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) it’s hard to imagine Joan and Woody occupying the same comedy sphere.Joan Rivers is the queen of the celebrity takedowns with a career immersed in both the mainstream (the first permanent guest host of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”) and the low brow (the doyenne of celebrity trash-talking on E!
When Joan Rivers emerged on the New York comedy scene in the 1960s, she was called a female Woody Allen.
It may seem like a crazy comparison today, because if you’ve caught any of Joan Rivers’ act recently (or from the ’70s onward!
And what happened was I told her, I didn’t think she’d ever make it as a single.
And I put her together in a group called Still she was persistent.
Over time she picked up bit parts in barely off-Broadway productions (in one, she was lesbian in love with a just-starting Barbra Streisand).
But she wanted more stage time, and while at first she looked down at the comics who hung around the B&G, eventually she started to mix with them, too. She taped every performance and then reviewed it the following day.
The Joan Rivers of this era was the single woman in search of a husband who spun her neurotic routine into a stream of consciousness-type yarn. Hahaha.’ And my mother would say, ‘if she were alive.’ You know how that hurts? When I was 21 my mother said, ‘Only a doctor for you.’ When I was 22, she said ‘alright a lawyer, a CPA.’ Twenty-four she said ‘we’ll grab a dentist.’ At 26 she said ‘anything.’ If he could make it to the door he was mine.” Of course, Joan Rivers didn’t just explode on the New York scene fully formed.
“My mother had two of us at home who weren’t, as the expression goes, moving,” starts one routine. I’m from a little town called Larchmont where if you’re not married, you’re a girl and you’re over 21, you’re better off dead. Like it is for all comedians, finding your voice is a long, hard process.
There she jumped into a photo booth and emerged with a string of pictures striking a variety of poses (sexy, sad, matronly); then she sat down at a Howard Johnsons to scour the listings in the theater publications Show Business and Actors Cues for opportunities, a routine she would continue for the next seven years.
Rivers picked up temp work to make extra cash, and hung out at the B&G, a coffeeshop on 7th Avenue, where coffee was 15 cents a cup and would-be actors, writers, and comedians would congregate to compare notes and use the phone.
The standups of this era would forever change how Americans viewed comedy. But so was Joan Rivers, the lone female standup of this new guard.