JAMESTOWN, N.Y., June 8, 2023 – On the 90th birthday of the late comedy icon Joan Rivers, her daughter Melissa Rivers announced that the National Comedy Center, the United States’ official cultural institution dedicated to the art form of comedy, will become the home of Joan Rivers’ career archive including a file cabinet containing over 65,000 original jokes spanning from the start of her career in the 1950s to 2014 when she passed away.
The archive thoroughly chronicles Rivers' artistic evolution and creative process, from her emergent years navigating 1950s Greenwich Village nightclub gigs and performing at Chicago's Second City, through her historic rise in standup comedy and on late night television, to her influential later years changing the face of celebrity interviews and fashion commentary, and becoming a key architect of reality TV.
"I am so honored that my mother's archives will have a home at the National Comedy Center. To be included with the legends of comedy who are represented at the National Comedy Center is amazing. My mother would have been thrilled to be seated at the best table,” stated Melissa Rivers.
Highlights from the collection include Rivers' earliest hand-written jokes, personally compiled scrapbooks, never-before-heard autobiographical audio recordings, hundreds of pre-show preparatory notes, intimate correspondence with peers in entertainment, the guest books from her storied run as host of “The Late Show with Joan Rivers,” and a selection of the iconic gowns, boas, and jewelry that defined her inimitable style.
“Joan Rivers was a master of evolution who ascended—again and again—to the heights of success in an industry that was not structured in her favor, blazing a wide and clear trail for generations of artists who would follow,” stated National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson. “She is not only a role model for women in comedy, but for all artists who desire to wield comedy's expressive power to communicate something vital about the human condition.”
The National Comedy Center will debut an interactive exhibit in its galleries in Jamestown, NY in 2025, allowing museumgoers to explore the joke file. With immersive audiovisual design from the museum's award-winning creative team, the exhibit will offer a deep dive into the artistic process of a culture-shifting innovator whose singular body of work exemplifies extraordinary craftsmanship and professional resilience.
The joke file consists of several file drawers, once installed in Rivers’ home office, meticulously arranged by subject matter. 564 jokes are filed under PARENTS HATED ME (see: NOT WANTED) and over 300 within the STEWARDESSES category. In a category called 28 AND SINGLE (see: WEDDINGS), Rivers logged: "I was left standing at the altar so long my bouquet took root!”; under EDGAR (see: MARRIAGE, HONEYMOON) she wrote: "My honeymoon was a disaster. The next day, he screamed, ‘Don’t tell me you can’t cook either;’” and in COOKING she recorded a classic line, made famous on one of her 31 Ed Sullivan Show appearances: “If the Lord wanted me to cook, I’d have aluminum hands. These hands were meant to hold charge cards." The joke file was featured in the 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.
“Joan Rivers is among the most influential stand-up comedians in the history of the art form. Her legacy, characterized by bold truth-telling, personal vulnerability, and a raw determination to make great art, altered the trajectory of American cultural history—more than once,” stated the National Comedy Center’s Director of Archives, Dr. Laura LaPlaca.
Fellow comedians also commented on the announcement:
Comedy legend Carol Burnett stated, "Joan was one of the funniest people I ever met, and a friend for decades. It’s wonderful to know that her archives will join the National Comedy Center, a one-of-a-kind museum dreamed up by none other than Lucille Ball: a woman whom Joan and I both loved and admired very much.”
“This archive is priceless not only for the history of comedy but also for women in art. Joan was a trailblazer, an icon, a true legend,” said comedian Margaret Cho. “I was lucky enough to know her and call her a friend. To be able to see her life in jokes is a tremendous honor.”
“All of us in comedy are indebted to Joan Rivers. Her body of work is an essential part of comedy history and her full life was a model of creative resilience,” stated comedian Lewis Black, Founding Chair of the National Comedy Center Advisory Board. “I’m so glad that her archive will be preserved at the National Comedy Center, a museum that opens minds and sparks creativity by teaching us about comedy’s past. This is why it’s so important that the National Comedy Center exists—to preserve our vital comedy heritage. There is no better place for Joan’s story to live on.”
