Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work—Movie

Before there was Wanda, Roseanne, Sarah and Kathy there was Moms, Totie, Phyllis and Joan. Moms Mabley and Totie Fields are dead. Phyllis Diller rarely performs these days. At 77, Joan Rivers stands alone…working, working, working. And when she’s not working, she’s worrying about not working. And worrying about Kathy Griffin taking her gigs.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work takes an intimate, not always flattering but always entertaining, look into nearly a year and half in the life of Rivers. For those who only know her from her Red Carpet appearances or for her numerous face-lifts, directors Ricki Stern‘s and Anne Sundberg’s documentary shows how truly funny Joan Rivers was and is.  And her funny cannot be underestimated. Rivers’ standup performances on Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show demonstrate that she can do comedy with the best of them and just how hard she works at her craft.

A Piece of Work, filmed in 2008, takes us inside River’s palatial NYC home and down into the bowels of some of the worst clubs imaginable.  We also watch as she prepares for a one woman play based on her life with hopes of bringing it to Broadway. It’s truly hard to fathom how, over a period of 14 months, she managed to begin her run on Celebrity Apprentice,  preview her play and continue to perform standup wherever booked…literally wherever. And all of this at age 75.

Rivers has experienced many highs and many lows in her life. As funny as the movie is, it’s also very moving. From  Rivers herself, we hear about the many obstacles she’s incurred, professionally and personally. It’s not done in a “pity me” mode, but offered matter-of-factly. But it’s sad just the same.

There are two excellent documentaries on the life of the standup…I Am Comic, which goes behind the scenes of what it means to make a livelihood as a comic…and Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian, which shows how difficult it is to get started again. Now we have Joan Rivers:  A Piece of Work which tackles the struggle to stay relevant.

The documentary is not perfect. The directors don’t delve deep enough into her back story. Why is Rivers so insecure? And how did someone with such an inferiority complex end up in one of the toughest of the performing arts—one in which you are completely vulnerable.  Those questions aside, A Piece of Work is a must-see for lovers of standup, for the craft of standup itself and most especially for Joan Rivers.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4


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One Response to “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work—Movie”

  1. Joan Rivers: Yes, Let’s Talk | Joan's Nuggets Says:

    […] how easily it could disappear. For her, no gig was too small. Watch the wonderful documentary, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” and you’ll see exactly what I mean. She loved to entertain, tell jokes and hear the applause […]


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