Joan Rivers has been known for having thick skin, but the famous comedian said bad blood between herself and Johnny Carson hurt her career and showed her just how hard it was being a woman in comedy.
Rivers wrote an essay for the Hollywood Reporter detailing the difficulties she faces as a female in the male-dominated world of comedy.
Rivers noted that when she started, “pretty girls” would not get into comedy. Women could be singers, but comedy was dominated by white, older men, she said.
Even Joan Rivers bought into that idea. She wrote:
“I wanted to be an actress. I was an office temp when one secretary said to me: ‘You’re very funny. You should go do stand-up, be a comedian. They make $6 a night some places’” And I said, ‘That’s more than I’m making as an office temp’ — I made eight, but I had to also pay for my Correcto-Type because I was a lousy speller — so I thought, “Oh, I could do that and have days free to make the rounds.” And that’s why I became a comedian.”
Joan Riverssaid she settled in with a crowd that included Woody Allen, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and Rodney Dangerfield. But even though she was close with this group, she still saw different treatment as a woman.She wrote:
“But I never was one of the guys. I was never asked to go hang out; I never thought about it until later. They would all go to the Stage Delicatessen afterward and talk. I never got to go uptown and have a sandwich with them. So, even though I was with them, I wasn’t with them.”
Rivers said her biggest slight came from her onetime friend, Johnny Carson. She was put on the show doing opening monologues and hosting. During that time she saw her other friends, like Bill Cosby, move on to their own shows. But when it came time for Joan Rivers to get a show, Carson suddenly turned on her.
“The first person I called was Johnny, and he hung up on me — and never, ever spoke to me again. And then denied that I called him. I couldn’t figure it out. I would see him in a restaurant and go over and say hello. He wouldn’t talk to me.”
Joan Rivers said she believes the bad blood was because Carson “really felt because I was a woman that I just was his. That I wouldn’t leave him.”
The public feud hurt her career, Rivers said, especially after Carson disparaged her in the press and said that she never called him after getting her own show.
“Looking back, and I never like to say it, the Carson breakup hurt me a lot, without realizing it. Even now, with our reality show Joan Melissa: Joan Knows Best? or Fashion Police, when I say, ‘No, this is wrong,’ people say: ‘See? She is a bitch. She is a c—.’ If I were a man, they’d say: ‘So brilliant. He’s tough, but he’s right.’ Nobody ever says to me, ‘You’re right.’ “
As ABC News notes, things have changed now, and it’s in large part due to Joan Rivers. Comedians like Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, and Kristin Wiig are seen on par with their male counterparts.