Joan Rivers: Exit
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
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
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
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.