Humor In Hindsight: The 2010 documentary, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”

We’re one week into the administration of President Trump, and with a new edition of Celebrity Apprentice on the airwaves (with replacement host Arnold Schwarzenegger) and a lack of celebs showing up for Trump at his inauguration, this Throwback Thursday allows me to take a look back at the late Joan Rivers, former Celebrity Apprentice winner, and her 2010 documentary, A Piece of Work, for my latest Humor In Hindsight column for

Here’s an excerpt:

The documentary, much like Rivers herself, rarely pulls its punches.

We see her ask her manager if she should tell a distasteful joke about First Lady Michelle Obama. She let us see her sad, frustrated, and tired. She let us see her go to Washington, D.C., to deliver remarks on behalf of the late George Carlin at his Mark Twain Prize honors at the Kennedy Center in 2008, although she claimed he would have hated it. It’s bittersweet watching her there, so grateful at her inclusion in the ceremony, knowing they’d never invite her back as an honoree herself. Instead the Mark Twain Prize went the following year to (cough) Bill Cosby, then skewed a generation younger to Tina Fey, Will Ferrell and Ellen DeGeneres.

Still, Rivers remained shrewd enough to know she’d need to time her Broadway run of “Joan Rivers: A Work In Progress” for the Tony nominations in April, only to hold off after the reviews from London’s theater critics counterbalanced a successful run at that summer’s Edinburgh Fringe. Instead, we’d see some of her jokes repurposed for a 2012 stand-up special, Don’t Start With Me (on Netflix).

She remained shrewd enough to know she’d hate most of the jokes hurled her way at the Comedy Central Roast, and to fight with the roast’s director over the integrity of her own comedy choices that night. “They tell you it’s an honor,” she said on the way to the venue. “I’m telling you that if I had invested wisely, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

She remained shrewd enough before starting Celebrity Apprentice to compile a dossier on each of her competitors, as well as demanding Trump and company include daughter Melissa in the cast, too, before signing onto the show.

And she remained compassionate enough to host neighbors and friends in her luxurious home for Thanksgiving, then look up a photographer online whom she had delivered a Thanksgiving meal to.

When Rivers first performed on TV, it was shocking enough for her to mention her pregnancy, or even say the word “abortion.” Some 45 years later, the documentary shows her writing out “Vagina Farts” in big black letters on cue cards in preparation for a show. 

There’s also plenty of evidence that Rivers was a Trump supporter. Read my full column on

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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