Joan Rivers was the most interesting person I ever interviewed for these newspapers.
But I wound up writing her a letter of apology.
When I talked to her for a piece here about five years ago, I challenged her about whether the jokes in her act about sick people and old people were really funny. She brushed it off, told me I shouldn't bother coming to her shows, but she kept circling back to my ill-timed critique. She knew it came from a huge fan, someone who could recount her Broadway credits cause he'd been there, but somehow my comment had managed to get under her skin.
She insisted there is nothing off-limits. There can't be. Because we need to laugh, sooner or later, one way or another, about everything. This was the woman who, according to New York magazine, was among the first to tell a 9/11 joke. She called a pal the evening after it happened and asked about dining at "Windows on the Ground."
For years after my visit to her apartment ? and, God, what an apartment ? I thought about what she had said. As time passed, I encountered a little something called life. A lost job. A lost friendship or two. More than anything, I watched my father fall apart. Mentally and physically. That filled me with a fair amount of rage, and I thought about how Rivers had told me about the anger she had about her late husband's illness. Some of that anger was directed at him, for his own decline. The emotion, whether it made sense or not, was real.
She said that anger fueled her jokes. After I saw what happened to my dad, I related ? and wrote to her. She didn't write back. Now I'm not expecting she will.
But she was right. And it's an important lesson. For some of us, it's not really possible-or at least it's not really smart-to carve out categories of life and decide they are "not funny" and not subjects for humor. We need the release. We need the laughter. We need the joke.
Yes, there are good jokes and bad jokes, but hers were awfully good. She made "Fashion Police" almost the funniest damn show on TV, week in and week out.
And she taught me a life lesson about laughter ? and our primal need for it.
Christopher Moore is a former editor of Our Town and the West Side Spirit.