Are old jokes still the best? A short essay on Joan Rivers.

Last night saw Joan Rivers recent The Now or Never Tour climax to selling out the Royal Albert Hall. Full of glamour and viper-tongued offensiveness that has long been Rivers’ trademark, the evening delivered and then some even if the faux Lizzy Windsor sat up at the organ very convincingly never cracking a smile throughout.

With Joan there’s a certain familiarity that comes with the ground of being a celebrated comedienne with a (very) long and illustrious career. But is she now a little too familiar?

Kit & McConnel warmed up the crowd as if still Kit & The Widow with the usual punditry about Joan’s age and the fact she’s had more sculpting than Michelangelo’s David. And then Joan comes on with a set that leaves you with a very definite sense of déjà vu. There’s the one about lesbians not laughing, tips for gay men faking orgasms, that routine about her minuscule band fleshed out with mirrors etc etc.

At nearly £40 a ticket other comedians would be hounded out the venue if they were to repeat the same gags that they spouted seven years ago. It was that long ago when I last saw Joan live at Manchester Opera house during my halcyon university days. Many of the quips that appeared in this most recent tour were said and done back then and by all means should be considered as antique as she is. However, I found myself not minding at all.

One of our party, Erik (@rebelprince26), an American, had mentioned a while back that he found the British obsession of buying comedians’ shows on DVD as Christmas gifts rather odd especially as there isn’t a market in such things in the US. Surely, he observed, that once you’ve seen the show you won’t want to watch it again because you already know all the jokes, or have simply already heard them all before on TV? A good point seeing as such modern day comedic staples such as Russell Howard and Michael McIntyre do just that and their gags lose their lustre very quickly, assuming that they had any to begin with. But surely, as I pointed out to him last night, that seeing Joan Rivers live again is a much more expensive DVD experience in comparison, no? But as always with Joan, she’s a most glorious exception to any rule.

Joan’s success is that whilst it’s the same jokes, it’s not the same routine. Part of what you buy into is her presence and prowess on stage which is a spectacle in itself along with the fact that she always mixes it up a little. Yes, there are the familiar jokes, but to say that her act was composed solely of old zingers is unfair and inaccurate. Rivers threw in a lot of new material that is both current and genuinely fresh, such some inspired bilious zeal about Adele’s baby, for example. There are also plenty of oldies but goodies that she didn’t use again that could have easily worked its way into the show if she had wanted it to.

An evening with Joan is like a particularly giggly pic n’ mix; there’s the stalwart choices among somethings you’ve maybe not tried before. She has the formula down to an art. Putting in enough familiar good gags that still get an assured titter even from those who’ve heard it all before and a delivery and charisma that is unrivaled  But there’s a titillating expectation of something new and just as hilariously vile and catty as the rest of her arsenal, which she meets with bombast. And that’s why she’s worth going to see again.

I don’t feel cheated but would have loved to have seen Joan do more new material as what there was was sure fire and had me crying with laughter, reminding me why I love her despite the fact that some of her jokes make Frankie Boyle look like Balamory. Sometimes the old jokes are still the best, I was certainly still laughing at them, but a few more new tricks would not go amiss with this grande dame of comedy, especially as she proved that even at 79 she’s still got it.

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One response to “Are old jokes still the best? A short essay on Joan Rivers.

  • Ken

    A brilliant summation of the evening! I was there too – like you, thought it was a great evening, but was disappointed that there was so much material from the last UK tour 7 years ago. She was still amazing (particularly for 79!) but at times just relied a tad too much on “old favourites”.

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