Joan Rivers has died from complications resulting from throat surgery. She was 81. For many, she was the best. The funniest, sharpest, most mischievous comic we will ever know. And though she’d hate us for saying it, she was also a true feminist pioneer. Well before it had been settled whether women should be doing stand-up at all, she was not only doing it but shaping it – and subtly shaping society too. Her early routines, like the following 1967 set from the Ed Sullivan show about how crappy the female experience could be, were laying the ground for political feminism:

But her radicalism was restless. And when the political tides turned, so did she. Women, gays, 9/11, the Holocaust, Oprah’s weight - nothing was off limits. Where there was a sacred cow, there was Joan with a gun. Her plain-speaking got her into trouble, such as in this spectacular bust-up with Darcus Howe on Radio 4′s Mid Week:

In an age of puritanical political correctness, it was truth that we craved. ‘I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking,’ she once said. The chat shows understandably loved her:  

As did The Spectator‘s Lloyd Evans when he saw her in Edinburgh in 2009:

‘Topping the bill is Joan Rivers with her blend of twinkly-eyed misogyny and taboo-busting mischief. She was the first American stand-up to make gags about 9/11. She’s still making them. “Two and a half thousand widows, each with a cheque for five million dollars. There’s got to be six happy.”‘

Never was there a time when her ‘taboo-busting’ spirit was needed more. She will be sorely missed. Here are three of her best:

‘I’m Jewish. I don’t work out. If God had wanted us to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor.’

‘When I was born, my mother asked the doctor, “Will she live?” He said, “Only if you take your foot off her throat.”‘

‘The whole Michael Jackson thing was my fault. I told him to date only 28-year-olds. Who knew he would find 20 of them?’

 

Tags: 9/11, Comedy, Joan Rivers, Michael Jackson, taboos