I totally subscribe to much of Joan Rivers’ platform, if you will, but her show was kind of off-putting in its negativity. More than ever, she basically hates on everything and everyone in her ravenous effort to cross any and every line. I’m not saying her humor is cheap; to the contrary, much of what she has to say is very sharp and sensitively observed, but a surefire way to get laughs is to assume the most critical position, to knock everything down, go for the jugular.
Watching her this week, I wondered if Joan has to be so globally scathing to maintain a feeling of freshness. She’s obviously the perfect person to talk about celebrities’ plastic surgery because she understands that universe from experience. I got the sense that much of her material is almost self-defensive. She’s eager to trash the world to avoid being perceived a soft old lady – not that there’s much danger of that. In our Reality TV obsessed, youth-focused culture, Joan stays relevant by going beyond irreverence. She’s hell-bent on outdoing modern society’s godlessness.
I’d been thinking about Joan a lot lately since watching her Friars Club Roast on Comedy Central, which I loved. Besides all the comedians making varying degrees of funny jokes about pretty much what you’d expect – her age, plastic surgery, etc., I loved watching Joan bask in the attention and I particularly loved one moment with Jeffrey Ross, who, besides ribbing her in all the usual ways, talked about how inspiring her memoir had been to him when he was starting out in the business. He paraphrased her, “You can go anywhere in this business if you learn to enjoy the process.”
I think about that idea all the time. Throughout my career, there have been thrilling successes and painful failures, creatively, critically and commercially – not necessarily in tandem. It’s the times when I enjoyed the process, that I look back most fondly. And in even in the most bitter disasters, it’s the unhappy processes that sting the most.
I think, for me, less-than-enjoyable processes have often been the result of mixed motives in taking on a project. When I conceived Leslie Kritzer Is Patti LuPone At Les Mouches, my concern wasn’t getting a good review or selling out Joe’s Pub; my deepest desire was just to see the finished product in front of an audience.
I took every step towards that goal with love and had a wonderful experience. That is the kind of process I want to have on all my creative endeavors. To a large extent, my experience on that production benefited from it being my baby, something I came up with because my soul was burning to do it. It’s no wonder that it’s been so difficult for me to have that kind of experience, to enjoy a process like that, working on other people’s babies.
For this reason, for a long time, I’ve felt that what I need is to create a show again, another baby. In the past, I struggled with how to do this, not thinking of myself as a writer. I’ve considered transforming another real-life event, like Patti LuPone’s Les Mouches concert, into a theatrical presentation, but what? In the case of Les Mouches, I didn’t go looking for something to do, I was inspired specifically to do that.
Writing this column every week, I’ve started to feel that I can write, and now I want to try writing something more long-form. I’ve had the idea to write a piece about my hysterical love for Patti LuPone. It feels doable for me because vignettes from my life experience of Patti fall into manageable structure, like The New Old Gay posts, less daunting than writing an epic play, as years ago, I had wanted to do– and always failed in my attempts to complete. Furthermore, I am obsessed with Patti LuPone, so it’s easy for me to sit down and write about her, comparatively easy for me to battle the insecurity and laziness vampires when it’s about Patti.
A few months ago, I decided I would write a Patti LuPone piece. I immediately sketched an outline and wrote the first few pages. Then, it sat untouched on my computer as all the activities I’m more in the habit of doing won out over writing day after day.
Last weekend, finally, I set aside a day and night to stay home and work on my Patti LuPone piece. At first, I felt distracted, unengaged. I wanted to call a friend and hang out and forget about this whole writing thing, but I didn’t want to falter in my commitment to myself to start creating something of my own.
I decided to go back to my old journals from years past. Sitting in my room, reading page after page, I was struck and moved by how many of the issues I was grappling with 10 years ago are the same ones I grapple with today. Especially poignant was my entry from September 27, 2001 – Yom Kippur, exactly eight years (to the day) before I was reading it. In it I wrote that I feared the epic play I’d been working on was too ambitious for me as a first play, that I was trying to describe big life lessons which I myself had yet to learn. Moreover, I worried that I was constructing a preachy, joyless morality play and wondered if that could explain why I was inconsistent in working on it. I speculated that I needed to find a subject for a piece that I could have fun writing, where my kinetic enthusiasm would sustain me in the process and shine through in the work.
Reading that, I felt the spark that the Patti piece is exactly what I should be doing and I dove voraciously back into it. I wrote page after page after page as the hours flew by. And I’ve continued working on it all week, feeling great about myself and my accomplishment. I’ve tried to keep Joan Rivers in mind and godlessly see things as they are to find fresh perspective.
Watching Joan Rivers, I wondered if she had enjoyed her process in serving up all that trash-talk to us at the Beechman. I wondered if she is following her heart’s desire when she tears down subject after subject. Maybe she just earnestly, truly loves to complain?