In Memoriam Joan Rivers: Funny, Smart, Shattering Glass Ceilings

Joan Rivers, an internationally-acclaimed personality, passed away on Sept. 4, 2014, in Manhattan at age 81, following complications from a medical procedure.

Joan succeeded in shattering many glass ceilings over the years, starting with stand-up comedy, and she continued making her mark in numerous other arenas.  She served as the emcee of the 2013 Matrix Awards, and NYWICI conducted the following interview with her, in which Joan offered striking advice for women in the workplace.

Joan Rivers​What milestones or turning points in your life have helped shape your career?
After several years of struggling, I went on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and he said, right on the air that night, “You are going to be a star,” and that changed my whole life.

Who, if anyone, has influenced you professionally?
No one – seriously no one – has ever influenced me professionally. I was never lucky enough to have a mentor – and it is luck! I was one of those people that no one believed in.

What role has risk-taking played in your career?
I don’t like rules and don’t obey many of them, so risk-taking comes automatically. You can’t have one set of rules. They must be individualized, especially in a creative business. I have never said ‘no’ to anything. You never know when something wonderful is going to happen! Try it! Do it! What’s the worst that will happen? You’re going to fail. I started on QVC 22 years ago when it was untested. I just said: ‘This is television and it’s fabulous!’ I took the risk and it paid off. I tried a late night Fox show, going up against Johnny Carson, and that didn’t pay off. Some risks do, some don’t. “Fashion Police” was a total risk. The question was: ‘Do you want to fly every single week out to California, even though you live in New York, to be on a television show?’ That decision is paying off. Try it! You just don’t know.

Since you talk about your television career, what inspired you to open your life up to the cameras on WE tv’s “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?”
This is the age of reality shows. They’re much more interesting than made-up sitcoms.

You have come to be renowned as much for your fashion sense as for being an iconic comedienne. What are the best “fashion” investments for women seeking to move up at the office?
Look like a businesswoman if you want to be taken seriously. We all know that you have great breasts or good legs, and by all means show them after 6 p.m. Wear that one terrific, great suit or that simple, tailored dress with one good piece of jewelry and a classic watch. Better one quality piece of jewelry than thousands of jingling pieces. Also, invest in a sturdy pair of designer pumps – it’s hard to climb the corporate ladder in strappy heels. In other words, dress appropriately. I don’t want to invest my money fund with someone in a micro-mini who is not wearing underwear.

Do you think humor plays a role in the workplace?
Yes, humor plays a great role in a meeting because it bonds people together. But humor isn’t enough. Funny and shallow won’t help you. Funny and smart will get you everywhere. Camaraderie makes deal-making much easier.

What advice do you have for young women beginning their careers?
Never sleep with the boss! You want to get a leg up, not caught in the chandelier. I’m pleading with you: Don’t get involved in office romance. If and when it breaks up, it makes things just too difficult.

To view footage of Joan Rivers from the 2013 Matrix Awards, please click HERE.  


As told to Wendy Maurice, founder of Maurice Communications, a NY-based consultancy providing strategic mainstream and digital communications services.