Joan Rivers passed away last week. The 81-year-old actress and TV host had suffered complications following a routine medical procedure on her vocal cords.
She could be best described as a controversial and groundbreaking comedian. It was a combination that served her well during an impressive career, which lasted nearly six decades.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Ms. Rivers. Her brash, abrasive and crude comedic style could be off-putting. Yet when she told a great joke, it would often settle in for an extended stay in your memory banks. That was the true mark of success in her chosen profession.
There were other traits about her that I liked. Ms. Rivers didn’t emphasize them in her act, and rarely discussed them in public. Still, I believe they helped define her as an independent, in-your-face and thought-provoking comedian who wasn’t afraid to stir up the pot and speak her mind.
For example, Ms. Rivers was a longtime Republican. She was a friend of Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Steve Forbes, and an admirer of Margaret Thatcher.
Think about it. In her glory days, how many New York-born, Jewish and female comedians could there have been who voted for the GOP? My guess is they would have all fit into one phone booth, and still had ample room to make some calls.
Ms. Rivers didn’t side with Republicans owing to her profound interest in the works of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman and others. Rather, it was because she held some sensible, conservative positions.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, a former Reagan speechwriter and friend of Ms. Rivers, explained it beautifully in a Sept. 5 blog entry. “She was a Republican, always a surprising thing in show business, and in a New Yorker,” wrote Ms. Noonan, “but she was one because, as she would tell you, she worked hard, made her money with great effort, and didn’t feel her profits should be unduly taxed. She once said in an interview that if you have 19 children she will pay for the first four, but no more. Mostly, she just couldn’t tolerate cant and didn’t respond well to political manipulation.”
In fairness, two small caveats should be mentioned.
First, Ms. Rivers’ daughter, Melissa, noted during her mother’s January interview on Shahs of Sunset with Reza Farahan, “Let me clarify. We’re fiscally conservative, socially liberal — which is called either a California Republican, or a country club Republican.” If we accept this statement, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t, then the comedian wasn’t a conservative Republican.
Second, on “Celebrity Wife Swap” in June 2013, Ms. Rivers told Sarah Palin’s eldest daughter, Bristol, she would help her with a task “even though I’m a Democrat.”
My sense is this was a slip of the tongue. Ms. Rivers reportedly voted for President Obama in 2008 (a decision she later regretted), and it may have muddied the waters of her political thinking. In the haste to differentiate her political views from those of the Palin family, she likely confused the terms “Democrat” and “liberal.”
Does it really matter, however? Ms. Rivers obviously wasn’t a conservative intellectual, but she clear understood the problems with big government and overarching state control. She wanted lower taxes and less spending. She would typically vote for the party or politician that promised to observe these important principles.
I believe most Republicans would have welcomed Ms. Rivers as a fellow, albeit imperfect, political traveler.
Meanwhile, Ms. Rivers’ strong position on the Gaza conflict showed she was in line with Republican thinking on foreign policy.
Shortly before her untimely death, she told a TMZ reporter, “I don’t want to hear any more, ‘Oh, we’ll do a partial truce.’ The Palestinians … you cannot throw rockets and not expect people not to defend themselves.” (Her put-down of actress Selena Gomez’s pro-Gaza tweet, “Oh … yeah, that college grad,” was hilarious.)
Of interest, Mrs. Palin, on her online channel, called Ms. Rivers, “a Hollywood-style critic, well no doubt she’s repulsed by my style — or lack thereof,” and named radio host Howard Stern an “unlikely source of foreign-policy wisdom” on the Gaza conflict. Politics makes strange bedfellows, indeed.
Ms. Rivers’ career set many standards. She was a bombastic female comedian in a male-dominated industry. She didn’t succumb to political correctness. She took difficult positions, and defended them. She was also one of the few celebrities in liberal Hollywood who wasn’t scared to call herself a Republican.
Rest in peace, Joan Rivers.
Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.