Remembering Joan Rivers

Her career was about as long and consistently active as anyone in show business — breaking barriers by being a very funny comedian in the 1960s and doing all she could to stay busy, active and relevant in the last decade or so.

Though Joan Rivers, who died Thursday at 81, could be off-putting at times — indeed, she may have built her career on confrontational barbs and maintained it through sharp insults on red carpet choices. And she could be scary — that plastic surgery is really something else up close. And she was around a lot at TV press tours, promoting this or that new show, “How’d You Get So Rich” on TV Land, or “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” for WE.

Looking back, I see I was quite harsh to her both on her red carpet skills in keeping up with contemporary celebrities, as well as in her vicious play on “Celebrity Apprentice” in which she railed against her competition, Annie Duke, but nonetheless won the season.

I can see now how much more fun she was on the red carpet compared to all of the bland (and even more clueless) “reporters” who followed her. At least Joan always knew the whole march down the carpet was pretty much meaningless — and she kept us laughing about it on “Fashion Police.” “It’s wonderful being able to say what you think when they’re not there,” she said on press tour in 2011. “I like doing a coward show.”

More than anything, it was the 2010 documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” that really turned me around on Joan in both the history she forged and the work ethic she continued to have, continuing to play so many shows and keep her material fresh.

She was providing for her children, and her mothering instinct was so strong, that’s what made her such a fighter on “Apprentice.” Even the plastic surgery would be explained in that context — it’s the only way she felt she could compete in an industry so focused on the young-looking. And compete she did, making the most of every appearance she did, from the stage, to a talk show to her QVC gig.

It also made me enjoy every Joan appearance since then, especially this one from the second season of “Louie,” where she’s very convincing playing herself and because she’s such a good sport, agrees with the scenes’s wild turn.


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