This essay is adapted from "The Woking Dead: How Society's Vogue Virus Destroys Our Culture," by A.J. Rice (Post Hill Press, 352 pages, $28.00).

What Would Joan Rivers Do?

What would Joan Rivers do?

Some right wingers can’t get through the day without asking what Reagan or Thatcher would do. Not me.

I can’t get through a single day now without wondering what the queen of comedy would have made of the past four plus years. I can only imagine what she would say about the current Biden Administration.

Joan Rivers passed away in 2014 at the age of 81. She was a machine all the way to the end, writing best sellers, packing arenas for her edgy shows, skewering Hollywood’s elite for their award show dresses, causing trouble on the news networks, making millions either laugh or hate her or both at the same time . . . in short, being Joan Rivers. 

Rivers missed the entire Trump phenomenon. She missed the moment when Trump descended the escalator and announced he was running for president. She missed it when he branded Jeb Bush “low-energy Jeb” and Marco Rubio “little Marco.” She would have loved that just for the laughs—forget the politics. 

“Life is very tough,” she told CNN in one of her last interviews. “If you can make a joke to make something easier, and funny, do it. Done.” That was her philosophy. She made jokes out of everything and everyone for decades. No fear. No quarter.

That was before cancel culture. Over the course of her career, Rivers hilariously ripped Elizabeth Taylor for her marriages, and for getting fat, and for whatever else came to mind. Taylor was the world’s biggest celebrity then. Rivers used that against her. She ripped Diana Ross for being too skinny. She said that Willie Nelson “wore a roach motel around his neck.” She joked that Abe Lincoln was gay and because she was so old, he used to come see her act at the theater. She even managed to make a joke out of the beautiful Christie Brinkley—and when the audience acted appalled, she whipped out her famous, “Oh, grow up!” 

On whether men really prefer beautiful women or brains: “Oh please. No man has ever put his hand up a woman’s dress looking for a library card.”

Rivers might have gotten the #MeToo treatment for that joke alone. 

Joan Rivers even made fun of the Queen of England. And she went almost straight from that to mocking Madonna for having hairy arms. 

It wasn’t about the size or the lifestyle or even the person; it was about the joke and the laughs. If it was funny, Rivers would say it. The bigger the target, the sharper the joke, the bigger the laugh. Today’s woking dead would accuse her of fat shaming, intolerance, racism, whatever. They would call her something ridiculous and make her jokes something to be abhorred. The fact that she gave a 21-year-old Chris Rock his national TV debut on her show wouldn’t matter. 

Rivers would have mocked them right back: “Oh, grow up!” She was fearless. In that same interview, Rivers quoted Winston Churchill: “If you can make someone laugh, you give them a little vacation.” That’s what comedy is supposed to be. A little vacation from the drudgery of everyday life. Today some people are so sensitive that even the cleanest comic who ever lived, Jerry Seinfeld, refuses to play college campuses. 

Rivers had no time for fools. Real fools, not the butts of her jokes. She walked out of that interview on CNN in 2014 when the anchor decided to make it a passive-aggressive gotcha. Rivers left it behind and didn’t care. She didn’t need CNN. Given its ratings now, CNN probably wishes she were still around to walk out of another interview. The controversy would goose its ratings. Everyone remembers Joan Rivers. Who remembers some reporter who goes negative like every other reporter at every other mainstream media channel? 

What would Joan Rivers have made of Donald Trump as president? They knew each other. Trump appeared on her show in 1990 and talked about life and marriage. 

Season Finale of the Celebrity Apprentice May 10, 2009. Bill Tompkins/Getty Images

Rivers appeared on season eight of Trump’s juggernaut reality show,Celebrity Apprentice.” She not only appeared on it, in the dramatic season finale Trump said, “You’re fired!” to her final rival and crowned Rivers the champion. That was in 2009. 

When Rivers died five years later, Trump posted the clip of her victory and paid tribute to her on social media (from which he is now banned): “Joan Rivers was a great friend and a truly magnificent talent. She had an energy like no other and it was an honor to know her so well. She was my winner of the eighth season of The Apprentice and had a strength seldom seen.”

Rivers was asked about Trump on Andy Cohen’s “Watch What Happens Live!” and she didn’t hold back: “I adore Donald Trump,” she said. “Smart. No one gives him credit. I did ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ I thought, ‘Ugh, Donald,’” she added as she mimicked him brushing his hair. “And then you do ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ and you realize, this is so smart, so professional. I think he’s terrific. I think he would’ve made a great president.”

That was in 2012.

But don’t let that fool you. Had she lived to see the Trump presidency, Rivers would still have skewered him when it suited her. And she would have praised him, too. Joan Rivers and Donald Trump had one thing in common: Both loved America. They also loved free speech and the right to tell a good joke even if it offended someone. Preferably it did.

Rivers skewered everyone including herself. In fact, she famously mocked herself most of all, early in her career joking about her difficulty to find a husband, and later in her career mocking her appearance and plastic surgeries. As she got older, Joan quipped with Johnny Carson about going to buy sexy underwear and the clerk automatically giftwrapping it—and wearing a bikini to the beach and thanks to the sags of age, the top gets wet first. That ability to disarm and charm by mocking herself before going in for the kill on her target was one of the secrets of her genius. 

The comedian whom some called “the queen of mean” was meanest to herself, and she never stopped manufacturing the laughs, giving America little vacations. 

Rivers won an Emmy for her daytime show, and she told Cohen she saw it as her biggest achievement because “they can’t take that away.”

“I can pawn it,” she added to laughter, “but they can’t take it away.”

The latter-day cancel culture she avoided might have tried. It’s going back and retroactively stripping all kinds of people of past awards for things they’ve said or tweeted. But it’s easy to forget now that Joan Rivers was canceled. She was banned from late night TV for 21 years before rising from the ashes—her husband committed suicide, she was fired from Fox, and she was banned just about everywhere—to reclaim her throne by mocking the elites for the dresses they wear when they give themselves awards. Mocking the rich and famous for congratulating each other for being rich and famous was a target-rich opportunity that no one else saw, but Rivers capitalized on it like no one else could. More laughs and more little vacations. 

Rivers survived all that. By the time our cancel culture rolled around, she was a comedic tank who would have steamrolled them with jokes. 

“I can’t stand political correctness,” she told an interviewer when it was rearing its head in Bill Clinton’s America. “It’s one of the reasons I think society is just falling to pieces. We’re all so terrified to say anything. Everyone is pulling the race card.” She had no patience for it and saw it for what it was: a threat to free speech and free thought. 

Imagine Joan on those two dopes Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? One can dream.

Political correctness aka cancel culture is so much worse now. Rivers would probably be better than ever. It would have kept her busy, and as she told one interviewer, “Happiness is being busy.”

Joan Rivers was one of a kind, an original. Epic. She would have loved the Trump presidency. She would have reveled in it. She would have blasted the Biden presidency. Just imagine what she could do with the material the meat puppet president and his out-of-touch handlers would have provided her. 

What would Joan Rivers do now? She would find a way to make us laugh, no matter what and no matter who was offended. She wouldn’t have it any other way. Twitter would ban her and she would turn that into a joke. And she would be utterly appalled by the cowardice and tyranny of the keyboard warriors who hunt people down and cancel them—and the Big Tech oligarchs and anti-freedom leftists and Democrats who make cancel culture possible. 

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