Reviews — From the August 2014 issue

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Fictions within fictions, let’s talk: Joan Rivers’s Diary of a Mad Diva (Berkley, $26.95) is obviously not Joan Rivers’s diary — or is it? Who’s to say that after so many years in the business of making drunk people laugh by saying funny (racist, sexist, angry) things, she hasn’t had her inmost impressions become just as jokey (or coarsened)? Rivers’s shtick is even older than she is, but it has something of the same plasticity. Punch lines about sagging asses survive because every generation is punched by age and sags.

1/1/2013: Rivers notes that Melissa, her E! and now WE tv co-star, who also plays her daughter offscreen, has given her this blank diary for Jewish Christmas — so typical. Rivers writes:

I give my friends the finest cashmere sweaters or amazing, pure silk Hermès scarves and in return I always get stuff made of “mystery material” with a note that says, “Don’t smoke while wearing this; Richard Pryor did and remember what happened.”

Rivers records other minutiae of 2013 without missing a day: tour dates, red-carpet TV appearances, peddling jewelry on QVC, friends dying. 1/22, the inauguration:

I resent that the networks think we’re so shallow that because the president is black they have to keep doing cutaways only to smiling black people in the audience. If Chris Christie ever becomes president, will they only cut to Melissa McCarthy or Kathy Bates chewing and burping?

“Untitled #25,” by Giacomo Brunelli, from the series Eternal London

“Untitled #25,” by Giacomo Brunelli, from the series Eternal London

2/11: “The United States military announced it will provide the same benefits to same-sex couples as it does to heterosexual couples, which means sexual assault is now legal for the gays, too!” But every day can’t be so momentous. Some are just “driving to Toronto,” “driving to Winnipeg,” “driving to Saskatoon.” On interacting with fans: “Got rid of Facebook today and I feel as free as the woman in the tampon commercial who can go swimming, surfing or cliff diving in spite of her heavy flow.” On a bad gig: “They stared at me the way Mohammed Atta stared at tall buildings.” On taking her grandson to SeaWorld: “As Elie Wiesel likes to say, ‘Never again.’ ”

What’s the point of this journal now that the Internet streams constant updates of “status”? What’s the point of reading the purported pillow book of a woman who was one of the first stars — a Grammy (nominated), a Tony (nominated), an Emmy (won), and a regular spot as Carson’s guest host throughout the 1980s — to join reality TV? Rivers has always been meta-meta: she exploited herself before the cameras exploited her because she had to, because she was a “comedienne,” because she was a woman. And among her most generous roles has been her pitiless shitting on her professionally talentless daughter. She once brought a crew to film Melissa in the bathroom; she dedicated a full episode of Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? to Melissa’s then boyfriend’s addiction to Internet porn. Rivers’s abuse, however, has made Melissa useful, and if Melissa’s too stupid to understand that, her mother is too smart to explain; the sins of the mothers are visited upon the daughters, and blame can beget only blame. As Rivers writes in her 10/7 entry:

I’ve decided my career is in the toilet. I’m an eighty-year-old heterosexual and the only drug I take is Boniva, so I might as well face it: I’ve got no shot at a big-time gig. As a matter of fact, my career is at such a low point that I’m writing this with the burnt end of a match in a bus terminal where I’m waiting for the 2:17 to Kalamazoo where I’m the opening act for a retrospective slide show on Tiny Tim. What did my parents do wrong?

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