Comedy icon Joan Rivers left a controversial but historic legacy

Joan Rivers was the kind of person that you either loved or hated. From her arrival in the comedy scene, to her experiments with “body sculpting” and even her controversial death, Joan Rivers gave us a lot to talk about.

Nothing was off-limits for Rivers. She spoke out about Palestine and shamed other celebrities and whatever she said left trail of laughter, tears, and of course, a media circus.

With a face that resembled a clown, it is hard to remember Rivers as belonging to anything other than the Ringling Brothers. Joan Rivers certainly was a spectacle.

She was also spectacular. I cannot condone or endorse all of her comments, but when I stopped judging her words and peered instead at her actions, I realized that Rivers was all too important to the history of comedy. Comedy in 1950s and ‘60s was much different from comedic styling now.

Women comics resorted to physical and self-deprecating humor to get laughs. Stars of the time like Phyllis Diller directed humor against herself and made fun of her own appearance.

Comedy was not much of a female career. Later, Joan Rivers came on the scene. She used a sharp wit to draw in audiences. She was provocative and told her jokes in a decidedly feminine way.

Many believe that Rivers was bitchy and crass in her commentary. In some instances that may very well be true, but we cannot deny that she was also insightful in her stand up. Many of her comments had a nugget of truth to them, whether some may wish to acknowledge it or not.

Rivers rose to prominence after her appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. From that moment, she became a mainstream personality. She introduced audiences across the country a brand of humor that women had never displayed before.

She was the first woman to host her own night show The Late Show with Joan Rivers. That alone should give us pause.

As we reevaluate the life of Joan Rivers, we have to consider the opposition she faced as she knocked down gender walls and broke through barriers. Her career did not just end at comedy, it began with it.

She played a number of roles throughout her career as a host, writer, director and actor, none of them was as critical or memorable as the role she played as a trailblazer and inspiration for celebrities like Kathy Griffin and Rosie O’Donnell.

While some, myself included, were never very amused by her humor, I can respect her as someone who forged a path. That is what should encompass her legacy, not the shady circumstances of her death or even her commentary. As a woman of few serious words, her actions at least, should be taken seriously.