Expressway: Laughing through the years with Joan Rivers

Rivers chats with Carson.

Rivers chats with Carson. Photo Credit: Johnny Carson via YouTube

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As a girl in the 1950s, I watched actresses Lucille Ball, Joan Davis and Donna Reed portray wives getting into mischief and trying to fix each catastrophe before their 30-minute TV sitcoms ended. I wondered why these women were so afraid of what their husbands would think. Even at age 10, I was offended by exasperated husbands criticizing their screwy wives in one way or another.

Then along came Phyllis Diller. She wore crazy clothes and a wild wig, held a cigarette lighter and began liberating women comedians. She would amuse us all on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on CBS.

Diller represented the new world of women's comedy, but stand-up reached another level the night Joan Rivers stepped on Sullivan's stage in 1966. Musing about being jealous of beautiful women, she was absolutely unforgettable. Her routines matched the genius of Carol Burnett's comedy skits on "The Garry Moore Show." A keen eye could deduce from a 5-minute set that young Joan Rivers would become an icon.

We started seeing more of Joan with Johnny Carson on the "Tonight Show." I was so proud that a female comic was later chosen as his fill-in when he was on vacation. Joan was a natural host.

She subsequently landed her own show on Fox, the first woman ever to host on late-night TV.

As the years passed, we never missed an opportunity to see Joan perform at the Westbury Music Fair. We would laugh as she asked women in the audience why their diamonds were so small. It would take me a couple of days to stop repeating every joke she told to everyone I knew.

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I became a fan of QVC while watching Joan selling her jewelry. I was never a big fan of the product, but loved the sales pitch.

Before long Joan became a master red-carpet commentator on award shows and eventually created the cable show "Fashion Police." The dresses became as important as the awards themselves. I was more interested in the gowns than the actors wearing them. Her reality show "Joan & Melissa," with her daughter, Melissa, and grandson, Cooper, was priceless.

How can anyone forget how she spread the ashes of her friend Tommy Corcoran on the lawn of Judy Garland's former home because he was such a Garland fan. The current owner came out and chased her away. She sped off in her Mini Cooper, which she bought because the car was named Cooper!

A tear rolled down my cheek when I heard about your death in New York Thursday at age 81. It is not often that I hear bad news about someone I don't know and feel gut-wrenching pain.

Oh my, Joan, you were one of my lifelong idols. Like Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller, Moms Mabley and other phenomenal women, you put your singular stamp on comedic genius.

Sign up for The Point and go inside New York politics.

The world is laughing a lot less without you.

Reader Phyllis Weinberger lives in North Woodmere.

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