You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.
Joan Rivers (Joan Alexandra Melinsky), the brassy comedian whose jokes about marriage, sex, and middle-class life seemed largely oblivious to the advent of women’s liberation yet whose “shock” humor, truth-telling, and bad taste strongly influenced the shtik of post-feminist women comedians, was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1933. Rivers pioneered a path as a female stand-up comic, as well as knocking around as an actress and comedy writer, before being elevated by Johnny Carson with numerous appearances on The Tonight Show, beginning in 1965, including as Carson’s frequent substitute host in the early 1980s. As her career wore on — including as a host of television shows of her own, as a regular guest on the Hollywood Squares game show, as a Las Vegas comic, and as the author of comedy books and memoirs — Rivers became known less for her wit and more for her plastic surgery (when she dies, she says, they will donate her body to Tupperware) and for being, as the 2010 documentary about her describes it, “A Piece of Work.” To see her riffing on Carol Burnett’s show in 1974, look below. “It’s been so long since I’ve had sex, I’ve forgotten who ties up whom.” —Joan Rivers