What does it look like when you’ve become a “successful” artist? Does it get easier? Does there come a moment when you finally get to coast? The answer: Heck no.

I remember seeing Johnny Depp in an interview and he confessed that every time he makes a film, he worries it might be his last. And from the outside, from the perspective of the ordinary fan, you’d think, “No way. You’re Johnny Depp!” He must just be trying to be modest or something, right?

But in reality, though he is famous and that fame may lead to employment opportunities (though not necessarily – look at how many American Idol “stars” disappear into obscurity not long after the season closes), his situation is still very much like any of ours. Going from gig to gig, always trying to keep the momentum going. In fact, the bigger the game, the bigger the moves you have to make.

A favorite saying of mine, from productivity guru, David Allen (author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity), is:

“The better you get, the better you’d better get.”

This reality is best portrayed in (you may be surprised to learn) the documentary: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. I highly recommend seeing this film. Besides that it will earn from you some new found artistic respect for this iconic entertainer (yes, truly!), this motion picture also does well in the arena of myth busting, which I love and which I believe serves to educate all of us about our preconceptions on the business of art and the art of business.

Some of its worthwhile takeaways:

  • There is no downtime for the dedicated arts hustler. From the beginning of the movie, you see Joan and her personal assistant brainstorming how they can possibly fill her calendar with jobs. I understand that some reviewers found these life aspects of a veteran performer depressing. I on the other hand found it refreshing, honest, and inspiring. There was something really humanizing and accessible about it, seeing that ALL artists from the beginners up to the stars have the same issues to contend with, unifying us all in our respective journeys.
  • Theater doesn’t pay. This is only mentioned for a blip of a second. But for the performing artist that’s watching, Joan mentioning how her theater show going to Edinburgh and then to London (um, kind of a BIG deal in the theater world) isn’t going to generate any significant income, rings like a sledgehammer over the head. The lesson: Not all successes are equal.
  • Money IS important. The more money you make, the more people you can help. Who says rich people are greedy? While we’re allowed to see what absurd pampering Joan Rivers treats herself to (the kind of stuff that would bunch the underoos of any snooty broke artist), we are also blessed to see her cutting countless checks in the thousands of dollars to support friends, family, and other causes. I’ve never understood, especially when the arts are under frequent financial attack, how any artist or arts administrator can be so privileged as to reject even the thought of building wealth. To quote rapper Talib Kweli, it’s “like slaves on the ship talking about who’s got the flyer chain.”

Besides all this hustle business, the film is great too in that you will gain insight to Joan’s beginnings as a cutting-edge artist, an edge you will see she hasn’t lost one bit. Beyond her current fame as a cosmetic surgery poster girl, you will be reminded that this woman is a super seasoned, no-holds-barred, absolutely hilarious, and professional funny woman. Rent it at your local video store. Or queue it in your netflix.