On September 4, 2014, Joan Rivers passed away. With her, too, died one of the last bastions of insult comedy, a brand of humor that takes aim at anyone and everything, and that is either completely awful (Daniel Tosh, Lisa Lampanelli, plenty of others) or artfully abrasive (Rivers, Lenny Bruce, a scarce few more). The E! Network’s Fashion Police should’ve died, too.
Much has been said about Rivers, but what’s important is that she had been doing stand-up since the late ’50s, and all along she’d been skewering herself as often as her outward targets. One of her earliest, well-known bits is all about her desperation for a man. “My parents had a sign, ‘Last girl before thruway.’ I’d get an obscene phone call. I’d say, ‘Hold on a minute, let me get a cigarette.’” She took her craft seriously, but did not take herself seriously. And anyone who was paying attention to Rivers, or Fashion Police, knew this.
Fashion Police began in 2010 as a half-hour program (and later stretched to a full hour), and is branded as an in-depth critique of celebrity fashion. Its creation was tied directly to Rivers’ skilled but outdated, history of insult comedy, and so the show was always, at its core, reliant upon her. Kelly Osbourne and Giuliana Rancic were important, too, but they were there for two distinct reasons: for Osbourne to establish her fashion credibility and for Rancic to, well, continue growing her “brand” as much as possible. Rivers was the bite, the edge — the crux. When she died, Fashion Police still had its E!-branded badges, sure, but they no longer had a license for cruelty.
Three months after Rivers died, Kathy Griffin, a longtime friend of Rivers’, was announced as her replacement. (Apparently, she was asked shortly after Rivers’ death, an act Griffin called “gross,” and that should have also clued her in to the producers’ intentions.) Then, two months after that, in late February, Rancic proved that she was definitely not a comedian by making a statement about young star Zendaya’s dreadlocks smelling like “patchouli” or “weed.” The comments sent the celebrity gossip world into a frenzy and proved that Fashion Police was just a roomful of celebrities talking about other celebrities in ways that, without the legacy and influence of Rivers, were not revelatory or comedic, but just plain rude — and, in the case of Rancic, very possibly racist, even if unintentionally so.
As the story goes, Rancic’s comments lead to a back-and-forth between her and Zendaya, ultimately resulting in Rancic’s apology. Unfortunately for Fashion Police, Zendaya and Osbourne are friends, and before the whole thing had been settled, Osbourne took to Twitter to defend her friend and herself, but not the show.
Shortly after these tweets, Osbourne quit the show. Meanwhile, Griffin made it known publicly that she wouldn’t have said the weed comment, effectively allying herself with the show’s critics. In that same interview, Griffin said something indicative of Fashion Police‘s whole problem: “My approach is always to go for the laugh, be as inappropriate as possible, but also change with the times. Comedy requires evolution as much as any business.” And that’s exactly the opposite of what happened after Rivers’ death: the show did not evolve. Instead, it attempted to replace Rivers with Griffin, whom they thought was a mere emulation of Rivers, but who instead, thankfully, is anti-bullying and anti-bad humor.
Griffin resigned today, after just seven weeks (and seven episodes) on the show, and with the full support of Osbourne. And so without Griffin to act as willing head bully and Osbourne actively expressing her disdain, the show is doomed to be all insults and no humor — which is why the thing should just be laid to rest. It’s continued on not because it’s a legacy show — remember, it has barely existed for five years — but because it is a part of Rivers’ legacy. Except it isn’t. Not like this. And with the growing popularity of things like the #askhermore campaign, the world is catching on to the perniciousness of the red carpet game and all of the cattiness it brings. Rivers is gone, insult comedy is dead, and culture is moving beyond image-shaming as entertainment. Insert crummy joke about turning in badges here.