Five Things I Learned Watching Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

It’s too bad the Golden Globes doesn’t have a documentary category. Should I say that again, only shouting in all caps? IT’S TOO BAD THE GOLDEN GLOBES DOESN’T HAVE A DOCUMENTARY CATEGORY! I added the exclamation point for emphasis. And really, what is wrong with the Golden Globes anyway?

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work; IFC Films

But I digress, and I’ve only just started writing. If there WAS a documentary category, I’m sure ‘Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work’ would have been nominated. It was nominated for a Critics Choice Award (‘Waiting for Superman’ won), and we’ll see if it scores an Oscar nomination when they’re announced on Jan. 25, 2011. I’m betting it will.

‘Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work’ follows a year in the comedian’s life and is at times heartbreaking, funny, outrageous and intimate. It also debunks a few things I thought I knew about the woman. Five things I learned while watching the film:

1. Joan Rivers is insecure. Like, really insecure. The only time she feels comfortable, she says, is when she’s onstage, and she works constantly to get herself in the public eye. None of those appearances come easily. Also, she’s often not included in events with other comedians, and it’s noteworthy that she was included in the tribute to George Carlin after he passed away.

2. Her worst nightmare is a blank calendar. She LOVES to see her calendar filled up with events and appearances from morning til night, and absolutely hates it when the days are empty.

3. She loves to live “grand,” and thus will do anything for money. To prove it, the cameras followed her to Wisconsin, where she performed a show to a not-always-friendly audience. She even suggested that she’d knock her front teeth out and do a dental commercial if the money was right. She doesn’t want to work less and live “carefully.”

4. She’s a humanitarian. She supports several family members, and every Thanksgiving morning, she delivers meals to needy people. Even though she makes fun of, well, just about everyone, in person she’s sweet and caring.

5. Her relationship with daughter Melissa is tenuous. On screen, they seem to have a good relationship, but you have to wonder. In the documentary, Joan went on and on about how Melissa should stop smoking, and Melissa kept saying she was down to two a day and Joan should be supportive of that. I guess that’s normal mother-daughter stuff.

I love these types of films that really dig deep into a celebrity’s life and uncover the person behind the curtain of stardom. If you do, too, definitely seek out this thoughtful film. The language and jokes get pretty racy, though, so I don’t recommend it for kids younger than 17.

‘Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work’; rated R for language and sexual humor; buy it on Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray.






15 responses to “Five Things I Learned Watching Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”

  1. Sheryl Avatar

    I recently saw this movie. I was struck by how driven (but sometimes desperate) Joan Rivers seemed. I mean, with all her successes, she still feels the need to push herself to exhaustion?. I don’t know what is at work here – it almost seemed as if she was NOT doing it out of enjoyment, but rather some type of need to feed her ego. But in spite of all that, I have to admit…I couldn’t help but admire and really like the woman.

  2. Stephanie - Wasabimon Avatar

    God, I live for the days when I have nothing on my calendar. It sounds like her life is not a lot of fun,

  3. Christine Avatar

    Wow…this is interesting. I hadn’t realized that this movie was out. It sounds like it would be interesting to watch, if only because she’s such a cultural icon. It’s sad though to read about her drive and her desperation. I imagine a person who isn’t really at peace with herself.

  4. Jane Boursaw Avatar

    And what really jumped out at me is that even if you’ve been in the business for 50 years, even if you’re Joan Freakin’ Rivers — you STILL have to constantly be putting yourself out there, getting booked for events, getting yourself in the public eye. You can’t ever rest on your laurels, no matter who you are, because if you slack off even the slightest, it’s like you don’t exist. People forget about you.

    It’s amazing that she still has the drive and determination to do that, and I think it’s a good lesson for the rest of us who’ve been in a business — any business — for any length of time. You can’t rest. You have to keep pushing.

  5. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    The thing I always think of with Joan Rivers is that she has conquered (even though she doesn’t feel like it) a field that almost entirely belonged to men. That makes her a true feminist–(despite the fact that she has had to obsess over the wrinkles and keep the plastic surgeons in speedboats and country club memberships.) Not since Mae West have we had a woman with such quotable one liners and quick wit.

  6. merr Avatar

    I would love to see this. Thank you so much for bringing it to our attention. She’s a remarkable entertainer and business woman.

  7. Kris Bordessa Avatar

    I am not a fan of Joan Rivers at all. I don’t think I could sit through an entire film about her, no matter how good!

  8. CopyKat Recipes Avatar

    She is an amazing woman, that has been around forever. You can’t have been in the public eye this much and not be driven like this.

  9. MyKidsEatSquid Avatar

    I wasn’t a fan of Joan Rivers until I heard her interviewed about making this documentary. You’re right that she just puts herself out there. I was impressed by how hard-working she is. If you haven’t heard her interview on NPR’s Fresh Air it’s worth a listen. They just replaced it a week or so ago.

  10. Donna Hull Avatar

    I’m fascinated by Joan Rivers’ work ethic, especially considering her age. I find it a little sad that she’s not comfortable with down time. Where does she find the energy to go, go, go? Thanks for the introduction to this documentary. I’m putting it on my “to watch” list.

  11. Jennifer Margulis Avatar

    “I love these types of films that really dig deep into a celebrity’s life and uncover the person behind the curtain of stardom. If you do, too, definitely seek out this thoughtful film.”

    I love these kinds of movies too. I will definitely watch this. Thanks!

  12. […] show us another side that we haven’t seen before. I felt that way when I saw the documentary ‘Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,’ which immediately made me want to watch her reality show, ‘Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows […]

  13. […] Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern (who also helmed one of my favorite docs in recent years, ‘Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work‘). Please make time to check out this important film. It’s a real eye-opener because […]

  14. […] never bitter. And if you haven’t seen it yet, watch the 2010 critically acclaimed, documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” which gives a look at how hard working and resilient she […]

  15. Roger Avatar

    Joan Rivers was such a trooper, a force to be reckoned with. The only thing that scared the life out of her was old age and hence the multiple procedures that she underwent.

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