I would not want to live if I could not perform. It's in my will. I am not to be revived unless I can do an hour of stand-up.
Joan Rivers has been a hero to me since I started my journey in stand-up comedy back in 1997. I'm sorry to say "journey." I don't mean to sound like I'm a guest who's overly proud of herself on an episode of Oprah's Master Class . But stand-up is an actual journey because it can take you places—literally places that exist on maps and figuratively places in your head that make you wonder,
Why the hell am I doing this? Am I even funny? Why aren't things going better for me? I'm funnier than him/her/it/everyone. Maybe I should quit. Why doesn't everyone else quit and make room for me? If you're smart you'll also journey to therapy. Neurosis can always be mined for laughs as long as the audience is confident that the performer is not currently having a nervous breakdown on stage.
Joan's first memoir, Enter Talking, was my bible. I carried it around with me in my purse when I was a lowly temp pounding the pavement in New York City. (That isn't an expression—I used to wear very heavy John Fluevog brand Mary Jane heels.) Joan became a stand-up in her twenties and by her midthirties she still hadn't found the big break that her peers Woody Allen and Bill Cosby had. She also hadn't married her stepdaughter or allegedly drugged and raped countless women—which illustrates my theory that if you're going to be jealous of people, you have to be willing to trade places with the ENTIRETY of who they are, their whole life, and not just their success. Joan may not have been making millions as America's favorite TV dad but she also wasn't an (alleged) rapist, so life wasn't all bad. She taught me to never compare and despair and to never fucking stop doing what you love. At the very least you'll drop dead having done what fulfilled you.
Joan's big break came on her first appearance on Johnny Carson in 1965—an appearance that was hard fought. She had been rejected by the show many times—not by Johnny directly but by the gatekeepers, the talent bookers on The Tonight Show. That's another lesson I learned from Joan. There will always be people in life who tell you no and sometimes it's because they have nothing else to do that day except exert their power, and if you let their no stop you, you've just validated their opinion of you as worth more than your own.
I admired Joan for being one of the only stand-up comedians who also happened to be a woman at a time when women weren't supposed to be doing men's jobs, least of all comedy. Women weren't supposed to be funny. Women weren't supposed to speak their truth about how hard it is to be pregnant and feel sexy. Women weren't supposed to talk about abortion, being single, sex with their husbands—not even in private, let alone on television. Also, I say "stand-up who also happened to be a woman" because I don't believe in saying "female comedian." A comedian is a comedian is a comedian. "Female" is not a type of comedy. You can say that someone is a one-liner comic, a storyteller, a prop comic, or a shitty comic, but when you write "female" it's implied that male is what a comic really is and a female comic is a lesser version. It also implies that females only talk about "one thing"—being female, and that men, just regular old comedians, discuss more important, universal things. You know, like their dicks.