With her razor-sharp wit, Joan Rivers managed to offend just about everyone at one point or another. But her final month was marked by one of the biggest controversies of her career, magnified by social media.
While numerous comedians such as Sarah Silverman and Roseanne Barr shared their grief over her death, an online outpouring from members of the public revolved around another idea: karma. After she fell into unconsciousness on Aug. 28, thousands of people tweeted that she deserved her illness because of her controversial remarks on Palestine last month. “Karma at work there. Without a doubt,” one person tweeted after her death. The hashtag #karma saw a large spike on Twitter for a brief period Thursday.
In August, Rivers was at the center of an Internet backlash when TMZ posted a video of her commenting on the Gaza conflict in which she said that because the Palestinians voted for Hamas, they were getting what they deserved. While Rivers never apologized for her remarks — fellow edgy comedian Anthony Jeselnik tweeted that she once told him “she would die before she’d ever apologize for a joke” — she did offer a clarification on her Facebook page.
“I am both saddened and disappointed that my statement about the tragedy of civilian casualties was totally taken out of context,” the post said. “What I said and stand behind is, war is hell and unfortunately civilians are victims of political conflicts. We, The United States, certainly know this as 69 years later we still feel the guilt of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The media, as usual, has decided to only quote the most out of context and inflammatory non sequitur rather than giving an accurate account of what my intentions were behind the statement. Along with every other sane person in this world, I am praying for peace. It is stupid and wrong and I am tired of bearing the brunt of attacks by people who want to sell newspapers or gain ratings by creating a scandal about me that is non-existent.”
Though her comments in the TMZ video shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with her trash-talking style, the Internet, and Palestinian supporters in particular, seemed to think that her remarks crossed a line and couldn’t be excused as an attempt at humor.
In 2013, she also fielded controversy when she said of German supermodel Heidi Klum that “the last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.” She defended the joke to CNN, saying “It’s a joke, No. 1. No. 2, it is about the Holocaust. This is the way I remind people about the Holocaust. I do it through humor.”
But Rivers did not seem overly concerned about what the public thought. She spoke her mind and was a master of keeping herself relevant — even if it meant she was the punchline, as she often was in say, actor-comedian Ralph Garman’s rants about her during the “Kevin and Bean” morning show on Los Angeles radio station KROQ.
“I never saw someone attack a stage with so much energy,” Louie C.K. said in his statement about her. “She was a controlled lightning bolt. She was a prolific and unpredictable, joyful joke writer.”