The new film on Joan Rivers, “A Piece of Work,” is, as Howard said on his radio show, not just a fine documentary on Rivers, but one of the the finest documentaries on any topic you’ll see this year. It drives along at a rock ‘n roll pace, delivering laughs, pathos, and shock. I don’t know who writer/director Ricki Stern is—no relation, I’m sure—but I know I’d now watch a documentary on pencil holders if her name was on it.
One thing that shocked me was the doc’s initial depiction of Rivers as a washed up has-been to whom nobody pays attention. If you live in the Howard Stern universe, you’d never know that. She is a frequent, even revered guest, someone who comes in regularly and always kills. One of my favorite exchanges on the Stern show is when Howard spoke to Joan about a date she had where the man had a heart attack at the dinner table. The two of them get more laughs out of what had to have been some horror show tragedy—I love Joan’s crack about how terrified she was because the guy dropped dead before the check came.
The world may have passed Joan Rovers by—at least that’s the conceit of the first part of the doc—but Howard never has. He must see in her what he has strived to be himself: a hard-working, tireless, driven and original entertainer, whose humor is based on telling the truth, on being more honest with the audience than anyone else could or even should be. They have the children of immigrant upbringing, the compulsive work ethic, the self-loathing AND self-aggrandizing posture, and utter fearlessness. In that the two are very much alike, so its no wonder that in Stern’s world, Joan River never gets old.
Here’s a bit of them together: