If you’ve seen the vintage videos, you know that Joan Rivers was once a kind of female Woody Allen. A college grad (Barnard) who still retained an old-school Brooklyn sensibility, she was funny in a hip sort of way.
Over the years, Rivers gradually developed her current persona as both a courtier and scourge of celebrity. Her apparent love-hate relationship with pomp and glitz has proved highly entertaining when matched with her time-tested comic gifts.
Certainly much of the material she performed Friday night had been honed over time. A good deal of it could be heard on her video “Don’t Get Me Started” from two years ago. But it’s really her outrageous style that gets you laughing, even if you’ve heard the gags once or twice before.
The maybe two-thirds-full house at Merrill Auditorium showed its love and appreciation for Rivers from the first Kardashian joke to the last laughs at the expense of both Whitney Houston and, get ready, the mother of God.
The rough language, X-rated pantomimes and politically far-from-correct ideas woven through Rivers’ show make it difficult to review in a family newspaper. Suffice it to say, she didn’t disappoint those looking for a serving from her dishful of deliciously naughty comedy. There was cause for groaning at times, but the laughs were undeniable.
“Everybody’s something,” she noted by way of evening out the offensiveness.
Some of the relatively tamer stuff involved a riff on how much she hated old people. She couldn’t understand why they would buy in bulk, since they won’t be around that long. She noted that the audience might be lucky enough to be part of history and see her die onstage.
Actually, she was amazingly animated as she prowled the stage in her sparkly coat, assuming all kinds of postures, dancing a bit and throwing around a few of her trademark “Oh, please” and “Grow up” comments after offering a particularly juicy put-down of this or that personality.
Taylor Swift, Adele, Miley Cyrus, Tom Cruise, Goldie Hawn, Kathy Griffin, Lady Diana and several others took hits during the show. Even rescue dogs on TV were accused of being professional actors out for a buck.
Discussions of sagging body parts and multi-tasking during sex were all on the agenda, as was a complaint that her daughter Melissa won’t do porn, given the money to be made.
At age 80, Rivers shows hardly any signs of slowing down and that, it seemed most in the audience felt, is very reassuring.
Portland Ovations put together a 30-minute lead-in for the comic with a male chorus of University of Southern Maine music grads led by Ed Reichert doing double entendre-laced numbers on gay themes. A five-piece band led by Chris Oberholtzer played later, acting largely as foils for some of Rivers’ jokes.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.