Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review of "The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation" by Melissa Rivers

I'm a fan of Joan Rivers and enjoyed her comedy routines, early 90's daytime talk show, and Fashion Police program. I've also seen the documentary "A Piece of Work" and read Joan's book "I Hate Everyone....Starting With Me."

In this memoir Joan's daughter, Melissa Rivers, relates amusing stories about her mother. Unlike Joan, Melissa is not a natural comic and some of her quips feel forced...or as if they were cribbed from her mom's joke collection. Nevertheless I enjoyed many stories in the book, which made me smile (or occasionally laugh out loud).

Some amsuing yarns revolve around Melissa herself. For instance, as a youngster Melissa was part of a 'kids club' in Las Vegas, composed of children of celebrities who were performing in the casinos. At one point Melissa's friends helped her pull out a loose tooth so the 'tooth fairy' would provide enough cash for the 'kid's club' to enjoy a whole night of arcade games and snacks. Apparently Joan was a VERY generous tooth fairy!

Then one time, during a road trip with her mother and father (Edgar Rosenberg), Melissa got hungry. Edgar drove to the drive-thru of a hamburger joint...which was OUT OF HAMBURGERS. This was a good opportunity for Joan to squash over Edgar to get to the car window and deliver a series of snippy, sarcastic remarks. Then the family went to Waffle House.

Melissa relates how her parents - who had similar values and ambitions - married five days after they met and seemed to be happy. But Edgar (apparently suffering from depression) committed suicide when Melissa was a teen. Joan, who was never politically correct and considered absolutely everything fodder for a joke, soon worked the event into her comedy routine. Joan did the same thing shortly after 9/11...giving people permission to laugh after tragedy.

Joan also loved to shop at airports, especially in duty-free shops and on international duty-free flights. Melissa (kiddingly I hope) says her mom once spent thousands of dollars on a trip just to get a 6-dollar-break on Toblerone chocolate. Melissa also joshes about her mom's numerous plastic surgeries; love of clothes, jewelry, accessories, and tchotchkes; line of clothing and jewelry for QVC; and insistence that people use proper grammar. Joan once quipped that a certain studio receptionist spoke worse English than her latino gardener who'd arrived in the U.S. last Tuesday.

Melissa recalls the innovative (at the time) "Red Carpet Show" she hosted with her mother, where they interviewed celebrities arriving at award shows like the Emmys and the Oscars. The Joan and Melissa program introduced the expression 'Who are you wearing?' and spawned a million copycat red carpet shows. Melissa amusingly talks about actors/actresses who were hard to talk to because they were either self-conscious, snooty, or resentful of being B-list celebs. Apparently the most reluctant red carpet walker was Tommy Lee Jones, who gave interviewers PTSD....ha ha ha.

Joan was a wonderful loving mother to Melissa and a devoted grandmother to Melissa's son Cooper. When Joan worked in/visited California she generally stayed at Melissa's Beverly Hills home - once hitchhiking there when she misplaced her driver. In any case, Joan took advantage of the opportunity to hang out with Cooper, keep him up too late, and ply him with candy, toys, and cash....bribes to keep his mouth shut about this and that :)

In the book Melissa has some harsh words for people she feels mistreated her mother. Jay Leno, for instance, wouldn't allow Joan to be on "The Tonight Show," saying he was honoring the wishes of the previous host Johnny Carson (with whom Joan had a falling out). Then, after Joan's death, Jay avoided Melissa when they were at the same awards event...not saying hello or expressing condolences. Melissa also mentions Katie Couric, who - during an interview - harped on Joan's 'insult comedy' instead of promoting Joan and Melissa's Red Carpet Show like she was supposed to. These sections bring down the tone of the book...which is supposed to be funny.

The book isn't screamingly hilarious but it's entertaining and moving...and Melissa's deep love and regard for her mother come through loud and clear. I'd recommend the book to fans of Joan Rivers and readers who enjoy celebrity memoirs.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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