Joan Rivers took the stage at the Triple Door on Friday night and took no prisoners.
She waxed nasty about: Helen Keller; gays ("Are there gays in the audience tonight? Oh, thank god. They’re so fucking stupid they’ll laugh at anything. Unless you say Barbra Streisand is ugly. But those are always cross-eyed guys with hooked noses"); Jews; lesbians; vegans; Chinese people ("Dog. They eat dog. Oh, fuck you, they do! I went to China for Thanksgiving. The turkey had a frisbee in its mouth. I was so disgusted I almost didn’t have seconds"); cancer-stricken friends; Olivia Newton-John’s walk for breast cancer; charity work; healthy AIDS patients; her husband’s suicide; her aging vagina; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; Madonna; Princess Di; Angelina Jolie ("…and all those horrible little children."); Michelle Obama’s inauguration ball dress; botox; ugly people; Michael Jackson; and Anne Frank ("Why is her book considered great literature? The story just stops").
She said the Anne Frank joke was her favorite so she told it twice, probably because a great deal of the audience refused to laugh. Maybe something’s wrong with me but I laughed at it both times.
This was groan-worthy, old-school, rat-a-tat-tat, ba-doom-boom comedy. It felt like being at a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast (who tells Jackie O jokes anymore?).
And it felt coarsely liberating.
Seattleites like to think of themselves as open-minded but you try telling most of these jokes at a party and see where it gets you. I repeated them at a bar after seeing the show and got a few polite smiles.
Rivers mostly had the crowd on her side—and what kind of person goes to a Joan Rivers gig expecting dainty humor, anyway?—but not in the way that, say, a current It comedian like Sarah Silverman would have. Which mystifies me. Silverman hits her targets with astonishing accuracy but she’s often disguising bigotry as hip comic bravery. Rivers, plastic surgery aside, disguises nothing: Everybody’s fair game for a joke but it’s a joke, a profane puncturing of the pretense that we don’t find unfunny subjects funny. You couldn’t possibly leave believing that she really thinks the collapse of the World Trade Center was gut-busting. Although she dared you.
"These past several years have been rough for us all," she said at the end of the night. "But I think 7/11 really united us, don’t you? 9/11, too, but 7/11 first. Oh, fuck you, I can’t talk about 9/11…?!"
In closing, as a humane gesture, she asked everybody to turn to whomever they came with—"Because we don’t do this enough"—and repeat with genuine conviction, "I’m so glad…I’m so glad…I’m so glad I’m not you." It made both my friend and I blissfully happy.