Paulina Pinsky is a writer. She received her MFA in Nonfiction Creative Writing from Columbia University in 2019. She has been published by The Huffington Post, MTV News, The Columbia Journal, and The Fbomb. She is currently a Professor at LIM College.

She also happens to be a trained sketch comedy writer and improviser, and has performed at the Second City in Chicago, the Upright Citizen's Brigade in New York, the Pitt in New York and the Annoyance Theater in New York. She teaches Comedy Writing at Columbia University during the summer.


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Featured essay, “It’s A Match”

Released September 19, 2019

Academic/Critical Theory:

Barnard College American Studies Senior Thesis

Joan Rivers and the Spectacle of Defacement: Comedy, Plastic Surgery, and the Red Carpet Freakshow

This thesis analyzes Joan Rivers through a feminist disability lens. In the first chapter of this thesis, I examine Rivers’s comedy. I claim that through disability drag, Rivers was able to create a comedic persona that is incongruent with her own. In the second chapter I analyze Rivers’s relationship with cosmetic surgery. Although Rivers used cosmetic surgery as an empowering form of identity-crafting to achieve cosmetic beauty, it proved to be an unsustainable project that turned her into a freak of sorts. And finally in the third chapter, I view the red carpet as the modern day freak show, with Rivers as its carnival barker. In the same way that she verbally de-faced herself through disability drag, then physically de-faced herself through cosmetic surgery, she de-faced celebrities in Hollywood on the red carpet. In this spectacle of de-facement, Rivers democratized disability in order to make her highly-artificial face normal.

Ultimately, Joan Rivers created red carpet culture. Her impact on 21st century popular culture was pervasive: no matter the status of the celebrity, they were subjected to Rivers’s gaze. It is important to analyze Rivers through a disability lens because ultimately, through her acidic commentary she was able to disable celebrities in Hollywood with her words. And through my analysis, I prove that Rivers first used verbal de-facement on herself before she used it on others. Rivers started her career by first verbally de-facing herself in her comedy, then she literally de-faced herself through her use of cosmetic surgery, and finally, she turned her verbal knife outward to de-face celebrities on the red carpet: Joan Rivers created and perpetuated a spectacle of de- facement.