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The Children's Crusade

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2013-03-15


For someone who's been a working comedienne for over six decades, it's somewhat surprising that Joan Rivers still has the capacity to completely offend contemporary sensibilities with her mean-spirited slams and aggressive one-liners. Rivers is generally considered to be one of the first truly successful female stand-up comics in American show business history, and her ability to stay relevant as the years pass is a testament to her tenacious, obsessive will to succeed at a male-dominated profession. Her current shtick, which she displays on "Fashion Police" on the "E!" channel, is a somewhat coarser version of her long-running stand-up routine cheap shots at celebrities, self-lacerating jokes about her own appearance, borderline racial blasts and uncomfortable social/cultural observations. Rivers has evolved into a venerable Grande Dame of insult comedy, a sort of female version of Don Rickles, and at age 79, she still manages to enrage the overly sensitive with her unapologetic and unfiltered attacks.

Her most recent public kerfuffles had to do with two prototypical "Joan Rivers" jokes one, a tasteless Holocaust/Heidi Klum one-liner (from "Fashion Police"), and the other, a cheap shot at the singer Adele, concerning the British artist's matronly figure ("Rolling in the Deep Fried Chicken" was how Rivers put it, on the David Letterman show.) Both jokes caused the usual backlash on the internet and on entertainment shows, with the reliably offended voicing their requisite displeasure at Rivers' insensitivity, and of course, Rivers responded like she always does, which is to say, with vitriolic hostility: Rivers refuses to let anyone tell her who she can and cannot make fun of.

In the documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" (2010), there is a jarring and uncomfortable sequence where the comic tees off on a heckler during one of her shows. Apparently, Rivers had made fun of a deaf person in her stand-up, and the father of a deaf child in the audience called her out on it. Rivers went absolutely ballistic on the guy, screaming him down from the pulpit of the stage, demanding to know why he thinks she should be censored. It's an unpleasant, unsettling moment, and you can feel the uncertainty and awkwardness of the audience members, who are probably thinking: are we supposed to laugh at this? In spite of her harsh response in that moment, though, you still have to at least credit her for remaining true to her beliefs: nothing, in her view, is above being made fun of, and if you don't like that, you probably shouldn't go to her shows. In an era where it's difficult to articulate any challenging language whatsoever, Rivers remains, usually uncomfortably, a freedom-of-expression zealot.

One critic who wasn't willing to give Joan Rivers a "free speech" pass for her jokes was Australian comedian Adam Hills, who slammed Rivers for her cruel barbs against Adele on his UK show, "The Last Leg." "If you make fat jokes about Adele, you're being a d---," Hills said, on the March 1st show. "And I'm referring to you, Joan Rivers."

Apparently Hills thinks so much of Adele as a performer and a person what he feels she doesn't deserve to be anyone's punching bag, which probably explains why he resorted to playing the dreaded "children's card" in his rant against Rivers: "Adele is one of the very few women in pop music I want my daughter to look up to and you're making jokes about the way she looks when you're so insecure about your own face you've spent more money on it than the producers of Life of Pi spent on that tiger. Get a plastic surgeon to manufacture yourself a new soul."

Okay, I don't even want to point out the obvious hypocrisy here, i.e., that he's attacking Joan Rivers' LOOKS in the exact same way that Rivers went after Adele. (And really, what a pathetic enterprise: Joan Rivers has been saying the same things about herself for years now, she's virtually bulletproof.) But that's not what interests me. What interests me is, Good God, why is he dragging his poor daughter into all this? What's that got to do with anything? I really don't have any opinion whatsoever on the whole Joan Rivers/Adele thing, but knowing that this guy is using his 3 year-old daughter as the slam-dunk part of his argument makes me want Joan Rivers to tell even meaner fat jokes.

I don't know when this started happening, when parents started justifying any damn-fool reasoning because it's "for the kids," but it's completely gotten out of control. Anytime you have to convince somebody to do what you want, just browbeat them with the "good of the kid" stuff. As if only parents know the "right" way to do things, as if childless people are basically rudderless when it comes to integrity and ethics.

It's probably ridiculous to have to point this out, but just because you're a parent doesn't automatically grant you any moral authority. And it certainly doesn't help your argument, or bestow on you any wisdom. And, frankly, I'm not sure how I feel about a guy trying to size up "role models" for his 3 year old daughter. Shouldn't there be more obvious, ready-made "role models" nearby? Like mom?

I remember when I was a young father, I felt morally outraged when I heard some people cussing in line at a hardware store when I had my son in tow. I felt that I needed to act, that I needed to tell those imbeciles to shape up, that hey, there's a kid here, dang it: watch your lip. I remember feeling very strongly that I needed to do it "for the children" and because it was "for the children" I was able to act with complete righteousness. It wasn't until later that I realized how dishonest I was about all this, because the truth was, I didn't like them swearing in public because it offended me. Not my kid: Me. And I started thinking, I shouldn't use my kid as an excuse to do what I should have done in the first place.

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