At 77, Ms. Rivers has been entertaining and outraging audiences for over 40 years which in and of itself speaks volumes about her talent, appeal, and perseverance. In an industry as fickle as show business, that kind of longevity happens only rarely and, when it does, it means the entertainer in question has equal doses of talent and determination. In the film itself, agent/manager Larry Thompson has a wonderful way of phrasing Ms. Rivers’ staying power when he says: “To get hit by lightning, you have to stand out in the rain, often for a very long time. No one in show business is more willing to stand out in that rain than Joan Rivers.”
The film traces Ms. Rivers’ amazing career, starting with her explosion in the 1960s on the American scene as a frequent guest and then guest host on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, who became her mentor and greatest fan until Rivers was herself offered a late night show on Fox. Carson never spoke to Rivers again and that scar obviously runs deep within her.
Rivers appointed her husband Edgar Rosenberg as the producer of the Fox show which was ill-fated from day one. After a bitter, rancorous, and brief time, Fox insisted that Rivers fire her husband as producer. When she refused, the show was canceled. Rosenberg blamed himself, sank into despondency, and tragically committed suicide, leaving Rivers in a career tailspin and she and her daughter Melissa in deep financial debt.
Throughout the film, Rivers is so vulnerably honest and forthcoming about herself that it’s almost impossible not to walk away from the film with a deep sense of respect and affection for her. She talks very openly about the hills and valleys of show business, reveling in success when she has maneuvered her way back into the sunlight, and suffering during the long nights of darkness when she has fallen out of favor.
Near the end of the film, Rivers is walking off stage after a performance and simply says: “Look, I’m a performer. That’s all I am and all I ever want to be.”
Personally, I hope she lives to be 100 and does a show that day. If she does, and I’m still ambulatory myself, I wouldn’t miss it!