Review: “Celebrating Joan: A Tribute to Joan Rivers” at The Kennedy Center

Celebrating Joan: A Tribute to Joan Rivers, which left the audience of admirers howling last night at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, was an evening for “mature audiences” and fans of the late and great Joan Rivers. It was ‘narrated’ by Joan’s daughter Melissa and featured tributes by several generations of comedians, who knew and respected and loved Joan the person, the business woman, and the very blunt comedienne.

Joan RIvers and daughter Melissa. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Joan RIvers and daughter Melissa. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

The 90-minute love and laugh-festival inaugurated the new Kennedy Center’s District of Comedy Festival.

The evening  began with Melissa Rivers telling us crisply – and in so many words – that if we are offended by various remarks, jokes, and anything the special guests were going to say that we needed to lighten up. She also told us that her mother always wanted a big tribute (and a Kennedy Center Honor) but didn’t live long enough to see it happen. So when The Kennedy Center asked her to host a tribute she, of course, agreed.

What a lineup! Former talk-show host Dick Cavett, improver Aubrey Plaza, actress Kelly Osbourne, singer Jordin Sparks, and stand-up comedians Bob Saget, Rachel Bloom, Louie Anderson, and Gilbert Gottfried were there ‘LIVE’ on the Eisenhower stage.

Andy Cohen, Barry Manilow, Lily Tomlin, and John Waters chimed in with video tributes to a woman who was a great friend, and who they admired for her long career and brilliant and ‘blunt’ sense of humor. And her friendship.

Joan Rivers was the child of Russian immigrants, who bestowed a strong work ethic in her, and she worked hard until the day she passed away. Some of that hard work showed up in the real star of this tribute-Joan’s famous file cabinet, which appeared on the stage. She was said to have stored about 85,000 jokes in that file cabinet. Her material was always fresh. All through the tribute, the ‘guests’ were pulling jokes out of that file cabinet and reading them, with hilarious results and some ‘moans.’

That file cabinet should have taken a bow at the end of the tribute.

Out came one-liners like, “Men aren’t everything, but they are credit cards”, and a bunch of crude and tasteless Helen Keller jokes, which Joan included in all her performances. “After reading a book, Helen Keller’s hands were sore from laughing!” Oy Vey!

Dick Cavett launched into a light-hearted small commentary on offending and being offended by words while on stage and spoke how he had worked with Joan in small comedy clubs where very few people ever showed up.

One cute story was related by Aubrey Plaza on how she met Joan Rivers. She was introduced to Joan Rivers by Kathy Griffin, who drove her to Joan’s Malibu home in a Maserati  and was told to hide in Joa’s closet. At the right moment, she jumped out of the closet shouting ,“Surprise”! and jumped into Ms. Rivers’ bed. Joan was shocked and screamed, “Who the fuck are you”? And thus started Aubrey Plaza’s introduction to Joan Rivers, and a night she will never forget.

And this is what we heard over and over: here was a talented, glamorous hard-working, brilliant, overly-honest, at-times profane, caring, loving woman, mother and grandmother, who didn’t care what others (her enemies) thought about her. And she was always there for her family and friends and colleagues until the end. And she didn’t care what your ethnicity or sexual orientation was. She was unique and so much more.

Here are some of the stories and jokes that I enjoyed the most from the special guests:

-Barry Manilow said he learned two things from Joan: (1) Keep the room at 68 degrees and (2) carry a small tape recorder and record your performances so you can hear what you said and did in your performance and learn from them. [Joan would extend some of her monologues by listening to what she had said during these taped performances.] Manilow laughed that, “I entertained people while freezing them.”

-Comedian Louie Anderson recalled how Joan gave him his break and had the audience howling when he read this Joan joke, “Elizabeth Taylor was so fat that a ship broke a bottle over her.”

-Rachel Bloom delivering this Joan joke from the cabinet: “I was so unattractive that my gynecologist had his eyes dilated.”

-Bob Saget delivering this Joan joke: “My vagina (one of Joan’s favorite words to use in her ‘act.’) is so dry that Peter O’Toole rode a camel across it.” It took several minutes for the audience to come down to earth after that delivery.

-Gilbert Gottfried: “Every time lightning strikes, Joan looks up and smiles.”

-John Waters: “I always felt Joan was one of us.”

This was a jam-packed 90 minutes and Saget and Gottfried were at their manic and potty-mouthed best with their readings of Joan’s jokes and sharing memories of being and working with Joan: At times, it made The Aristocrats sound like Snow White.  

-In true Joan Rivers style, a cute small dog shared the stage toward the end of the program walked by Kelly Osbourne and wearing one of Joan Rivers’ outfits, in memory of Joan’s companion-her dog Spike. She would have loved that!

The most fun was to see Joan and Johnny on the early days of the Tonight Show:

And The Ed Sullivan Show:

All in all, it this was a nice tribute to Joan Rivers. I am sure more tributes are coming for this once-in-a-lifetime legend.

I still think that file cabinet should take a bow!

Celebrating Joan: A Tribute to Joan Rivers played on June 22, 2016 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For future Kennedy Center events, go to their calendar.

Morgan Hoover is the guest reviewer with some assistance from Joel Markowitz. 


  1. I wish this evening’s tribute at The Kennedy Center had been recorded for TV so we, Joan Rivers lovers, could enjoy the 90 minutes first hand.


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