Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

7 Steps to becoming an iconic comedian: The Joan Rivers legacy

Now that our precious Joan Rivers has taken to that big stage in the sky, who will replace her? We are losing comic geniuses at an alarming rate, and that is not OK. Those of us who adored Rivers know she can’t truly be replaced, but we offer these tips to icon hopefuls — based on Rivers’ incredible legacy.

Don’t be afraid to piss people off

You absolutely can’t be afraid to piss people off if you want to be a comedic legend. Rivers‘ filter was impaired at best, broken at worst, but her brilliance was revealed in the masterful application of her cutting remarks and caustic barbs. She could be crass, but even her crassness had a special flavor that made it so enjoyable. At times, her humor was the type that you knew you shouldn’t be laughing at, but your funny bone would not be denied — you couldn’t help but laugh at the things she said.

Hospitalized Kelly Osbourne remembers Joan Rivers >> 

Rivers was an envelope pusher, but let’s be honest — the truest definition of “envelope pushing” is saying what everyone else is thinking. Rivers was the voice of our inner smart-ass, and she delivered the punchlines, so we didn’t have to. She had famously said, “I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking.”

But make fun of yourself first

The reason Rivers was able to bridge the gap between being completely offensive and funny is because she mastered the No. 1 rule of comedy — make fun of yourself first. Making jokes about yourself not only makes it less fun for other would-be mockers, it gives you permission to take jabs at others.

5 Things Joan Rivers wanted you to know about gay rights and suicide >> 

Be outrageous

Rivers was fearless — she discussed topics like abortion and homosexuality, often before it became comfortable to do so. There was a day when hot topics like this were not discussed in polite company, and if they were, they were met with an audible gasp. Rivers knew sticking her neck out on these topics was worth the risk. She told NPR (on her jokes about abortion), “By making jokes about it, you brought it into a position where you could look at it and deal with it. It was no longer something that you couldn’t discuss and had to whisper about.”

Joan Rivers: Top 20 most memorable quotes >> 

Just like Mom said, don’t do drugs

Unlike so many other talented comedians who have been taken from us too early, Rivers appeared to be addiction-free (with the exception of plastic surgery, perhaps). In a piece she wrote for The Hollywood Reporter, Rivers said, “If there is a secret to being a comedian, it’s just loving what you do. It is my drug of choice. I don’t need real drugs. I don’t need liquor. It’s the joy that I get performing. That is my rush. I get it nowhere else.”

Have a catchphrase

Rivers had known the value of branding before anyone had a clue who people like the Kardashians were. Her infamous “Can we talk?” became a gateway to frank jokes and discussions. You knew when Rivers asked, “Can we talk?” you were in for a treat.

Become skilled at rebooting

Beloved comedic talent all seem to have three things in common — tragedy, drama and adversity. It’s how they handle their adversity that separates the burnouts and has-beens from the icons. The late ’80s were a particularly dark time for Rivers. Her career had suffered a handful of serious setbacks and in 1987, Rivers’ husband of 22 years, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide. Rivers admitted that she developed bulimia during this time, but was able to come back with counseling and the help of family and friends.

Work your ass off

If there is one lesson the Fashion Police diva taught us, it’s to work hard, and success will follow. Right up to the end, Rivers was the host of E!’s Fashion Police, attended red carpet events, booked stand-up shows and had her own jewelry line on QVC.

Straight from the icon’s mouth (or pen in this case) is her parting wisdom on fame and being successful, that she wrote for The Hollywood Reporter. “My advice to women comedians is: First of all, don’t worry about the money. Love the process. You don’t know when it’s gonna happen. Louis C.K. started hitting in his 40s; he’d been doing it for 20 years. And don’t settle. I don’t want to ever hear, ‘It’s good enough.’ Then it’s not good enough. Don’t ever underestimate your audience. They can tell when it isn’t true. Also — ignore your competition. A Mafia guy in Vegas gave me this advice: ‘Run your own race, put on your blinders.’ Don’t worry about how others are doing. Something better will come.”

Leave a Comment