It can be difficult, especially for younger generations, to remember that, before she was a celebrity, Joan Rivers was one of the first major female comedians in America, at a time when people really did assume that women weren’t funny and couldn’t tell jokes. But Rivers did.
Johnny Carson served as a “mentor” for Rivers, giving her a big break and establishing her as the permanent guest host for The Tonight Show in 1983. When she left for her own late-night show, Carson shunned her publicly, and she had her moment of being down, a showbiz pariah. But she kept going. She would keep going for the rest of her life, and she would have comebacks galore, embodying a certain tenacity in Hollywood that was aggressively unpretty but still somewhat admirable in its own, uniquely American way.
What Rivers had were jokes. So many jokes. Her first topic of comedy was herself, and how she functioned in the world, as a woman railing against the expectations of the times.