Joan Rivers: True to Herself

To celebrate Joan Rivers 80th birthday we're looking back at how she got her start and the challenges she faced as a woman in comedy.
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Portrait of Joan Rivers circa 1967 (Getty)

Portrait of Joan Rivers circa 1967 (Getty)

"I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking." If there was ever a quote to sum up the career of Joan Rivers, well, you just read it. On June 8th, Ms. Rivers will celebrate 80 years living life by said mantra, but the success didn't come easy. Rivers had tried her hand at acting, but soon realized trying to be someone else other than Joan Rivers wasn't for her. While working an office job in the 1960s, a secretary suggested she try stand up comedy and that's when her legendary career was born.

Comedy was a man's world at the time with headliners like Jack Benny, Red Skelton and Bob Hope, but Rivers wasn't interested in their style of comedy. It wasn't until comedians like Woody Allen and George Carlin started turning their own lives into punch lines that Rivers' ears perked up. "My group was Woody and George and Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby. Rodney Dangerfield. Dick Cavett."

Rivers started to get laughs laughing at herself, but the ladder to comedy stardom was still a long climb. Even after her big break on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson she still felt the stigma of being a woman in comedy. But she stuck it out by sticking to who she was and still is, and the success rolled in. "Love the process. You don’t know when it’s gonna happen…," she once said, "In comedy, if you can tell a joke, they will gather around your deathbed. If you’re funny, you’re funny. Isn’t that wonderful?"