Don’t follow any advice, no matter how good, until you feel as deeply in your spirit as you think in your mind that the counsel is wise. Joan Rivers
What are people going to do? Fire me? I’ve been fired before. Not book me? I’ve been out of work before. I don’t care. Joan Rivers
I have no methods; all I do is accept people as they are. Joan Rivers
I received a text last Thursday, mid-day, from my husband Cam, a brief four words: “Sorry about Joan Rivers.” I was in the midst of a week-long visit with our sons, their wives, and grandson, Viren, in Moscow, Idaho, and was sporadic at checking in on matters of popular culture. Yet, I had kept up enough to know that Joan Rivers was in a precarious state, that she was hovering in limbo on life support. And Cam, back at home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, had kept up because he knew that Joan wasn’t just a celebrity icon to me, that I considered her a friend. As corny as it sounds, I think that Cam considered her a friend as well.
We were kids in the sixties, too young to stay up past midnight for a glimpse of Joan stepping in as guest host for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, too young to witness her busting down gender barriers and breaking through humor ceilings with her outrageous uncensored over-the-top jokes. Sure, I remember seeing her now and then during the seventies and eighties on television talk shows and in magazine photos, but this young version of Joan isn’t who Cam and I have befriended. It’s the old Joan, the plastic-surgeried puffy-haired still-pretty-and-fashion-forward Joan who is as relentlessly and ruthlessly and lovingly funny as ever. You see, we are Joan Rangers.
I was drawn in because of my love for fashion, but it was Joan who got me hooked, week after week, on Friday evenings. It has been a ritual for Cam and I these past few years, the five mile walk on the Lakeshore Trail in Marquette, dinner at Sweetwater Cafe, and then the hour sprawled out in front of our TV watching of all things, Fashion Police. I’m sure at first for Cam it was a husbandly thing to do, to watch what his wife wanted on a Friday evening, but soon, he too was engaged in the action. How could you not be?!? As Joan and her three fashion deputies gave us a run-down of the week in fashion, ticketing what they deemed disasters and awarding the-on-the-mark-in-their-eyes-successes, we found ourselves playing along, participating in such games as “Rack Report”, and “Guess Them From Behind”. You could call it silly and superficial, and yet it left us energized and happy. And it was Joan at the helm, always on the edge, always allowing that sea of funny and outrageous and unbridled and sometimes offensive to move through her, laughing at us all, laughing at herself, laughing with us all. And we, the audience in the studio and the millions of people watching in our homes, we willingly and lovingly became the Joan Rangers, saluting with her, playing along with her, allowing ourselves to be outrageous too.
It is outrageousness that energizes me the most, and it is outrageousness that also terrifies me. When the high school kids perform their improv at Joy Center, my heart beats fast in my chest and I sit on the edge of my seat and I wonder what will come out of their mouths next. And on some level, I pray that they won’t pick me to be in one of their skits, and, on another level, I pray that they will pick me. It is brave to allow what is inside of us to find its way onto the page or onto the stage or into the workplace or into our art or into a conversation with a friend or a stranger. It is brave to be unbridled. And it is freeing, to let it rip, to let yourself play that fully. A few years ago, the next morning after an improv workshop at Joy Center, I found myself laughing out loud as I walked around the neighborhood, out loud to myself the way the critical part of me would envision a crazy woman laughing, and I didn’t care if I looked crazy. I think I was remembering how funny and outrageous we all were the night before, remembering the silly and irreverent and ridiculous things we’d said and done, but it was more than that; something visceral was happening inside of me. I was feeling free. Freed up. When we allow ourselves to let go of what others think, when we release our inhibitions, when we say what it is on our minds and act what is in our hearts, it is pure Source that flows through us. And it feels good. And sometimes it feels funny.
One day, a few years ago, in the beginning of my Fashion Police friendship with Joan, I googled her and found a quote that touched me deeply. She said that she had always wanted to sing gloriously or act with the skill of Meryl Streep, but those weren’t the genes she was given; she was given the funny gene. And by God, she played it. In the few days before the procedure that led to her passing, she was still playing it, publicly, outrageously, funnily. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?!? To get out there on the stage of our lives and play, play what we’re given to play, full-out and free. I, a Joan Ranger, salute you, Joan!