The world learned of the death of Joan Rivers this past week and we have seen reruns of her humor and recalled times of her life when she spoke in a voice that changed the view of women comediennes forever.
She's not the first to come to the public attention through the universal medium of television. One of the first that I recall was Erma Bombeck (1927-1996). She wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, wrote books, and appeared on Good Morning America for years. Her style brought out in the open the trials and triumphs of motherhood and housekeeping.
It's not that people had not experienced her same difficulties. It's just that before the public arena of television it was not generally talked about. She gave people permission to laugh out loud at the commonplace daily life of raising kids and keeping house. As she wrote: Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.
Another early funny lady was Totie Fields (1937-1978). Totie made fun of herself. A truly great singer, she used her music to lead into her comedy. She made fun of herself in a way we could all relate to. In one bit she mentioned meeting Princess Grace Kelly who complemented Totie's work. To return the complement, Totie replied, "I use your phones all over my house." And I really enjoyed her singing "Perfect."
Joan (1933-2014) had an acerbic approach. She made caustic remarks about life and the people she met as she traveled the world, with many celebrities the brunt of her barbs. She had no qualms in entering the realm of vulgarity, but she could, and often did, speak "words of wisdom" about the ways of humanity.
One time she mentioned a celebrity on the Johnny Carson show who was proof that "peroxide causes brain damage." When Johnny asked didn't she think men actually preferred intelligent women, she replied, "No man ever put his hand up a woman's dress looking for a library card."
Three very different women, each with her own distinct style of comedy, yet also each showing a unique view of life, each opening the door just a bit wider for those who wanted to carve their own way in the world. Love them or not, they all helped women to progress in realizing we really can live life on our own terms. We don't have to be cookie cutters, doing the Stepford Wife waltz through life.
Thanks, Ladies. I have laughed with and because of each of you. I have been enriched with the various and nefarious ways learned at your feet.