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Joan Rivers: Exit Laughing (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 56 minutes to be aired on PBS.

Not for children.

If I had to make a list of the 10 funniest people I have ever seen (and I do since I like to make lists), it would start with Joan Rivers and Richard Pryor. There are lots of other funny people in the world who have made me laugh, like Jerry Seinfeld and Flip Wilson and Chris Rock and Don Rickles and George Carlin, just to name a few. But Rivers and Pryor can make me laugh uncontrollably, and are in a league of their own.

What they say is funny, but what is incomparable is their sense of timing. The way they say things and when they say it, even if what they say isnít that funny if you read it, makes me erupt in laughter. Jimmy Jones said it best in his 1960 song:

Oh, you need timin'
A tick, a tick, a tick, good timin'
A tock, a tock, a tock, a tock
A timin' is the thing

Rivers was naturally funny, but it was her impeccable timing that really set her apart.

This is a fascinating documentary on Rivers with innumerable comics commenting on Rivers, her comedy, her life, and her personality and character. But half the film is Rivers herself telling her story.

One of the comedians who comments (my only objection to this film is one I have on most documentaries, that each person interviewed isnít identified by a graphic each time they appear; would that hurt them so much? [apologies to Joan]), captured her in one sentence, ďShe had the ability to offend you and make you laugh at the same time.Ē Dick Cavett said watching her was like watching someone walk very close to the edge without falling off. Others who comment in great detail include include Sarah Silverman, Whitney Cummings, Kathy Griffin, Don Rickles, Lily Tomlin, and Marlo Thomas.

In a telling moment, Joan describes her craft, ďI have absolutely no rules; I donít even know where the act is going half the time; I know when I should move; I know when I should pause; itís just in your head; you canít teach it.Ē

Then she goes on to say, ďI have two rules. One is they came to see me try to make them have a good time. I will tap dance on my ears for you because youíve come to see me.Ē

And, ďI could sit for an hour and not come up with a new joke. I go on stage and if the audience likes me and I like them, ten new minutes will come out. And I laugh harder than they laugh because itís new to me, too. So on a really good night I look like a fool because Iím laughing harder than the audience.Ē

This is just a small sample of the gems in this film. I canít give it more than a 10, but if I could, I would!

There arenít many ďdonít missĒ films on my lists, but this is one.