Until last week, I never thought of Joan Rivers as a brilliant taxonomist. I was a fan  of Rivers back in her “can we talk” days, but I hadn’t really followed the recent “red carpet” phase of her career.  In the deluge of tributes and remembrances since her passing, I did a “double take” when one of her friends described her amazing catalog of jokes.  She was reported to have written, collected and cataloged over a million jokes during the course of her career. Apparently each joke was assigned descriptors and filed in in a massive catalog which resembled a traditional library card catalog. So I did some research. Not only had she developed a personal knowledge management system, but she did it the old fashioned way… no keyboards, no network, no database. A lot of sweat equity invested to stay “at the top of her snark.”

A Tumblr site from Austin Kleon pointed me to this clip from a documentary called Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

GQ even posted a selection of her typed cards.

Bob Hope’s Joke Vault  ( LOC exhibit c- A Leibovitz)


Do comedians take KM more seriously than the average attorney?

Apparently Milton Berle and George Carlin had also developed sophisticated systems for organizing and retrieving their jokes. Bob Hope had what was called a “joke vault.”

Lawyers like stand up comics live by their wits and have to be prepared with their “best material” in every context. The average 21st Century lawyer has the advantage of access to sophisticated technology, yet they remain largely adverse to contributing even the most basic descriptive  attributes (e.g. a meaningful  title beyond the word “memo” or ” contract”)  for documents they may have invested weeks in drafting. In large firms, lawyers have knowledge professionals ready and willing to help them select, vet, normalize and code documents as exemplars for future use. Lawyers still don’t “get” the dramatic impact that  even small amounts of curation effort can have on improving access to “their best material.” So why is it that stand up comics appear to have a penchant for knowledge management that evades many lawyers?