Kathleen Geier in After Hours:
There's something about the outpouring of sentimental tributes to the late Joan Rivers that just feels wrong. The Rivers celebrations have shown a disconcerting tendency to sanitize this messy, maddening, and sometimes appalling human being. In truth, Rivers was a profoundly unsettling figure, and if you were paying any attention at all, it's almost impossible not to have deeply ambivalent feelings about her.
For one thing, in their apparent efforts to turn this acid-tongued comic into a lovable, albeit slightly naughty grandma, many of these encomiums grossly misrepresent the nature of her humor, which was utterly scabrous. For example: in her recent book, Rivers charged HBO with committing “crimes against humanity” for putting Lena Dunham's “fat ass on display.” That is far from the only time Rivers viciously mocked Dunham's weight. Earlier this year, she claimed that Dunham is “sending a message out to people saying, 'It's okay. Stay fat. Get diabetes. Everybody die, lose your fingers.'”
Some critics claim to discern a humanistic project behind Rivers' comedy of cruelty. For example, Mitchell Fain argued that Rivers “says things out loud what we’re all thinking, in our worst moments,” and that by doing so, “the monster gets smaller.” What seems far likelier is that the monster gets socially sanctioned. For decades, a staple of Rivers' act have been nasty jokes about female celebrities who are fat, stupid, or slutty, and male celebrities who are allegedly gay. Rarely did she talk smack about straight male celebrities. I'm a longtime Rivers watcher and I'm hard-pressed to think of any prominent examples.
That brings us to Joan Rivers' politics, which mostly were horrible.