My earliest memory of Joan Rivers has to be how difficult it was to balance my Realistic cassette recorder next to the speaker on the tv and press the red 'record' button at the same time. I HAD to record Joan's monologue whenever she guest hosted for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. Up until a decade ago I kept those cassettes in a wooden box alongside my Howard Stern tapes and that treasured 'Red the bar owner' prank cassette, all labeled and drawn up with the show logo on the spine.I was in grade school (1983?) and basically getting a master class on busting balls and learning that nothing is too sacred.
Around that time my uncle took me to a record store and I bought the Doors Greatest Hits (what was I thinking) and Joan's comedy album "What Becomes A Semi-Legend Most". I remember it being visceral, lightning speed comedy and so brutally honest. I still have that record and listening to it recently I laughed at the 'Fresca on a panty shield' joke that I was oblivious to at age 13.
Fast forward to the early 90's. I am living in New York City and attending School Of Visual Arts. It was junior year and one of my classes were canceled. Back then I would wander the halls, go sit in the bookstore or just walk around NYC to kill the time. No cell, no internet. Just curious eyes looking at New York and hoping I would have a place in it. I can remember the bulletin board to this day. Right outside the student lounge. On it a job posting. Interns needed at CBS. I didn't know what an intern was nor had I ever made the connection between art and design in television and the illustration and fine arts world I was focused on in school. It was ART SCHOOL! We were serious. (I was half serious). I took the flyer (so no one else could see it), put 25 cents into the pay phone and called to find out what it was. The internship, it turned out was for The Joan Rivers Show. The next day I was in the production office for an interview. A week later I started as an intern and that summer I was hired as a Production Assistant.
It wasn't easy to get the internship. School Of Visual Arts wouldn't give me the credits I needed to make the internship legal. They said that working in tv had nothing to do with fine arts and my major. Looking back they were probably a little right but that didn't stop me from stealing SVA letterhead and forging a letter saying that I was receiving the proper credits to satisfy the show and make the internship legit. I loved the tv world instantly. Everyone that worked on the show had the same sense of humor I did! Almost like they too had been listening to all of my cassettes in the wooden box! It wasn't long before I was documenting moments in the office with my illustrations. It is actually something I still do to this day. I can't help it. If someone is a character I need to draw them.
I'll never forget the moment a superior said "Gary, Joan would like to see you in her dressing room and bring all the drawings you've been doing". My heart sank. It's over. I am in trouble and I pissed off Joan somehow. My dad always told me my big mouth would get me in trouble. And here it is. Up to that moment Joan and I had a few friendly smiles or she would say "work harder" as she walked by my desk. I never admitted to anyone how much I idolized this woman I was now working with. I just did my job. Walked Spike, Joan's dog, when needed, and did a bunch of other PA type stuff. How does she even know who I am?? I walked across 57th Street to her dressing room in CBS Broadcast Center and knocked on her door. Inside was her whole team. Joan's manager, executive and supervising producers, her assistant, hair stylist, makeup artist and costumer. All in there. Facing me. She was getting her nails done with a big script and dozens of little notes on her lap. Food and drinks were everywhere. Scripts, notes, the sound of hairdryers and the morning news. And me. Standing there. "Well", Joan said "let's see the drawings...." I remember wanting to throw up. "lets see them" she said again. I took a stack of Sharpie drawn, overly detailed caricatures out of my notebook and handed them over. Joan looked at them and starting laughing, pointing out details that she said she only thought she noticed. Then the whole room was laughing. Most of the drawings were of people in the room. And they were laughing. I was 21 years old. In Joan Rivers dressing room making her laugh. I am starting to cry as I write this. Making her laugh. She said, "these are great, leave them here", I said "no" because "you will probably use them to get me fired". I can't remember what happened next, I remember just quickly drifting out of the room as the topic changed. I walked back to the production office having no idea that that moment would change my life and we would become good friends (or that a few weeks later she would have me on the show as the "resident artist". The above photo is from that episode. Joan is holding the card below the photo).
Joan, I love you as a big famous comedy genius trailblazing legend and as a friend, getting into trouble, telling stories, helping me, my friends & family, laughing and laughing and giving me my start in television. A huge part of show business closed down today. There will never ever be another.
Not even close.