Joan Rivers has died – here are a few classic videos

Comedienne Joan Rivers died today. She was 81.

Rather than belabor how much I’ve adored Joan since I was a kid, here are some classic vids and other tidbits.

Joan’s hysterical monologue from 1982:

The time Joan Rivers did an AIDS fundraiser in 1984, before it was cool:


Gay journalist Karen Ocamb sent me this photo of Joan Rivers featured on the cover of Frontiers Magazine promoting an AIDS fundraiser at Studio One in March 1984 that raised $45,000 for APLA, L.A. Shanti and Aid for AIDS.

A collection of the best of Joan Rivers, starting with her 1967 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Look at how young she was!

Joan Rivers on the Johnny Carson show in 1986:

The time Joan decided to film her daughter Melissa in the shower:

The time Joan Rivers dropped the f-bomb when an interviewer took a pot-shot at her daughter (and good for Joan).

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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33 Responses to “Joan Rivers has died – here are a few classic videos”

  1. Basil says:

    Are you flirting? I’m married, but thanks. Again, if you don’t want criticism, don’t have a comments section.

  2. Basil honey, I’ve been at this game for 20+ years. I can pick a fight based on, and take offense at, every mis-placed comma as good as — in fact, better than — the next girl. Your efforts to drag me into a “have you stopped beating your wife” discussion about middle east politics has been, and forever will be, fruitless ;-)

  3. I found Rickles a bit mean. I do think, however, that Lisa Lampanelli (sp?) is hysterical. Something about the way she approaches it, lampooning everyone including herself, and the WAY she does it, is just hysterical. I think Rickles is a bit mean, and Joan was a bit mean too sometimes. And yes, I don’t like mean. But she was a funny lady too.

  4. Basil says:

    Now I’m picking a fight with you? Really? No John, I’m criticizing you, or rather Americablog (since there are multiple contributors). What you do with that criticism is your decision. If you don’t want criticism of your work, don’t allow comments on your site.

  5. Oh Basil. You so want to pick a fight with me, and I just won’t let you :)

  6. Basil says:

    Hi FLL. Thanks for the response. Your writing is fine — this is a comment thread after all (I noticed that my last comment to you was filled with typos — profuse apologies for that). I agree with all your points above. Although I think that the late Joan Rivers said some despicable things about the Palestinians, it was a bit odd for reporter to chase her down and question her about Gaza. There has been some hubbub about the war on Gaza within the entertainment industry (Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz spoke out against the attack on Gaza, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, and Sly Stallone (among others) signed on to some pro-Israel statement). So maybe that was what the reporter was thinking about? But even so, who would go to Joan Rivers for foreign policy advice??? That’s a real head scratcher….

    Personally, I found Rivers schtick occasionally funny, but often mean-spirited and grating. Robin Williams, by contrast, was a comic genius. I wish both of their families well.

  7. JoeMelrose says:

    I’ve never really liked insult comics, and Joan’s shtick had been really stale for the last couple decades. But in her defense, Joan kept it fresher and funnier longer than others who do that type of comedy. Don Rickles, for example, I never found funny from the beginning.

  8. FLL says:

    You raise a number of good points in your reply. In my first reply to you, I said “Basing an argument on the videos in which Joan Rivers goes off on a rant against Hamas is exceedingly ill-considered, don’t you think?” I was referring to the other commenter, pricknick, who posted the video of Joan Rivers’ argument with the reporter. If I didn’t make that clear enough, my apologies. I didn’t mean to conflate you with the other commenter.

    There is even one more critique of Joan’s main point that you or I could have mentioned, and that is that WWII Japan was a sovereign world power. Certainly, Gaza is not in that position, even if many argue that Hamas in Gaza started the current conflict.

    In defense of nothing more than my writing style, I will say that if I chose a compare/contrast topic out of thin air and said, “Hey, everyone, let’s compare Joan Rivers and Hamas,” yes, I suppose that would sound pretty silly. However, it was the reporter in picknick’s video who chose that topic, not me. My initial irritation was not with the points you raise, but with this reporter who chases down a comedian on the streets (possibly because she was Jewish), and starts an argument with her about the blame for civilian casualties, whether Hamas is a legitimately elected government, etc. He chose Joan Rivers and the topic of argument, not me.

  9. Basil says:

    FLL — tying Hamas and Joan Rivers is making my head explode. Forgive me, it’s just a bit hard to follow the logical connections (maybe I’m just too tired). I don’t think you can compare the two….

