What does it take to earn recognition from your peers after your death? A prolific film, television and stand-up comedy career? One that includes the honor of creating a genre of entertainment and coining a catchphrase? It seems like a pretty noteworthy life that deserves a cheesy picture flashed up on a screen in front of a room full of celebrities crying crocodile tears over you (at the very least). It seems more than enough to qualify being forever memorialized as a rosy-cheeked pastel painting more suited for a pediatrician’s office than a prime time awards ceremony.
Alas, if you are Joan Rivers, apparently it just isn’t enough. At least, not in the eyes of the Academy.
Joan Rivers has never been everyone’s cup of tea. She’s brassy, grating and gave a literal zero fucks about other peoples’ opinions of her. That doesn’t exactly bode well for someone trying to break into an insular, ass-kissing industry such as Hollywood – even with the benefit of coming from the subversive comedy scene. People want to be schmoozed, and Joan was never going to be the one to give it to them. It’s the reason why her success was always so inspirational to me.
Her unapologetic honesty and lack of a filter is what enabled her to carve out her niche as Hollywood’s most cutting fashion critic. Back in the 90s she finagled her way into a job covering the Golden Globes red carpet, thanks to her daughter’s connections at E! Joan managed to pave her career path by using her fearless sense of humor to interview stars in a manner that she viewed as more human – and ultimately, more entertaining.
Combating critiques that claimed focusing on actresses’ clothes was sexist, Joan argued the approach was a fun way to create dialogue between the reporters, actors and audience. While there is a clear divide between the caliber of question that male and female actors get asked in general, Joan felt that the red carpet was not the place to ask the tough questions:
“Other reporters always said, ‘I’m not going to ask that. I’m going to ask how [the actors] feel politically!’ But actors don’t want to hear that! They’re nervous. They haven’t eaten for three days. They’re trying to remember who the damn designer [who made their dress] is. Their hair is held together with extensions. You can’t ask them anything difficult!”
Though “Who are you wearing?” is not exactly thought-provoking, it created a conversation between actors and reporters that was more candid, and much less stuffy, than the awards ceremonies themselves.
It’s no secret that awards shows are a place for members of the entertainment industry to get together and talk about how super awesome they all are while utilizing their acting chops to feign humility. They don’t function for the audience, and it’s always been their major flaw. To this day, producers of the Academy Awards struggle to improve viewership. But thanks to Joan Rivers and her devotion to creating a show that was meant to entertain, E!’s Live from the Red Carpet lives on. In the end, she tricked us into watching the Oscars with a fun and funny two hour pre-show.
There isn’t an actor on the red carpet who isn’t treating them self as a brand in order to further their career, whether it be through a multi-film contract or a designer paying them to wear their creation on the red carpet. Joan Rivers is the reason you walk down that carpet and seek that exposure. She is the reason people take an interest in the show that follows the red carpet coverage. If that legacy didn’t qualify her for a two second shot in a memorial tribute at the Academy Awards, then nothing was ever going to.
Joan Rivers made Hollywood. And while so many of its major players claim they hate the system, they all benefit from it. Instead of taking a minute to show us how heavy Chris Pine’s heart is bleeding during John Legend and Common’s performance of Glory, take two seconds to pay some respect to a woman with one of the most prolific careers in entertainment. (A woman who I wish was still alive just to call Chris Pine a fake bitch for that single tear streaming down his face during said performance).
Joan clawed her way to the top in an industry that didn’t want her, and she was well aware of the dynamic. “I am never honored. My career is hilarious to me. I am either under the radar or over the radar.” But as she predicted, she had a great ride. Rest in Peace Joan Rivers. I hope you enjoy your reincarnation as Meryl Streep Rivers.
Molly Regan is an improviser and writer in Baltimore. She likes chicken pot pie, Adam Scott’s butt and riot grrl.