Comic marvel Joan Rivers is born

June 8, 1933
Joan Rivers performs in 2009.
Courtesy of dhnaquin67/Flickr.

Able to take a joke as well as dish one out, Joan Rivers broke one barrier after another.  The first female comic to host The Tonight Show.  Pioneer of syndicated talk shows in 1968.  Emmy Award winner and Tony Award nominee.  Featured in Making Trouble, the Jewish Women’s Archive film about funny Jewish women, Joan Rivers refined a unique style of humor that continued to shred the pompous, the infamous, and her favorite target—herself.

She was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky to Russian Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn. Her upwardly mobile parents discouraged her dreams of becoming an actor.  A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Barnard College, she was married at age 22.  The failure of the marriage ended with her working temporary jobs while auditioning for Off-Off-Broadway shows.  Joining the Second City comedy troupe helped her hone her skill at improvisation and writing, and she was soon appearing on New York’s nascent comedy club circuit.  In the decades since, she has had a hand in creating and developing a mind-boggling array of entertainment: club dates, concert halls, radio, television, movies, playwriting, records, DVD’s, and best-selling books.

Widowed when her husband committed suicide and nearly bankrupted by untrustworthy associates in 1983, Rivers lost her star status.  She rebounded by returning to her roots, taking every club date she could find, winning a role on Broadway, and in 1994 co-starring with her daughter Melissa in a TV movie about her life.

Featured on Celebrity Apprentice, Fashion Police, and the QVC shopping network, ubiquitous on Twitter and Facebook, performing in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and a perennial inquisitor on the proverbial “red carpet,” Joan Rivers defined what it means to be a survivor.  As she told NPR in 2012, “In our business you do not quit . . . You're holding onto the ladder.  When they cut off your hands, hold on with your elbow.  When they cut off your arms, hold on with your teeth.  You don't quit because you don't know where the next job is coming from.”

Sources: “Joan Rivers Hates You, Herself and Everyone Else,” Fresh Air, NPR.


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Jewish Women's Archive. "Comic marvel Joan Rivers is born." (Viewed on May 30, 2024) <>.