Joan Rivers – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Wednesday October 17
If her support act was to be believed, Joan Rivers had been shipped to Nottingham, piece by piece, in a stack of cryogenically frozen containers. As the duo – Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James McConnel – performed their elegantly witty set, she was apparently being thawed and re-assembled in the wings. The grand announcement was made and the fans rose to their feet – only to be greeted by a cadaverous figure on a stretcher, carried onto the stage and swiftly dispatched again.
After the interval, Joan made a second entrance, this time in full working order. Even at the age of 79, her energies were undimmed; throughout the 70 minute set, she barely paused for breath, rushing this way and that across the stage as she heaped her foul-mouthed scorn upon all and sundry.
If you only knew of Joan Rivers from her television appearances, which are hardly models of decorum and restraint in the first place, then you might have been taken aback by the sheer filthiness of her on-stage routine. Sexually unabashed and gynaecologically thorough – to put it mildly – she exhibited a bracing disregard for conventional notions of good taste, breaking every taboo in the book. All manner of love-making positions were mimed, her favourites being the ones that allowed her to multi-task; her demonstration of how to enjoy intimate pleasure while checking her emails was particularly unforgettable.
And then, of course, there were those deliciously vicious take-downs of celebrity figures; within the first minute alone, she had demolished Susan Boyle and Tom Daley, and that was just for starters. Whole sections of society were kicked away with a well-aimed quip or two: Mexicans, Chinese, Liverpudlians. At times, you had to wonder how she was getting away with it, but Joan’s brazen, take-no-prisoners bravado somehow rendered all prissy, PC-minded objections redundant.
Behind her, a three piece band remained motionless behind their instruments, only getting to play as the star made her exit. It can’t have been the toughest of gigs. The keyboardist was briefly pressed into service, attempting to hoist his employer onto the lid of his grand piano. She almost made it, as well.
A few were spared the Rivers wrath. The gay men in the audience got a free pass, “because they’ll laugh at anything”. Some of Joan’s “very dear friends” in show business were treated with something approaching kindness, although there was usually a sting in the tail. Other than that, it was open season: Justin Bieber was “that adorable little lesbian”, Angelina Jolie was diseased, Jennifer Aniston had, shall we say, some personal hygiene problems.
At times, it did all feel a little too relentless, with little in the way of subtle pacing. But for the most part, as the crowd shrieked with delighted outrage and the veteran comic mugged, cringed and mock-spewed her way through her routine, you had to hand it to her: this was a class turn, from one of the greats.