“Joan Rivers moved the future forward when she walked into a man’s world and made room for women," stated comedian Chelsea Handler. "Joan Rivers was so instrumental in my personal career, but more importantly she remains an iconic trailblazer for all standup comedy. She constantly pushed the boundaries of material, platforms and gender. Just about everything we see today in comedy has a connection in some way to Joan,” stated comedian Howie Mandel.
“Joan Rivers was a fearless truth teller who proved that no topic is off limits—as long as you are delivering a brilliant and well crafted joke. She accomplished many firsts for female comedians, and yet she had a major impact on comedians of all genders, races and colors. Most of all, she was utterly hilarious,” stated comedian Judy Gold.
Melissa Rivers also announced today the launch of a special edition 4-disc CD box set collection titled “Joan Rivers – The Diva Rides Again” that will feature five hours of never-before-released recordings of Joan’s comedy, including six decades worth of hilarious material and a special 16-page collector’s book of liner notes with never-before-seen photos. The box set is currently available for preorder on Amazon, Target.com and Walmart.com and will be released on August 18, 2023 on streaming platforms such as iTunes and Spotify. The set is produced and distributed by Comedy Dynamics in partnership with the Joan Rivers estate.
The National Comedy Center is the United States’ Congressionally-designated comedy archive and maintains a collection of over 150,000 individual objects, documents, and recordings chronicling the contributions of innovators like Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz, George Carlin, The Smothers Brothers, and the creative minds behind Saturday Night Live, In Living Color, and Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. Artifacts from the careers of dozens of artists, from Charlie Chaplin, Phyllis Diller, and Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy, Gabriel Iglesias, and Mindy Kaling are on view in the museum's galleries on a rotating basis.
The National Comedy Center's advisory board members include artists like Amy Poehler, Tiffany Haddish, Jim Gaffigan, Pete Docter, Paula Poundstone, George Schlatter, W. Kamau Bell, and Lewis Black, and also included Carl Reiner (2018-2020) and George Shapiro (2018-2022). The Center is located in Lucille Ball's hometown of Jamestown, NY and was born of Ball's vision to establish a national-scale hub for the celebration of the comedic craft.
Further information on the Joan Rivers archive and upcoming exhibit at the National Comedy Center is available at ComedyCenter.org/JoanRivers.
About Joan Rivers:
For over 50 years, Joan Rivers pioneered her own brand of irreverent, unconventional comedy. Joan had crafted herself into one of the most original voices of the 20th century—with a unique sound, cadence, look, and perspective that not only set her apart, but galvanized audiences that identified with her as she boldly became the first stand-up to address the intimate and profound issues facing women of her generation. She exposed and then challenged subjects ranging from body image, sex, and the pressures of dating, to childbirth, motherhood, and the taboo of questioning societal expectations to marry.
An unparalleled legend in the entertainment industry, Joan was more than just a comedian—she was a force of nature. An internationally recognized celebrity, Emmy-award-winning talk-show host, Grammy-award-winning performer, Tony-award-nominated actress, bestselling author, playwright, screenwriter, film director, columnist, lecturer, radio host, jewelry designer, entrepreneur, and the renowned creator of the modern day “red carpet,” Joan was also the first woman to break the glass ceiling of male-hosted late-night television.
Joan passed away on September 4, 2014, in New York City, but her enduring legacy as an entertainer lives on. Above all her accomplishments, she was most proud of her daughter, Melissa, and her grandson, Cooper.
About the National Comedy Center:
The National Comedy Center is the Congressionally-designated cultural institution dedicated to presenting the vital story of comedy and preserving its heritage for future generations.
Named one of TIME magazine’s “World’s Greatest Places,” the “Best New Museum” in the country by USA Today, and to U.S. News & World Report’s list of “25 Top Family Weekend Getaways in the U.S.,” the museum’s immersive experience employs cutting-edge technology to present the story of comedy from its origins to the present day.
Based on the vision of Jamestown native Lucille Ball for her hometown to become a destination for comedy, the non-profit National Comedy Center’s mission is to provide education on the comedic arts in the form of commentary and contextualization of its bodies of work across all eras and genres of the art form.