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Sep 7, 2014

Joan Rivers

Irony, synchronicity. I need a word that can somehow give this moment justice. Coincidence, serendipity. A word that can describe the timing, the complete significance of the timing. Maybe I’ll make one up. Synchroincidence? No, I have it—fate.

News breaking about Joan Rivers at the exact moment I start getting ready for my first open mic in years. Fate.

Before I get started, I want to relieve the throbbing “Classic Kali, making it all about her” headache you’re having right now. Well, yeah. I never met Joan, I never knew her personally—how would I be in any way qualified to write a tribute? However, Joan was my icon, and her death knifed me in a deeply personal, deeply momentous, deeply synchroincidental-ish way.

About a week ago, I finally met someone in this town just as eager to create and perform comedy as I am. The day after we met over coffee, he signed us both up for a campus open mic. My chickenshit 8-year-old self told me to text him a quick “srry :/” and bail. But thank god I stopped listening to that whiny punk a while ago. Kali, it’s one night. Seven minutes. This is nothing.

Then Joan died, and it became something.

Death affects each person in an entirely individual way. We ourselves choose how we mourn, how we deal, how we throw away the empty Ben & Jerry’s pints and move forward. Strangely enough, celebrity deaths are even more individual. Unlike the death of a loved one, the death of a celebrity does not leave a hole in our lives—they were never in our lives to begin with. The death of a celebrity is not about the death of a person. The death of a celebrity is the death of a symbol—moreover, the death of what that person symbolized for us.

Joan was hysterical. Her scathing one-liners, along with my fellow Greek George Kotsiopoulos and my best-friend-who-doesn’t-know-it-yet Kelly Osbourne, kept me hooked on Fashion Police day after day. However, Joan was not my icon because she’s hysterical—frankly, there are plenty other comedians I would rather pay to see. Joan symbolized something bigger to me. She symbolized guts. Not just the guts to stand on stage and say what everyone else is thinking, but a bigger, heavier type of guts—the guts to set seemingly impossible goals for yourself, and the guts to stop at nothing, not even her husband’s suicide, to achieve them.

When I first heard the news, I went numb. Joan was in the peak of her career, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around this—almost as if I assumed celebrities aren’t allowed to die unless their careers die first. As Sarah Silverman so articulately put it, “She wasn’t done.” Yet, suddenly enough, she now is. But something so sudden doesn’t have to be a tragedy. Joan’s passing gives us pause, because whether we realize it or not, it forces us to think about our own mortality. Joan had 81 fabulous years on this earth, and still not enough time to accomplish everything she wanted. So why would we ever waste a second of ours?

As I walked off stage after my second stand-up performance ever, covered in sweat and self-fulfillment, I realized I forgot one huge part of my act—I forgot to dedicate it to my icon, my inspiration. I forgot to dedicate it to Joan Rivers.

So, Joan, don’t worry. I’m doing another open mic this week, in honor of you. Let me know how the plastic surgeons are down there. I love you.