To Dim or Not to Dim? Broadway League's Joan Rivers 'Snub' Ignites Publicity Firestorm

By Jon Sobel on Sep 09, 2014 11:06 AM EDT

Joan Rivers, who died last week at 81, joked that she wanted her funeral to be a "a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action." There'll be plenty of lights tonight, at least--the Broadway League won't dim theirs for Joan.

In her 2012 book I Hate Everyone...Starting With Me, the comedienne also wrote, "I want paparazzi and I wanted publicists making a scene." I wonder if the controversy roiling the entertainment press about Broadway not dimming its lights for her is the kind of "scene" she had in mind.

As of this writing, the first-listed story on a Google News lookup of "Joan Rivers" is Entertainment Weekly's story entitled "Here's why Broadway won't dim marquee lights for Joan Rivers." The reason, according to Broadway League executive director Charlotte St. Martin, is that Rivers didn't meet the organization's criteria for light-dimming. To wit, she wasn't "very active recently in the theater, or…synonymous with Broadway…she hasn't acted on Broadway in 20 years."

While that's true, it seems petty, even churlish, not to dim the lights for a few minutes. While Joan Rivers might not have been "synonymous with Broadway," she was one of Broadway's biggest boosters in the pop-culture pantheon. She certainly seemed synonymous with New York, and a Broadway tribute, especially one with little cost or inconvenience to anybody, would seem the decent thing to do.

"There's nothing like Broadway at night," Rivers once wrote, "and I try to go to Mamma Mia! if possible, because I like to watch 15,000 Japanese tourists in the audience trying to sing 'Waterloo.' If you don't go to Broadway, you're a fool. On Broadway, off Broadway, above Broadway, below Broadway, go! Don't tell me there isn't something wonderful playing. If I'm home in New York at night, I'm either at a Broadway or an Off Broadway show. We're in the theater capital of the world, and if you don't get it, you're an idiot."

Jujamcyn Theaters president Jordan Roth doesn't want to be an idiot. Jujamcyn will on its own initiative dim the lights at its handful of Broadway houses at 6:45 this evening.

An online petition to dim the lights has gathered 4,643 signatures as of this writing, and the Twitter hashtag #Dim4Joan was being tweeted more than 300 times an hour.

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TagsJoan Rivers, broadway, The Broadway League, Jujamcyn Theaters

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