Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” is a lively, honest portrait of the 75-year-old comedian who has boundless energy and drive. Through her tenacity Rivers complains, “In this business you’re in the mud your whole life. I’m 75 and still being rejected.”
My awareness of Joan Rivers over the years has been limited to probably just a few TV appearances and my father’s favorite Joan Rivers’ joke. The joke goes that when Rivers was a child and the boys wanted to play doctor, she was always made the receptionist. So, starting with this small amount of knowledge I was educated and entertained by this compelling portrait of Rivers’ life and career chronicling her triumphs, misfires and tragedies. The filmmakers have been granted seemingly unfettered access to the comedian who admits that she is happiest when she is on stage and hates to see an empty date book.
Rivers is portrayed as a self-confessed workaholic who feels she has not been given her due. She claims the reason for her workaholism is a need for money. When one considers that Rivers lives in an opulent Manhattan apartment, flies to club dates in a private plane and pays private school tuition for her employees’ children, the truth could go either way. Either Rivers is, by this point, wealthy and her need for work is really about something other than money, or she really does need the money to support her lifestyle. I think the answer is somewhere in the middle, leaning on the side of Rivers’ need to keep on working. After all this is a woman who claims that in the previous year she played a date in the Bronx at 4:30 in the afternoon. One cannot imagine that this was for the money. In addition this is a woman who flies to a club date in Wisconsin after which she re-boards the plane back to New York so that she can sleep in her own bed. The fuel costs alone must be exorbitant not to mention the other travel expenses. Rivers manager says that one job a day is not enough for her. She turns down nothing.
Rivers’ sees herself as hip and relevant and you know what? Good for her. She recalls someone saying she has opened doors. The first part of Rivers’ response is not printable but she continued by saying that she is still opening doors.
The documentary is briskly edited, intelligently fusing archival footage of early Rivers’ TV appearances, her live performances (including an autobiographical play), interviews with Rivers, her agent Larry Thompson, manager Billy Sammeth, daughter Melissa and personal assistant Jocelyn Pickett. As Thompson explains, “You can’t get hit by lightning if you don’t stand in the rain. No one’s been standing in the rain longer than Joan.”
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Directors Annie Sundberg, Ricki Stern, 2010,
IFC Films, 84 minutes, rated R