News | June 12, 2023

National Comedy Center Acquires Joan Rivers' Handwritten Jokes and Joke File

BREAK THRU FILMS/IFC/National Comedy Center

Joan Rivers with her joke file

The National Comedy Center will become the home of Joan Rivers’ career archive including a file cabinet containing more than 65,000 original jokes spanning from the start of her career in the 1950s to 2014 when she died.

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 as an 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,” said her daughter 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.

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,” said National Comedy Center’s Director of Archives, Dr. Laura LaPlaca.

Comedy legend Carol Burnett added: “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.”