CreamCity: Joan Rivers, Closet Catholic

Today we mourn the death of a great comedian, Joan Rivers. It’s not speaking ill of the dead to say that Rivers was so vulgar she’d make your eyes water. Shock was her stock in trade. And some of her political views are not our own.

But just try to sit through one of her sets without laughing.

Joan was born in Brooklyn, not a Rivers but a Molinsky. And like so many Brooklyn girls of her generation, she went far: Barnard College, Phi Beta Kappa. She didn’t follow a typical path after that. Joan knew she needed to be an artist, and by age 24 she was a habituée of Greenwich Village sharing stages with other artists of her generation: Bob Dylan and Barbra Streisand, George Carlin and Bill Cosby. They all became famous before she did. She cranked through barrooms and bowling alleys and Borsht Belt hotels. But she got there. And when she arrived, she stayed.

In the 60s, when New York women would sneak off to Puerto Rico, Joan Rivers joked about the hypocrisy surrounding abortion (she called it “appendectomy” — but people got it). She joked about plastic surgery. About her husband’s suicide. Pillars of decency might tsk. But the tskers miss the heart under the crass veneer. And Joan Rivers’s heart was deeply humane. Deeply Catholic.
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