Jack Samuel Warner
Jason 'Entertainment' Cooke
Jason John Whitehead
Jefferson & Whitfield
Jonny And The Baptists
Joan Rivers was born in Brooklyn, to immigrant Russian Jews, grew up in suburban New York and educated at Connecticut College and Barnard College, Manhattan.
She started comedy in the Fifties, and spent a decade ‘enduring humiliation and privation playing tawdry clubs, Borscht Belt hotels, and Greenwich Village cabarets’.
But her persistence paid off, and in 1965 got her first TV break when she appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Within three years she was given her own daytime talk show – That Show With Joan Rivers – and by the Eighties she was the permanent guest host on the Tonight Show whenever Carson was away.
In 1986 she had an ill-fated six-part chat show for the BBC, taking its title from her 'Can we talk?' catchphrase, a registered trademark in the US. Today the show is mainly remembered for Peter Cook being wasted as her sidekick.
That same year, she was given her own late-night chat show on the new Fox network – but Carson was so upset by what he saw as her betrayal after a 20-year friendship that he banned her from his show forever. The two never reconciled before Carson’s death 2005.
That was followed by another self-titled daytime talk show, which ran from 1989 until 1994, and won her an Emmy award.
In 1987, she suffered personal tragedy when her husband Edgar Rosenberg, a British TV producer, killed himself, devastating Rivers, who developed bulimia and contemplated her own suicide. But she eventually turned the tragedy into typically uncompromising and uncomfortable comedy
She took a diversion from comedy in 1990, launching her own line of jewellery for the QVC home shopping channel. It was widely seen as a tacky move, but it was certainly a lucrative one – achieving more than $500million of sales.
Rivers is also known for her bitchy commentaries about celebrity fashions on the red carpet before glitzy showbiz events. She worked with her daughter Melissa for the E! channel from 1996 to 2004, then moving to the TV Guide channel for two years. In Shrek 2, she cameoed as an animated version of herself, parodying this role.
Rivers is an unashamed advocate of plastic surgery, which became a staple of her self-deprecating stand-up, and led to two guest appearances in the cosmetic surgery drama Nip/Tuck.
In 2002, she brought a one-woman show Broke And Alone to the Edinburgh Fringe, which then transferred to the West End.
In August 2007, Rivers began workshopping her autobiographical play, A Work In Progress By A Life In Progress, which opened at the Geffin Playhouse in Los Angeles in February 2008 to mixed reviews, before transferring to the 2008 Edinburgh Festival, then on to the West End and Broadway.
We Are Not Amused 2012
There were moments in the first half of the Prince’s Trust star-studded We Are Most Amused fundraiser where simply watching the performance seemed like an act of charity, with a series of ill-judged ideas casting a pall over the night that the real stand-ups had to battle to overturn.
Compere Ben Elton was one such mood-killer. He’s a patron of the charity and tonight’s creative director – and treated us to the coup of a Blackadder comeback sketch to close the night. But for all the brilliant work he put into the night, he’s no stand-up any more, and his opening monologue came within a whisker of dying completely, with long rants playing to silence.
Just moaning about Starbucks calling their small coffees ‘tall’ or whining about being put on hold doesn’t really cut it, and sound more like the grumblings of an out-of-touch old man – however structurally sound the routines, or how much incredulous emphasis he puts into delivering his complaints. Occasionally a well-drawn image would break the dreariness – such as his descriptions of the massive popcorn and drinks containers sold in cinemas – but he set the bar low.
Opening act Stephen K Amos would surely have been a better host. He might not be as famous as Elton, but he’s got a friendliness people warm to, and a few cracking lines – even if the best, about him being one of twins, comes courtesy of his blunt-speaking mother. Amos is no stranger to performing to royals, of course, and when he played this very benefit in 2008, Prince Harry infamously told him afterwards: ‘You don't sound like a black chap.’ Perhaps wisely, that story didn’t make his routine tonight – although an even more racist comment from an Adelaide radio DJ did.
Next up a truly dismal sketch, in which Sanjeev Bhaskar and Helen Lederer played a wine-chugging middle-class couple feigning concern for the education system while really being self-serving and callous. The premise might have been OK, but the script was laugh-free – so imagine the audience’s indifference when it turned out this would be a recurring scenario over the night. By the third time they reappeared, the disappointment was actually audible.
