I rarely laugh out loud and actually mean it. No, it’s not because I think I have a holier-than-thou sense of humor, where I shun anything that’s not up to my comedic standards. (But I do think bad puns are just as egregious as war crimes.) So-called friends would describe my sense of humor as crude, brash, vulgar, and drumroll...unfunny. But I think if the people in your life choose to have you around and tolerate your reliable joke bombing, then that’s true friendship—or you’ve paid them well. See what I mean?
More often than not, I will laugh—more like a controlled giggle—as a courtesy to acknowledge something someone says that I genuinely believe is funny. Just because I can’t say funny things doesn’t mean that I can’t perceive when something is funny. I’ve learned if you don’t respond with anything other than a light-hearted smile when someone tells a decent joke, people think you’re no fun, are judging their sense of humor and them as a person, and are a part-time a$$h**e. Nothing is a greater slap in the face to someone than if they attempt to tell a joke, and it’s met with just silence. I’d rather just feign the laughter like Jimmy Fallon.
As I’ve found throughout the first 20 years of my life, it turns out that there are three things that free me from my laughter muzzle: 1) really esoteric, uncomfortable and ironic situations 2) really quirky noises 3) Joan Rivers.
When I tell most people my age that my favorite comic is Joan Rivers, they often respond with confusion. Most of that confusion is “who is Joan Rivers,” but for those who are familiar with the sharp-witted, biting comedienne, they are surprised that I could adore someone whose repertoire of one-liners rely heavily on insult comedy.
For the uninformed, Joan Rivers was a comic who got a big break into the industry in the early 1950s and 60s. After Johnny Carson told her on national television she was going to be a star, her career sky-rocketed.
Her early style of comedy satirized the social expectations and double standards for women during her time. She was revolutionary at a time when women were not supposed to be funny and were often subjected to narrow gender roles. Joan's jokes were shocking because she challenged society's perception of women; she was so outspoken about saying things that people were thinking, but never had the guts to say or even think to say in a hilarious way.
One of my favorite quips of hers was when she was telling Carson about how looks matter in life. Carson suggests “don’t you think men like intelligence in a woman,” setting up the perfect premise. Joan snatches the opportunity and uses her persona’s fervent disgust to reply “No man has ever reached up a woman’s dress looking for a library card.” The audience, Carson, me, dead.
Joan went on to be the permanent guest host of the Carson iteration of “The Tonight Show,” be the first woman to host her own late night show on a major network, reinvent herself on the red carpet after a dive in her career, and come back roaring as a presence on TV with a multitude of reality shows and talk shows including the much acclaimed “Fashion Police.” Who else when discussing Paris Hilton’s white dress could say,”That’s a lot of white on Paris. First time I meant fabric.”
My infatuation with Joan started when she appeared on the “Celebrity Apprentice.” The show was the one thing on television my mother and I couldn’t get enough of and it didn’t hurt that it was the only show on TV we could stand to watch together. Joan, as always, was open and spoke her mind against the other contestants that season, particularly poker player Annie Duke, who Joan believed was manipulative and had plotted against Joan's daughter Melissa during the competition. My mother and I would turn and look at each other, both mouthing “OH,” as Joan, in her raspy New York accent, compared Duke to Hitler and ranted “you’re a po-ka pla-yah, a po-ka pla-yah” among a slew of other insults that were shocking to hear, but delectable to watch.
Who was this woman that was so bold to stand up for what she believed in, so brashly, all in the name of defending her daughter? It was something that I, watching the show with my own mother, could thoroughly relate to and see the humanity in Joan’s frustrations. She showed courageous boldness that I wonder if my own mother would have shown for me. The answer is no.
While Joan made fun of everyone and everything, she was the person she made fun of the most. She joked about her self-esteem issues, her plastic surgery saying, “My grandson, every time he sees me, calls me Nana Newface,” and her husband’s suicide. Nothing was off limits, and when she made fun of herself, she took away the power from people who criticized her for her looks, her comedy, whatever—Joan was already saying it, in a much funnier way.
That’s the reason Joan Rivers makes me laugh, every time I watch an old YouTube clip of hers. Her sharp wit makes me realize that tragedy in life is meant to be joked about. Laughter is the only way we get through the hardships in life, and when Joan says it, I truly believe her.
Dillon Fernando is a Trinity junior and Recess Editor.
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