    As for whether Hamas is particularly vehemently anti-gay — it probably is. I would have to go comb through public statements in Arabic (which I could do, but it’s tediuos), but my guess, is yes, is that they are anti-gay. I don’t think they are the worst in the Middle East — the Iraqi Shiite militias (allied to the government) under Muqtada Sadr have been particularly brutal hunting down, torturing, and killing anyone perceived as gay. I’m not aware of anything similar in Gaza — but my understanding from what I have seen from Palestinians in Gaza (pre-conflict) is they were getting tired of Hamas. The space for dissent was narrowing, and like other Islamist parties, they seem intent on imposing controls on people’s lives in the name of religion (sounds like other parts of the world). Of course, post war, they have almost certainly gained in popularity as the national resistance to the occupation/siege of Gaza. Whether that will translate into something politically substantial for Hamas is an open question dependent upon whether or not the Palestinians are allowed to hold elections again (they are several years overdue, but since they are not sovereign, it is not clear when/if they will happen — it requires the consent and support of both Israel and the international community).

    As conservative as Muslim cultures can be about issues of sexuality, change is coming there too. But each country is different, and the struggle for gay rights occurs in a specific national context. For Palestinians, that context is getting rid of the occupation. I think those of us outside can best support LGBT Palestinians by listening to what they have to say – you can try looking up Al-Qaws — the Palestinian queer activist group. Here is an recent interview with them that I found:

    As for the late Ms. Rivers childish and convention of “you started it” — that has been widely refuted (I think the New Yorker had some very good reporting on that. That statement also conveniently ignores the siege of Gaza for the last 8 years). The accusation that Hamas has placed rockets in civilian areas is lacking much evidence. I saw press reports of 2 instances of rockets being found in unused UN schools (the UN discovered them when they went to open the buildings — and was suitably pissed off about it). Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on the planet –not like there is a lot of unbuilt space. That said, my guess is that most of Hamas weapons are underground in tunnels under Gaza City, because that is what makes logical sense for them, from a standpoint security of their military operations. We’ll probably never know the answer for sure.

    All of this is just background, because the question remains — even if there are weapons in/near a school, or a hospital, full of civilians, is it really justified to bomb them? International law considers it a war crime. I tend to agree. In any event, the Israelis did plenty of bombing of civilian infrastructure for purely punitive, non military reasons, most notably the Gaza power plant (a project I worked on, but that is another long story). That is also a flagrant war crime, and there is no excuse for it.

  10. Basil says:

    So my voicing criticism is either a demand for conformity, or a demonization? Sorry, I’m not buying that, it’s too damn convenient (and a bit smug). It is hypocrisy to talk about human rights everywhere, except Palestine – where human rights are being assaulted on a massive scale by the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance.

  11. BrandySpears says:

    Ha! You made an emotive argument without evidence. I gave you evidence of rocket fire for all of 2014. One-sided? No. If you have evidence that Israel was the aggressor in starting a war, by all means, put it forth.

  12. pricknick says:

    Now here John, is an example of a one sided argument with no debate.

  13. MyrddinWilt says:

    As I try to explain to my wife’s elderly relatives, demonizing anyone who does not agree with AIPAC 110% is one of the reasons support for Israel is vanishing amongst younger people. Especially Jews who don’t take kindly to being called ‘self hating’ for pointing out that Netanyahu is a fascist.

    At this point Josh Marshall is the only prominent liberal leaning blogger who calls himself a Zionist. And he can’t explains what he means by that.

    I can’t tell you what will happen over the next ten years but I would be very surprised if US politicians were queuing up to align themselves with the Israeli cause in 20 years time like they do now. I certainly can’t imagine people will still be pretending the two state solution is on offer.

  14. No, you think it was worse because you’re on the other side of the debate, and this is one of those debate where people are demonized for breathing if they don’t breathe 100% in synch with either side of the debate.

    And your attempt to paint me as some Arab-hating hyporite because I dared to even discuss the issue, without, interestingly, ever actually taking a position on the issue overall, is sadly typical of all sides of this debate, and all the more evidence of why this issue will, I fear, never be resolved.

  15. Basil says:

    Your example above (of the evil version of me) is not analogous what to the dearly departed Joan Rivers said in her rants. She was much worse. She is being remembered as a anti-Arab racist by a lot people today (apparently #karma is trending on twitter, but I don’t tweet, so I can’t confirm that), and she earned it.

