Joan Rivers. Love her, hate her, she had a BRAND.
For the first part of her life—before the Johnny Carson feud, the Fox crash-and-burn and the suicide of her husband Edgar—Joan was the queen of “Can we tawk?”
Her comedy was acerbic yes, but with broad appeal. Women loved her biting, previously off-limits humor and men found her fearlessly unfiltered (and wanted to buy her a Scotch).
But her professional meltdown and personal tragedy set her adrift.
So she reinvented herself.
Not just once. But over and over and over again.
It’s how she stayed relevant in a business with the attention span of a gnat.
Driven by what some would call a pathological need to be working, to thrill an audience, she refused to go quietly.
First, she morphed herself into daytime talk show host, winning an Emmy and a respectable 5-year run. Next, she transformed the red carpet dance, gleefully raking starlets and icons over the coals in “Fashion Police”. “Who are you wearing” remains THE red carpet catchphrase.
She attacked every new media platform while staying true to her comedy (and her brand): Cable, QVC shopping, “The Apprentice” reality TV, “In Bed With Joan” on the web. She remained relatable (i.e. relevant) because nothing was off limits, including her own life—from tragedy to aging and plastic surgery. She never stopped doing stand-up comedy (and taking notes for improvement) INTO HER 80’S, including the night before she died.
She was relentlessly focused on being better for her audience. And growing it. Every. Single. Day.
And while I couldn’t watch her after-the-action fashion run-downs (too mean-spirited and gossipy for my taste), I did find her funny and refreshingly candid. She was generous and kind by most accounts and to be skewered by her was (mostly) an honor.
But what I truly admire about her is how she approached the business of comedy and her brand. She didn’t—at least in a big picture sense—care if you liked her or not. She understood that she wouldn’t appeal to everyone and didn’t try. She was unabashedly unapologetic.
Which is the perfect lesson to the rest of us.
When you know who you are—your values, your talents, your passions—being true to yourself and your audience is a no-brainer.
You can let the fur fly.
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