Can We Archive?! Collecting Joan Rivers's Gags

© Peden + Munk

Meet Michael Tuttle, the man who has read every one of the powerhouse comedienne's 90,000 jokes and knows exactly where they should go.

Michael Tuttle was a Random House salesman for two decades before becoming one of Los Angeles’s most sought-after private librarians. But the 68-year-old California native, who has worked on the libraries of everyone from Steven Spielberg to Tom Cruise, is also a master archivist, specializing in the cataloging of books, artwork, and various private collections. Tuttle’s most recent high-profile project (one on a roster that includes the Gore Vidal estate and Ellen Degeneres’s personal collection) is to archive every joke that the late comedian Joan Rivers told over her nearly five-decade-long career.

How did you become involved in archiving Joan Rivers’s collection? I was contacted by Joan’s agent, C. C. Hirsch, at CAA, who is based in New York but got my name from another agent in L.A.

The documentary A Piece of Work revealed just how many jokes she kept on index cards. How organized was her collection? Yes, you could see she was an exceedingly organized and professional woman—her work was so laboriously documented. In total, there were close to 90,000 jokes in her library, either typewritten or handwritten, all on three-by-five index cards, and categorized by subject matter and year
 in card catalog drawers.

Sounds overwhelming. How do you begin to catalog that? 
I have been scanning all of the material digitally and am now putting together a database so they can be referenced exactly as they looked in her original files.

Who is making the decisions about the data­ base and archives? 
I’ve met Joan’s daughter, Melissa, and I understand she is involved heavily in all the decisions regarding her mother’s estate, especially the comedy material.

Now that Rivers’s
 East 62nd Street apartment, in New York, is on the market for $28 mil­lion, where will you 
be doing the archiving? I’m based in Los Angeles, so I don’t actually know where I’ll be working when I return to complete the archiving. I’ll need to find that out!

Finally, which of her jokes is your favorite? “The only bad thing about my video phone is that
 it gives me another big worry. Suddenly I find myself saying, ‘Does this phone make me look fat?’”

For more information on Michael Tuttle and M. A. Tuttle Library Services, go to matuttle.com.

Image Credit: © Peden + Munk

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