    As for drawing you into a debate — I’m not. I’m actually not concerned. But for someone who is a prolific writer on a whole range of issues — gay rights, Russia, Uganda, income inequality, health care, … the silence on issues related to Islamophobia, Palestine, etc…is conspicuous, and clarifying. I don’t believe in progressive “except for Palestine”, and I think it is related to our broader failures as country in the Middle East.

  16. Well, actually, it would depend on how you said it. If someone complained about the civilian Israeli casualties from being shelled by Hamas, and you said “yeah, well, Israel brought this on themselves by starting it,” I’m sure some pro-Israeli folks would try to smear you by taking your words out of context, and I’d be disagreeing with them, because people are entitled to believe that Israel started it, and they’re entitled to believe that Hamas started it. (And they’re entitled to believe that the world has a somewhat schizophrenic view on civilian casualties in war time.)

    As for your attempt to draw me into the substance of this debate, I’ve already told you, folks decided long ago that this was to be one of those issues where everyone who doesn’t agree 100% with either, or both, sides is the worst human being EVER.

    Strange game, this debate. The only winning move is not to play :)

  17. pricknick says:

    Yep. All those innocent civilians who couldn’t leave and basically live in an internment camp started it.

  18. FLL says:

    No “cordon sanitaire” around anything, please. No double standards. Your critique of statements that assign blame to an entire race or ethnic group is valid. People should be treated as individuals. To do otherwise is racist. My modest proposal is that it’s equally vile when people declare that gay people deserve to be dead because of their sexuality, which is exactly what the people in Hamas state. I don’t expect you to read every comment on this thread, so I’ll repeat my observation about Hamas from my comment below:

    The Hamas government in Gaza has declared homosexuality punishable by death. Hamas cofounder Mahmoud Zahar has said, “You in the West do not live like human beings. You do not even live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticize us?” Hamas justifies beheadings, beatings, torture and killings of gay people with Islamic law.

    Basing an argument on the videos in which Joan Rivers goes off on a rant against Hamas is exceedingly ill-considered, don’t you think? Unless, of course, you’re into double standards according to which you believe it’s vile for someone to say Palestinians involved in the current Gaza conflict deserve to die, but it “not as bad” for Hamas to call for the death of people based on their sexuality. Hamas is equally deserving of exactly the same critique that you’re applying to Joan Rivers. No double standards. Thank you in advance.

  19. BrandySpears says:

    Joan was right in her main point: Don’t start wars and then claim your the victim.

  20. Basil says:

    If I spouted off about Jews “deserving it” in the same way that the late Joan RIvers spouted off about Palestinians “deserving it”, then YES, that would make me a Jew-hating Nazi (or something similar), and yes, I would be a bad person. There is nothing fine about that. That’s why I don’t do that.

    There is nothing uncivil or unproductive about deconstructing the inherent assumptions behind, and the implications of, Joan Rivers’ statements on the Palestinians. It is actually a quite useful exercise, not because Joan Rivers had any influence on the outcome of Israel-Palestine conflict, but because her comments help shine a light on the underlying political and social assumptions that shape U.S. foreign policy on Palestine, and across the Middle East. We relate to that part of the world through a colonial paradigm — the native are “others” with no legitimate concerns of their own, and they deserve and respond only to brute force. Somehow Palestinian civilian casualties of the U.S.-armed Israeli military are out-of-bounds as a topic of concern or political discussion (lest we disturb the profit streams of our arms manufacturers), in the same way that we have never shown any concern over the Iraqi civilians that were victims of our military. We have never had a conversation about these assumptions in this country, after fighting (how many?) wars in the region (and supporting how many other wars we did not fight in directly). Why not? To paraphrase the Rabbi Hillel, if not now, when?

    Are we to maintain a “cordon sanitaire” around a certain set issues (like say, gay rights), or certain groups of people, because there is vehemence around those issues? Do we then silence the historical narratives of those groups because there is controversy over those groups, or their existence? That’s a rather sad view of humanity, and of the power of logic and compassion to allow us to transcend our communal boundaries. We can choose something other than silence, lest that silence be mistaken for complicity.

  21. That’s not at all what she said. She happens to be pro-Israel. You’re not. And both of those positions are fine. And it doesn’t make you a Jew-hating Nazi any more than it makes her an Arab-hating racist.

