Friday, March 16, 2007 03/16/07-Getting Started

In today's excerpt--Joan Rivers embarks on her comic career:

"Brooklyn-born [in 1933] Joan Sandra Molinsky grew up in a family that displayed an archetypal disapproval of her desire to become a comedian at a time when a female comic was on a level with a showgirl, if not call girl. ... [At twelve] the latent professional comic within stirred ... 'I couldn't wait until I got my childhood over with so I could get into showbiz.'

"Rivers devoted boyfriend ... got her an audience with an agent named Harry Brent, a Broadway Danny Rose type who lived in a tiny apartment with a hot plate and a toaster on the bureau. ... When he renamed her 'Pepper January,' she said fine but once outside told her boyfriend, 'I'm going to commit suicide.' ... Brent got 'Pepper January' her first paying job, as an emcee at a Boston strip club called the Show Bar that paid $125 a week for two shows a night. She took a room in a scary hotel across the street with hookers, bums, musicians, pimps, and strippers. ...

"After being announced, Rivers saw, among the expectant faces staring up at her, a rich guy from Yale she had dated. Immediately, flop sweat set in as her opening jokes were met with silence, followed by cries of 'Get the f**k off! Bring on the girls!' ... Pepper January was fired before the eleven o'clock show and wound up sobbing in her crummy hotel room, asking herself, What am I doing? I'm ruining my life! What am I doing talking to men with their hands in their pockets? If I can't even cut it at this level, maybe I am a loser!' ...

"[Superagent Jack] Rollins took her to a studio to hear her perform, and then said, 'You shouldn't be doing other people's material. Do your own because you're naturally funny.' He told her to come back when she knew who she was, comically."

Gerald Nachman, Seriously Funny, Back Stage, 2004, pp. 594-600.


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