An Afternoon with ‘Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work’

This year’s Sheffield Doc Fest was brilliant – but that is stating the obvious. It is always brilliant and beyond expectations. Unfortunately, I could only attend for two out of the five days. Nonetheless, I squeezed those two days for all they were worth – documentaries, panel discussions, information sessions and even a few social events. The only regret I have is not getting a cupcake from the notorious Joan Rivers – the celebrity personality at this year’s festival.

Joan Rivers is an American comedian, who, besides her caustic humour, is known for her penchant for plastic surgery, her acute sense of fashion on the red carpet and her very sharp tongue. This is a woman who has challenged tradition many a times and at the ripe old age of 75, still continues to shock and bemuse – jokes about 9/11 and anal sex are very much on top of her list. Rivers doesn’t shy away from using foul language in public (she had to be asked to hold back the ‘f’ word at an event for government officials in Washington – most of whom were Republicans). She is uninhibited and fearless.

I attended a questions and answers session with Rivers about the documentary that she has recently featured in, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”, by filmmakers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg. The documentary itself is fantastic to watch, because it gives the audience a chance to see Rivers in a more holistic light (not that that was River’s purpose at all in doing this film). We see Joan Rivers, the queen of cosmetic surgery and the goddess of red carpet events, as an honest and sincere woman, who, in real life, doesn’t give a rat’s arse about other people and their opinions.

The Q&A session was a light hearted event – very Riveresque. She laughed at herself and didn’t care much for pretentious questions such as, ‘who is the real Joan Rivers?’; She spoke of her insecurities about her career; her love for drama, comedy and acting; her husband’s suicide, and her relationship with her daughter and her grandson. She made fun of some British pronunciations and even humoured the interviewer for his prudishness and uptight questions. She thoroughly entertained us with her over-the-top jokes and her hallmark honesty.

Rivers is a celebrity through and through and is not apologetic for any of it. She was an Anthropology and English major in college and says that she’d happily take up anthropology again if only she could be allowed to take her hair stylist and make up artist along with her on her ventures. Of her life style, she admits that it is very ornate and opulent – perhaps more so than even that of the Queen of England – but she says that she works damn hard to maintain it and will have it no other way.

Rivers defends her plastic surgeries and endorses the importance of physical beauty. She kowtows to the latest TV fads to increase her ratings– her participation in Celebrity Apprentice is a testament to that – and will agree to do almost anything and everything showbiz related to make some money. To summarize it all, she is quite the television wh*re.

And yet, despite all these superficial things, she appears more honest, sincere and down to earth than most other celebrities (or regular people for that matter).

Joan Rivers’s openness about herself and her disregard for convention, are what keep her act from getting stale. Add to these her love for attention and drama and one can be sure that no other would be able to take her place – without a proper fight at least. In the not-so-exact-words of one of her managers – you will see claw marks on the red carpet before Joan will give it up.

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