Still a force to be reckoned with at 77, Joan Alexandra Molinsky (aka Joan Rivers) drives her cottage-industry self and loyal staff with a bull-whip tongue that is, in fact, her key to more than a half-century of comedy success.
Her greatest fear is a blank page on her scheduling workdate book. And she’ll do anything and everything to keep the work coming, which is the reason for this documentary. She writes books, designs jewelry, produces self-publicizing plays, does Reality-TV (including ones about husband Edgar’s suicide, her own “Roast” and Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” which she won).
But her mainstay is standup comedy. She travels constantly to appease that insult-comic itch. The words from her mouth would have made Richard Pryor turn white. While demonstrating, she explains why she likes anal sex (“Because you can ‘text’ at the same time”). She says Helen Keller would have been the perfect daughter (“Because she was deaf and couldn’t talk back”). She disses First Lady Michelle Obama (“There was Jackie O. She’s Blackie O”).
But like all comedians, there’s a lot of pain. When she breaks up with a longtime agent, she cries (“Now, I have no one to remember the old days with”). And she has a strong sense of charity, delivering food to the poor and unfortunate during Thanksgiving.
Directed by top-notch documentary filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (“The Devil Came on Horseback” about Darfur atrocities), “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” is, according to Joan Rivers, disappointing in one way. “I didn’t die during the filming,” she says. “If I had, it would have been much more commercial. Even I would have gone to see it.”