March 5, 2011

Funny Isn't Always Better

I never used to like Joan Rivers. I thought she was obnoxiously annoying and rude, and was nothing more than a talking head on E! and the TV Guide Channel who looked like the lovechild of an alien from outer space and the Cheshire cat. I found her so repulsive that I always changed the channel whenever it was her turn to provide input on celebrity fashions at the Academy Awards. I simply had no use for her. Since watching A Piece of Work, the documentary that chronicles the life and career of her, though, I’ve changed my mind.

That’s the funny thing about documentaries, and to some extent reality TV. Our guards are more easily shed when all that teleprompting and hairspray is stripped away in the hope that we discover someone we can actually identify with on some human level, despite the fact that their lives may not parallel ours in any way.

Unlike my last post, ironically also written about a documentary, A Piece of Work did not receive criticism for being staged; instead, it showed a different side of Joan Rivers that had probably never been revealed on camera before, in true-to-form, conventional documentary format. We learn of Joan’s struggles as a female comedienne. We learn that her relationship with her daughter Melissa is genuinely tumultuous, as often mother-daughter relationships are. We also learn of her insecurities with Hollywood, aging, and her relationships, as well as the mundane things like her love of New York and penchant for formal design. Through all of this, we learn that Joan Rivers is actually a very sensitive person who shares the same kind of vulnerabilities that we all have, that underneath all that hard plastic there are flaws that are both endearing and real, which are what make her genuinely likable.

It was only out of consequence that I learned that I could continue embarking on my new pop-culture fascination of Joan Rivers through her reality series Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best?, which, while tinged with more humor than A Piece of Work was, is nevertheless an intriguing platform to watch and learn more about the “real” Joan Rivers.