    As I noted earlier, this issue sadly entered “no way to have a civil and productive conversation EVER” territory a long time ago, along with a growing number of other issues on the left (and right as well). I find that sad, and counterproductive. But that’s your choice.

  22. Basil says:

    It’s not complicated. If a person espouses openly racist views, they are by definition a bad person. That is an inescapable fact. I don’t like her point of view, because she is saying an ethnic group deserves to be killed, because she doesn’t like them because of her own tribal identity — notice she uses the pronoun “we”, as if she is Israeli. And then pulls out the “they started it”, as if a.) that was even remotely accurate (have the Palestinians in Gaza been blockading Israel for the last 8 years? Are 3/4 of Israelis refugees who were ethnically cleansed from their homes in Gaza?), and b.) that “they started it” somehow justifies bombing homes, hospitals and UN schools. It was a childish argument.

    In the great scheme of things, who care about Joan Rivers? She was not some great humanitarian, nor was she a particularly talented actress. She was grating, often offensive, and in the end, showed herself to be a racist. That’s sad, but that is how she will be remembered by many.

    More importantly, It’s this same kind of anti-Arab/anti-Muslim racism that led us into a war in Iraq, for which we are now dealing with the blowback. We have yet to have a conversation in this country about that racism & its consequences, in part because Arab-American and Muslim-American voices are still generally unwelcome, even on the left (maybe more so). But human rights are human rights, and they are supposed to be universal. If we can’t speak for them without exception, then we can’t claim to be progressive.

  23. FLL says:

    I can see your point about Joan’s inclusion of dark humor in her onstage material, as with the case of Hellen Keller jokes, and the use of dark humor onstage is certainly fair game for debate. The politically-motivated reporter pursuing Joan on the street, however, does not touch on anything that Joan included onstage. The reporter was not criticizing any of her comic material in the videos you posted; he was provoking her on the street hoping that she would lose her composure, which she did. I would have to say that the videos showing Joan arguing with the reporter about Hamas launching missiles from residential areas of Gaza are not relevant to a debate about the content of her onstage material.

  24. pricknick says:

    Thank you.
    You do debate and as such makes you more open minded than most.
    By the way, I didn’t like her point of view, not because I’m pro-Palestinian but because there was never a debate about her choice of dark humor to further her career. It was comedy. Sometimes.
    She’s gone and we all move forward.

  25. Yes, it really is that complicated. Life is complicated. Politics is complicated. The Middle East is complicated. And the issue of who’s to blame for the current mess in the Middle East is hugely complicated. There are many legitimate views, on all side, on the issue. You don’t like her point of view, and I suspect you’re pro-Palestinian, and that’s fine. Sometimes I am too. And sometimes I’m pro-Israel. But that’s why you don’t like her point of view, because she’s on one side and you’re on the other. It has nothing to do with Joan Rivers being a bad person, or less deserving of our admiration. I happen to believe that all sides in this dispute have a legitimate gripe, so I’m not going to fault either side for disagreeing with the other, even vehemently so.

  26. pricknick says:

    Is it really that complicated John?
    Bigots, racists, homophobes, you name it, have done some good in their lives.
    Do we only revel in their good moments and forget about what they truly were?
    All things are worth debating. Only the weak, spineless or ignorant refuse to confront and question all aspects good or bad. Many have not seen these videos of her. They should.
    I understand your admiration for her. I just look at the whole instead of only the good.
    I liked her as a comedian, yet when I look at what she’s said and done, the comedy lacks.

  27. Well, that interview is a tad more complicated than you initially suggested. I’ve learned over the years that certain topics simply aren’t worth debating. A growing list of them in fact. This is one of them.

  28. Houndentenor says:

    I have mixed feelings about Joan. I often found her funny and other times found her tasteless and mean. She did fundraisers for AIDS while remaining chummy with (and donating to) far right politicians (starting with the Reagans). It’s complicated and while I appreciate her funniest bits, I’m not going to pretend like she didn’t sell out her gay fans and “friends” for the promise of tax cuts like so many other Republicans.

  29. woodroad34 says:

    I remember seeing her at The Backlot at Studio One, in the late 70’s I think–she was making a “record” or something and testing jokes on us…it was hysterical–you start out laughing and because of her rapid-fire delivery, you just started to spastically laugh; you had no control–it was dry heave laughing.

  30. pricknick says:

    Her view on Palestinian civilians was priceless.
    No sorrow here.

  31. basenjilover says:

    Gonna miss her. RIP, Joan.

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