Joan Rivers died yesterday at the age of 81, and the outpouring of internet-grief was at once sincere, grandiose, cheeky, mean, and a little ironic—just as the great comedienne would have wanted it, I suspect. I’m not going to opine here about her talent and legacy, because y’all know about that already. Instead, I’m going to leave you with two terrific clips from the beginning and end of her career. Bookends, if you will. (Bonus: they both contain allusions to necrophilia!)
The first is from a 1967 appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, in which she laments dating double standards vis-à-vis men and women. It’s hyperbolic, of course, but it’s hilarious and truthful, and just as timely today as it was 47 years ago.
“A girl, you’re 30-years-old, you’re not married, you’re an old maid. A man, he’s 90-years-old, he’s not married, he’s a catch… It kills me! ‘We have an extra man.’ ‘Bring him along, being him along.’ ‘He’s 98.’ ‘Bring him, bring him.’ ‘He’s dead.’ ‘Bring him! We’ll prop him, just bring him. We’ll say he’s quiet.'”
The second is from her 2011 cameo in season two of Louis C.K.’s exquisite TV series, in which she plays… herself, naturally. To set the scene: Louis has just finished a crappy, humiliating gig in Atlantic City, and he’s feeling a little sorry for himself. (Hard knock life of a stand-up comic, etc.) Enter Joan: Survivor! Tigress! Dispenser of Wisdom! Lifelong Servant to the Goddess of Comedy! In a short heartfelt speech, she schools the nebbish Louis about why they keeping doing what they do—to audiences tiny and illustrious.
“Listen, I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t get better. You get better… I’ve gone up, I’ve gone down, I’ve been bankrupt, I’ve been broke. But you do it, and you do it because… because we love it more than anything else. That’s why you’re doing it. You want a real job honey, there are a million things you can do. But what we do is not a job. It sounds so stupid. What we do is a calling, my dear. We make people happy.”
If you want to see an example of perfectly executed comic timing, stick around for the look she gives Louis at 1:23. Genius.