My Power Suit, Joan Rivers, and Me
Walking down Mercer Street in SoHo last week, I was drawn to a power suit posed provocatively in the floor-to-ceiling windows of a Dolce & Gabbana boutique and had a flashback to the time when I wore my own black Dolce embroidered suit paired with stiletto heels for an investment bank event. In attendance: the legendary Joan Rivers.
Along with a pair of gold hoops, a bold red lip and my hair styled in a sleek chignon, I felt ready to tackle anything by choosing a powerful statement with feminine twists that meant business. I was running 20 minutes late —a constant trait some may call fashionable. Regardless, I was in the kind of mood where ‘nothing could make me laugh.’ Glad to be out and looking forward to Joan for her 'in your face' comedy that afterwards, one recognizes as actually nutritious.
Before the show began, I slipped backstage to catch a glimpse. I admit it: I wanted to see the “real" Joan Rivers and maybe hear her dish one of her patented takedowns at a stagehand or fellow performer; any unsuspecting victim, really. I acted naturally while entering the backstage inner sanctum. There was the to-be-expected air of anticipation and preparation. I stared at everyone and everything, fascinated by the urgency of it all and a little dazed.
Just then a group of performers crossed on my left. I was distracted as they crowded past after their final rehearsal —and to make way, I suddenly backed up, not noticing someone more petite behind me. Just as I stepped back, there came a piercingly loud, “Oww!” One of my advanced-weaponry power-heels had come down hard on someone’s foot.
That petite someone turned out to be a very pissed off Joan Rivers.
She immediately followed with, “Ouch! Amazon attack!”
Speechless in shame, I waited for what came next from the mouth of this notorious tongue-lasher. She looked me over with her laser-scan. I saw her register how badly I felt about my inadvertent offense. I could almost hear her mind weighing the pros and cons of whether to give this girl a break. But her quick wit snapped and delivered a gift: she smiled and croaked out in legendary tone of voice and accent we all knew, “Girls gotta step forward, not on each other, Giraffe Sister!” Laughing with relief— I exhaled and noticed what she was wearing.
In her plush black frock jacket with wide-leg flared black pants and patent leather heels; it struck me that it was a diminutive version of my own pantsuit outfit. Joan Rivers and I matched, and after our awkward encounter, we were all the more “sisters" for it. I meekly asked, “Who are you wearing?” She cracked “Trying to steal my line?” then stage-whispered “Dolce Gabbana. Vintage.”
And with that, she was off. By all accounts, Joan Rivers gave many sisters a break over the years, despite her tough public persona. She was a pioneer through her comedic teachings. Finding humor in the difficult, even dark truths of living, she was respected for discovering and revealing humor from within her own grief. When we ‘officially’ met in the Green Room after, she was every bit a caring mother interested in everyone's stories— I heard her tell a young girl, “Oh, no, I didn’t always want to be a comedian. When I was your age, I wanted to be an actress. If I had another life, maybe that’s what would have been, but I love what I do, and I’ve learned that if you want something bad enough, and are willing to work hard to get it, almost anything is possible. So, eat your vegetables!”
This from the woman who, earlier on stage delivered a set including the following joke: 'When I was born, my mother asked the doctor, "Will she live?" He said, "Only if you take your foot off her throat.” I understood the minute an involuntary laugh came out of me— that this incisive and comedic view of life was her unique talent, power, and force. Joan Rivers sent her message through her life and her work, and on stage or television, there was very little that cannot be beaten back with humor, nor be made better with a little bit of sisterhood. With that thought, I marched inside the boutique to try on a new power suit, reminded of Joan's commitment to the power of being unapologetically yourself.