For so many gays, like me, it’s fair to say we thought Joan Rivers was just too funny to die. Well, we were wrong. But we also knew that we were special in the comedienne’s heart, as she famously and repeatedly praised us. “My gay fans have been wonderful from day one,” Rivers told The Advocate earlier this year, adding: “I remember when I was working at the Duplex in Greenwich Village in New York at the beginning of my career and the only ones who would laugh at my jokes were the gay guys. I think if I had started out in straight clubs and bars I never would’ve gotten anywhere.”
The icon continued: “Even today when I’m on tour I always know if I get eight gay men in the front row it’s going to be a great show. Maybe it’s just me and I know they’re going to laugh at what I’d laugh at, but when my gays are in the audience it’s always a good time.”
Why the adoration? For some like news editor Karen Ocamb at Frontiers magazine, it was Rivers’s pioneering leadership in fighting AIDS. “Please also know that she was out front helping people with AIDS at the very beginning of the AIDS crisis, when so many others turned away in fear,” she posted on Facebook after learning of Rivers’ death.
Actor and author Bryan Batt of “Mad Men” told the Washington Post exclusively: “I think she meant so much to the gay community because she was an original, a pioneer, and supported equality from the start. She was always giving back, I last saw here in New Orleans at a fundraiser for the Forum For Equality. I thought she would do a 15-minute set. Well, she did an hour and 15 minutes…all new current material…brought down the house!”
Batt, like others, also recognized, her kindness and generosity, telling me: “Joan was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in this business, her stage persona was an act, she was an angel.” Ross von Metzke, a former Advocate editor, had what he called “the incredible fortune” to see her live five times and met her three times. “After one interview, she gave me a Diet Coke and a few hard candies and told me I was cute. To a young gay journalist, that was the highest praise in the world.”
But let’s face it; we loved Joan because she was funny. No holds barred hilarious. No sacred cows ROTFL.
In 2009 she voiced her opposition to same-sex marriage: “Gay marriage, I am so against it because all my gay friends are out. And if they get married, it will cost me a fortune in gifts.”
In a 2012 interview with columnist Liz Smith, she reiterated her opposition to gay weddings, with a Rivers twist, of course:
“I HATE gay weddings. I’m thrilled about the equal rights thing … but gay weddings are like the War on Terror — they go on forever…. Gay weddings are a lifetime commitment — for the guests. They start at seven and end in October. Why? Because stereotypes be damned, gays love parades.”
On the red carpet at the Golden Globes, Rivers let her motor mouth run: “For years Hollywood has had films that were gay. The original title of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was ‘Florence of Arabia.’…” and it went on from there, in Rivers’ famously un-PC fashion.
She also took some heat for Liza Minnelli’s most recent failed marriage: “I blame myself for David Gest. It was me who told Liza Minnelli to find herself a man who wouldn’t sleep with other women.” As for cross-dressers, she had this to say: “I was dating a transvestite, and my mother said, ‘Marry him, you’ll double your wardrobe.’”
But funny and ribald as she was, I’m going to also remember what she told an overflowing crowd at Las Vegas Pride in 2012: “Life is very tough. If you don’t laugh, it’s even tougher. I’m in nobody’s circle. I’ve always been an outsider.”
And today and forever, the world is a less funny place. Rest in peace, Miss Rivers. And thank you.