Learn to take a joke – Something we can all learn from Joan

Tory Foulk

Joan Rivers is a legend. Forever a powerful piece of the American pop culture lexicon, a simple mention of her name sparks polarizing discussion. As many readers may know, the scathing comedian passed away last Thursday after complications following throat surgery. However, many individuals may not know she once referred to Kansas City as the “apex of stupidity.”
Comedy is an objective art, so of course, what’s funny to one person may not be funny to another. This is especially true in the case of no-holds-barred insult comedians like Rivers. You could have an entire team devoted to counting, but it would be near-impossible to tally up all the times that people, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, have called her a bitch. She’s been accused of being cruel, hateful, offensive, distasteful and vulgar, and no one was out of bounds. As Tim Engle of the Kansas City Star points out, not even us.
“They are really dumb there. Americans are smart on both coasts, but then as you move to the center of the country, the people get dumber and dumber and dumber. And the apex of stupidity is Kansas City,” Rivers reportedly said during a performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
I love my city, and I personally believe that there are many brilliant people here. However, I’m not offended by Rivers’ commentary. I’m of the mind that society as a whole needs to start taking the jabs of insult comics less seriously. The problem with those who become incensed over insults like that is that they interpret the jokes as personal attacks when, really, it’s all part of a larger act – being mean was her whole shtick. Rivers’ caustic commentary didn’t discriminate. She chastised everyone equally.
From Lindsay Lohan (“I was just reading about the new Lindsay Lohan diet, which is all liquid. 80 proof.”) to herself (“I am definitely going to watch the Emmys this year! My makeup team is nominated for Best Special Effects.”) Rivers’ material was unapologetic, bold and vitriolic. Despite popular belief, she and other insult comics like her aren’t writing what they write to be insulting or mean-spirited. If they were, it wouldn’t work as comedy. They blatantly address the hyperbolized negatives in themselves and others as a way of dealing with the harsh nature of reality. As Rivers once told New York Magazine, “If you laugh at it, you can deal with it, and if you don’t, you can’t deal with it.” In my experience, that’s been true.
Ultimately, I’m not angry about what Rivers said because her intent was never malicious. I don’t believe she vehemently hated Kansas City, because she shed that same harsh light on everyone and everything, and she did it with swift, sardonic skill. I’d be more offended if she said nothing about us at all.