The comedian Joan Rivers, who died Thursday at 81, leaves an impression larger and louder than life, and the sense of a sensibility caustic toward both the world and herself. She played a character, of course, as comics do, and in later years was easy to caricature. She was smarter and more attractive than her comedy suggested (even as its quality made that obvious).
But in a 2011 episode from his FX series "Louie," titled simply "Joan," admirer Louis C.K. gave her an opportunity to play a different version of herself, one that let her intelligence and heart come to the fore. (A portion of it is here, and above.) Intimate in more ways than one, it's a scene to remember her by.
I discussed it with C.K. at the time, in an interview for the Times. Here's an excerpt from that Q&A:
That scene with Joan Rivers, where she gives you career advice after you've alienated the management of the Trump casino you're both working, was that based on actual talks you'd had?'
Louis C.K: I always loved Joan Rivers. With comedy there's a lot of people who like young rising comics, but they forget that comedians only get better when they get older; she's still great. And when I saw her movie [the 2010 documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work"] and the way she talked about the perspective she had on her road in life, it really hit me hard. There's part truth [in the scene] in that I was in Atlantic City once and I mouthed off about Trump onstage and got fired, and I was just a sulky little ... about it. And I just took that version of me and put it into a room with her and wrote it up. So I sent it to her, and she loved it, but she called me and said, "There's a lot of crap in the script. I'm lecturing and it's boring, I'm not funny." So we went through it together and she made a lot of suggestions that were really funny, like the stuff about the plastic-lined pocketbook and stealing stuff from the cafeteria — that was her. And "Know when you're lucky" — that was her phrase, and that sort of became the center of the thing.
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