Joan Rivers is a woman whose comfort zone is being outrageous. What reviewer in her fifties wouldn’t find that at least a little bit appealing? Growing up female in the middle of the last century, we were socialized to be nice, to be kind, to be supportive, and above all, not to make waves. There’s something compelling about a woman who took none of that to heart, whose basic attitude is “screw kindness” and who, instead, gleefully cuts loose with the venom. If venom is what you’re looking for, Rivers’ new book, “I Hate Everybody.. Starting with Me,“ won’t disappoint. It’s as offensive as it is funny.
“I Hate Everybody,“ in theory a compendium of everything Rivers despises, is really just an excuse to unleash a flood of new one-liners, jokes and heartfelt (and often heartless) kvetches. It’s nonstop schtick, running the gamut from clever, harmless fun (“I don’t know if the Ivory Coast has any actual ivory in it, but I respect it because it’s the only country named after two deodorant soaps.“) through derisive observation (“I hate people who can’t walk two blocks without drinking water. How thirsty can you be? Did you have a block of salt for lunch?“) and on to the truly tasteless. (“Every time I see some altacocker sitting at a card table hunching over and wheezing, I want to yell, “Get in the box Mildred! It’s time to get in the box!”)
There’s something shocking on every page. And something that will crack you up. Sometimes, it’s the same thing.
I love it when a joke offends me but is so undeniably funny I have to laugh anyway. It stretches my brain. It blows my mind. And it’s a Joan Rivers specialty. I couldn’t be more supportive of nursing in public yet I cracked a smile at: “Breast feeding is a natural body function? So is urinating, but do you want me to take a piss right here on the bus?”
Rivers makes fun of celebrities, the wealthy and anyone else who is smug and entitled. But she also mocks the handicapped, people with Downs Syndrome, Ann Frank, the elderly, and, of course, Jews. When she says she hates everyone, she means it. I’d planned to quote the book’s most offensive line, but so much of Joan’s wit is so ludicrously off-putting that I quickly gave up. There was just too much competition. I’m not easily offended and I was horrified by many of these jokes.
But I loved many more. A few of my favorites:
“I consider cooking to be one of the true wonders of the world, like the great pyramids of Giza or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the unexplained success of Carrot Top.”
“According to the New York Times, one teaspoon of sperm contains 148 calories, or, if you’re on Weight Watchers, two points.”
“A guy comes into my dressing room and says, ’I’d like you to meet my lady.’ I said, ’When were you knighted?’”
When a famous actors tells her that his wife, a vegan, doesn‘t eat anything with eyes, Joan responds: ”You must have a [very bad] sex life.”
Rivers is famously driven. But fame and success have failed to make her happy. In the book’s title she claims to hate herself and, reading it, you won’t doubt that for a moment. There’s always been a strong element of self loathing in her comedy. Her fearlessness and honesty may delight and refresh us, but hers is the wit of a bitter woman. She’s been funny for longer than almost anyone else is show business. She’s outlived most of the folks who have wronged her (which is something Rivers, an avid obituary reader, clearly relishes.) She’s worked tirelessly for everything she’s achieved, and it’s been an uphill battle all the way. You may find this book offensive. I know I did. But I have nothing but admiration for Rivers, if only because she tore up the “nice girl” rules most of us were raised with and wrote her own.
“I Hate Everybody” is a quick read. You can zip through it in a day. Shudder at the lines that offend you and snicker at the ones that amuse you. You’ll laugh! You’ll wince! And you’ll want to celebrate the fact that Rivers, still going strong at 79, excelling at a job she clearly loves, and continuing to rewrite the rules to suit herself, remains a role model for us all.
(This review first appeared on www.womensvoicesforchange.org.)