had with Darcus Howe. The way she demolished that surly old bear was brilliant to behold. Way to go Joan!!

  • Kitty MLB

    Joan Rivers was one of the funniest people, outrageous, a free spirit, quick witted
    not many can think up hilarious retorts in a split second. And not in the slightest part
    PC. Stood up for honest views. Have a blast up there Joan Rivers.

  • Shenandoah

    Hooray for Joan, a wonderful American. You tell ’em, baby! But you shouldn’t have died so young.

    • Kitty MLB

      I’ll second that, S. Three cheers for memorable Joan Rivers.

      • gerontius

        Well Kitty, I guess I’ll third it, though she could sometimes scare us sensitive boys.

        • Kitty MLB

          Sensitive ? You ? Oh excuse me , I’ll just fall
          off my seat and end up in the Kunlum Mountains of Tibet otherwise known as cloud
          cockoo land.
          I’m off now, shall have a decent Italian coffee &
          almond croissant and shall read The Times
          before taking a group of sensitive children around some ‘haunted house’ this afternoon.
          PS .The lovely Tim Montgomerie now writes for the Times….Oh why did he ever leave Conservative Home.

          • gerontius

            But, but…..

            Oh I’ll continue later.
            (Tim Montgomerie? harumph! You ain’t met me)

            • Kitty MLB

              Are you also a member of the 4am group, some
              of us are determined to be up before the larks.
              Tim Montgomerie, he is a quiet man with a vulnerability about him all ladies adore him and
              he has a sadness about him…Strange ladies at
              train stations even rush up to him and kiss him
              on the cheek..he’s that type of man.
              Its no good other men…are just not Tim…I’ve
              a little soft spot for him…I know its not noticable.

              • gerontius

                I stalk the small hours Kitty, eating toast and stroking a cat.
                I’m going out now.

  • Baron

    A truly great lady, and amongst the few contemporary Americans one can not only listen to, agree with, but also admire. May she rest in peace.

    • disqus_KdiRmsUO4U

      Take a peek on yewtoob of Rivers says children’s deaths is a publicity coup for Hamas and killing Arabs is justified ‘cos’ they started ‘it.’

      I have only recently begun to dig deep into the palestine problem and the more I learn the more disgusted I become.
      A propaganda excercise worthy of gorbals.

      US foreign policy is run in the interests of Israel which apart from anything else is unconstitutional.

      A silly shrewd and it has to be said amusing but gobby woman .

      • Lina R

        I saw her on stage about five years ago. She was outrageous and didn’t care who she offended – at that time she directed her caustic wit at Victoria Beckham… But I agree, those recent comments she made about Palestinians deserving to die because they didn’t leave their homes when warned – not her finest hour… A legend still though.

      • Pelo Nord

        Hmm. If thousands of Israelis were killed tomorrow by a Hamas bomb there’d be plenty of folk saying they deserved it, one of them being a certain member of parliament.

        Would you care?

        Great to hear you’re learning about the ‘palestine problem’ – let me guess; electronic intifada, counterpunch, Ben White, Ilan Pappe anything left-wing and therefore ‘the truth’?

        By the way, Gorbals is an area of Glasgow although who’s to say their propaganda isn’t first rate?

        • disqus_KdiRmsUO4U

          Any one who is indifferent to or supports the killing of 1000’s is morally bankrupt IMO
          That applies whether the victims are Jews or Arabs.Germans in Dresden Japanese in Tokyo English in London or those in the twin towers.

          At the moment and not for the first time Jews are slaughtering Arabs by the 1000’s and it doesn’t seem to bother you too much.
          I refer you back to the shelling of Beirut from the Golan Heights.
          i have long believed Jews are inflicting injustice on Arabs.
          By digging deeper i have found out how blatant are the lies used to support that course of action.

          Perhaps you could explain by what authority the Ben Gurian regime was able to declare a nation state smack in the middle of land settled by Arabs for at least 1000years.

          My use of the word Gorbals was oblique and referred to a propaganda minister of the not too distant past. hehehehehe

          In fact you have got everything wrong: my social views are so right wing I sometimes frighten myself.

          Economically I am left of centre.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here