Late-night TV hosts remembered Joan Rivers Thursday, following the icon’s death at age 81.
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“We lost a comedy legend today,” Jimmy Kimmel said during the monologue of “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
He later discussed Rivers’ death with guest Sarah Silverman, who said she was “broken up inside” by the news.
“I think a lot of people, when they die at 81, you go, ‘Well, she was 81, she had an amazing life.’ But she wasn’t done. She, right now, was at her most vital,” Silverman said.
Silverman rattled off a series of putdowns to ex-boyfriend Kimmel, for Joan – “Oh, my God Jimmy, I love your hair. You have to tell me where you bought it” – before sharing a recent interaction she had with her hero. Rivers had sent Silverman an email last week congratulating her on her recent Emmy win.
“She loved with her whole heart, and she also hated with her whole heart, which I loved,” Silverman said.
Conan O’Brien’s guest Chris Hardwick also discussed a personal connection with Rivers. Hardwick saw Rivers perform in Las Vegas when he was a child and, later, Rivers turned to the “@midnight” host for advice.
“She wanted to know about the Internet, which is one of the reasons why I think she was so relevant for like six decades, is that she wanted to know how everything worked and how people were communicating now, and she wanted to understand digital content,” Hardwick said.
O’Brien remembered Rivers’ filling in for Johnny Carson on the “Tonight Show.”
“People would gather in the living room. Everyone would howl with laughter, and the next day they would talk about it. Because at that time she was so, so outrageous, and her comedy felt so out of the bounds, and people were just blown away,” O’Brien said.
David Letterman reflected on her pioneer status on Thursday’s episode of “The Late Show.”
“Talk about guts; she would come out here and sit in this chair and say some things that were unbelievable,” he said.
“The force of her comedy was overpowering.”
Rivers last appeared on “Late Show” in July, after Rivers had stormed off of a confrontational interview on CNN. Midway through the late-night segment, Letterman walked off, leaving Rivers alone on the set to ask herself about her sex life.
Craig Ferguson reflected on the impact of Rivers' life.
“I just hope that when Joan meets the man upstairs he is wearing something she can insult,” the “Late Late Show” host said.
Rivers appeared on “Late Night” a month ago.
Host Seth Meyers believes Rivers would have used the occasion of her death to crack a joke.
“And she would get away with it, because it would be really funny,” Meyers said.
Rivers cut her comedy chops at Chicago’s Second City, eventually working comedy clubs in Los Angeles.
The late-night spotlight eluded her.
“Seven years, and they would come and they would say, ‘There’s a very funny girl down there, you should see her.’ Then they’d say, ‘Too rough, too wild, talking about things a woman shouldn’t talk about,’” she said in a 2013 interview with PBS’s “Pioneers of Television.”
But in 1965, Carson gave Rivers her break, introducing her as “A young lady who … not only writes funny but is funny herself.”
And there was Joan, sitting on a stool beside the late-night king, talking about married life and her husband’s ex, biting humor brimming in the seams of her stories.
“I don’t get along with his friends … I don’t fit in. He’s a producer, and all his friends have beautiful wives. Tall, sexy, you know, the legs never stop. The legs go like, legs-legs-legs-legs-legs-legs-legs-legs, a belt, a baby brassiere, and a head,” she said, stretching and preening. “They’re beautiful, you know? But dumb. But beautiful. But dumb! Like they can’t even spell it. And nobody cares they’re dumb, but me.”
He told her on-air that she was going to be a star, and he was right.
By the 1980s, Rivers was Carson’s guest host. But after she jumped to Fox to host “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers,” a schism grew between the protégé and mentor that never healed, with Carson enflamed by the perceived betrayal. Joan’s show didn’t last, but the tension lingered. Rivers was banned from “The Tonight Show” for a quarter-century.
That ban lifted in February, on Fallon’s first “Tonight Show” episode. Rivers made a cameo appearance that night with a string of other celebs, slamming a $100 bill on the desk, kissing Fallon’s cheek and waving to the crowd.
She made her official “Tonight” return a month later in true Rivers fashion, making Fallon squirm with jokes about the Holocaust and female anatomy, a torrent of irreverence and wit.
On Thursday’s show, Fallon choked up while recalling Rivers’ work ethic and passion.
“She had a file cabinet full of jokes,” Fallon said.
“Joan Rivers, one of the greatest.”
As the show went to commercial, a black and white graphic appeared showing Rivers, her hands folded underneath her chin, the dates of the beginning and the end of things: 1933, 2014.