Another misfire quickly followed, with Jon Culshaw appearing as Simon Cowell and ‘singing’ what allegedly could have been his X Factor song – just a list of words associated with him, like ‘high trousers’ and ‘Sinitta’ listed in the style of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire. Sorry, Jon, you shouldn’t go through to the next round.
Bhaskar returned for a brief, inconsequential linking slot when he imagined the Royal Albert Hall as an intimate Indian wedding venue, then it was left to Patrick Kielty to try to get the audience properly laughing again. He had something of a fight on his hand, from such a cold start, and after a hit-and-miss routine discovered that the harsh jokes were what the crowd wanted, regardless of whether they were really the sort of gags you should be telling in front of Charles and Camilla.
But if Kielty was rude, it was a mere hors d’oeuvre for the unashamedly vulgar Joan Rivers, in true bilious mood, bitching about how old people depress her and how she hates handicapped people – a feeling born from having to look after one. Shocked laughs came from her discussing her 79-year-old vagina... and even her unreconstructed racist material about all Mexicans being ugly and the Chinese eating dogs, even though it’s not to be encouraged. Still, the passion of her performance filled the space like no one else could.
Culshaw partially redeemed himself in his second appearance of the night, showing his considerable talents for mimicry of various characters... which makes you wonder why he insists on having each of them say their name rather than allowing the audience to figure it out for themselves. Material-wise, his jokes about George Bush’s linguistic atrocities are well beyond their tell-by date, but his brisk and entertaining round-up of some telly comedians could save you a fortune on DVDs this Christmas.
He came back after the interval as Boris Johnson, for no good reason, to introduce comedy band The Midnight Beast, for the kids. At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy, though, a combination of poor acoustics and poor diction made it very difficult to discern any of their lyrics - which is something of a drawback if that’s where the jokes lie. Still, the music of Medium Pimpin' and Just Another Boyband got the section off to an energetic start.
After Elton returned, Milton Jones took to the stage with his deliciously eccentric one-liners, most of which took a second or two for the penny to drop. Skilful writing, including an imaginative callback to someone else’s earlier material, made him one of the strongest acts on the bill – and kicked off a run of stand-ups who knew what they were doing.
Omid Djalili went down well, too, with his silly mix of ethnic piss-taking and Godzilla impressions, and showed a flash of treasonable insubordination with a very funny line about the work the Prince’s Trust does. There’s a bit too heavy a reliance on funny accents in some of his older material that got an airing tonight, but in the style of a slightly old-fashioned entertainer, entertain is what he did.
Observational Ed Byrne kicked off with some cliched material about airline travel - the dumb questions at check-in, the confiscation of tweezers as if you could bring a jet down with grooming products etc – before moving on to more distinctive, and funnier, observations on the same subject, which turned out to need at least a bit of that earlier, hackier stuff to work. And he has the best ‘bathroom scales’ routine in the business.
Almost finally, Jimmy Carr doing something good for Britain’s underprivileged. No, not pay his taxes - but deliver for charity his usual stream of slick one-liners, starting with the silly and moving into increasingly dark territory about shagging around and non-consensual sex. But it’s not about morals, it’s about wordplay – at which he is a master engineer.
Then came that Blackadder sketch – which started rather clunkily (and even managed a ‘what about her knockers?’ joke which would have been dated by the end of Seventies) despite Miranda Hart's best efforts. But it burst into life when Rowan Atkinson made his surprise appearance, proving his comic genius at infusing every line with wit that even the writer might not have seen. The script got sharper and more satirical too, andTony Robinson’s Baldrick completing the double-act made the scene even more special... giving punters who paid up to £125 a ticket something memorable for their money.
|Date of live review: Thursday 29th Nov, '12|
Review by Steve Bennett
Joan Rivers At The South Bank Udderbely
Thursday 28th May, '09- Udderbelly South Bank
Show - Edinburgh Fringe 2008 -
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18/01/2013 Permanent link
Edinburgh Fringe 2008
Joan Rivers Stand-up
Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress By a Life in Progress