The set was a staged scene out of 1960s Miami, with slender tropical trees and full-length mirrors fencing in Joan Rivers' six-piece orchestra. The supper club vibe carried a timeless quality, easily projecting an era when audiences left dinner reservations at The Palm to see the circuit's biggest names in comedy.
It's designed this way because Joan is designed this way: She'll pay a live band to simply play her on and off the stage, but to otherwise sit patiently, with hands folded, seated behind her as she performs. She'll change out of one purple floor-length sequin caterpillar jacket into an encore ensemble of hot pink feathers. And she'll warn you not to swallow after a blow job because a hit of semen carries a high calorie count. She's Joan Rivers: The world's toughest broad.
An equal opportunity hater, Rivers sends her love the old fashioned way: by roasting every race and pocket community she deems worthy. I started feeling nervous when she barreled into how much she loathes the blind (they never compliment her looks and they get apartments with great views, which are "wasted on them.") -- mostly because I was seated immediately next to the only blind person at the completely full Winspear Opera House. He loved it. I'm fairly sure his service dog cringed, but the man cheered, laughed and applauded more violently during Joan's blind jokes than at any other point in the show.
Ditto with the two rows of gay men occupying the wall on my other side. When Joan said that gay men were so stupid that they would laugh at anything, boy did those gay men laugh.
You've got to wonder: Could a modern comedian do this material? Could a 20-something up-and-comer fill a show with talk about Princess Diana's inexplicably bad attitude (That bitch had everything! Money, a crown and a husband who didn't want to fuck her.), the secret tricks Asian women can do with their vaginas and the growing length of Goldie Hawn's tits (Pull down your skirt, your nipples are showing.)?
Of course not.
When you enter the room of a Joan Rivers show, you've agreed to suspend a few personal barriers. In her half-century performance career, she's played every two-bit bar and grand ballroom that would take her to every size and style of audience that would buy a ticket. If you don't know what she's about by now, that's on you, not her. So when she jumped into her latest topic of controversy at the beginning of the set -- "Everyone's so uptight! They say Heidi Klum is the "good kind of Nazi." What's the "good kind of Nazi?" Did they give the Jews cookies when they put em in the ovens?" -- this crowd ate it up.
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Rivers hit her surest strides during the newest material and with jokes that referenced hot topic issues of the '70s '80s and '90s and tied them into their modern day legacies and offshoots. Everything to do with death and dying, hand jobs for the elderly and the royal family was gold. These things are her comfort zone and come from such an honest place of easy humor that I can't imagine ever hearing another comedian nail them like Rivers does. But really, who else would have the balls to?
Some moments were shakier, like when she grabbed at political talking points that were a little too old to be relevant, or tried to conjure anecdotes that didn't fully materialize. A few build-ups were certainly left on the floor. But even there, her comedic meter doubled as her life vest. Rivers is a gap-filler. She doesn't say a one-liner and then then sit back waiting for an audience to respond. She sing-shouts her way between slow and fast to keep a solid momentum. The two-gear stride frees her up to change direction. You can almost see her running the numbers, predicting how the next joke will land with this crowd on this night, and then, either punching the gas or veering a hard left.
Physical comedy has always been a part of Rivers' schtick, and one of my favorite moments of the night came when she embraced that to seductively climb on top of the baby grand piano promising to sing us a song. She hiked legs, slid arms, grunted and finally begged the pianist to give her a lift -- it resulted in his face being trapped between her thighs, high heels kicking climatically in the air.
As one of the last generational greats working today, Rivers sharply uses her age as simply another comedic tool acquired. She doesn't rest on it. In fact, she was quick to point out that anyone over the age of 70 should be killed. They're obnoxious, they smell bad and they take forever filling out checks at Costco. And as she finished her proposal for age-specific genocide, every senior citizen in the Winspear erupted in wild applause.