Phyllis Diller was one of the earliest and most memorable stand-up female
comics so it would be interesting to hear what she thinks of her craft today.
Seeking her opinion is a bit tricky since she’s dead but lucky me, I’m blessed that so many extraordinary souls just decide to pop in and pay me a visit. Phillis Diller happened to be one of those.
In my recent book, SOULS OF LEGENDS SPEAK – Surprising Reflections from the Other Side, one chapter deals with this subject and is titled, The Importance of Humor. Although the participants in that chapter: Jack Lemmon, Erma Bombeck, Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers and Charlie Chaplin all had fascinating comments—surprisingly Cokie Roberts, the journalist and newscaster also had something to offer about humor and a good laugh. But the highlight from that group for me was Phyllis Diller’s perspective. I thought what she shared was very smart and amazingly insightful. So, here is her message, in its entirety.
Well, I went here and not where many would have guessed. HA! I still see life through a lens of humor, but the sharp edges of sarcasm have left. Amazing how most comedians approach their humor through a life of emotional pain born from rejection, indifference or even abuse. We fight back by being who we were afraid to be in real life.
I’m not making this more deep than it is but stand-up comedy is extraordinarily tough. Some, though, have a natural gift of timing—a uniqueness to their style and something that makes people remember them. The best comedians take from life. Vulgar language is a trick to shock and fill time when the material is weak. People laugh when they’re uncomfortable—not because the material is funny but because they are nervous about it. You see nervous laughter all the time when Uncle Charlie belches at the table, little Johnny farts or two kids are caught making out on the porch. Of course, today, innocence is somewhat lost so instead of innocent, nervous laughter we find belligerence, defiance and anger as substitutes.
We’ve lost our sense of humor—or rather the innocent core in us that could keep humor alive. I’m glad I left before all of this was ushered in. I was irreverent and extreme, but my material was based on truth, truth 80% of the people saw. Today lies qualify, vicious attacks are encouraged and nibbling around the edges of this life experience is lost to those who go for the jugular with a dagger.
Sandy, I admire you. Your sense of humor is there but it’s your love that shines through. Life can’t be taken that seriously. It’s over in a flash and then we all face the pain and reality of how we treated others! Eternity doing that number isn’t worth a few minutes on the stage of life hating our fellow man.
I leave you with a parting shot of my hair, cigarette holder and wrinkled face! Boy, I was a beauty—and didn’t care! People loved me and I loved them back. Now, I’m here with Fang and we both send our love to you.
Keep it up, Phyllis
I burst out laughing when she signed off by referring to Fang, the name she pinned on her poor unwitting husband. I had totally forgotten her ‘pet’ name for him and when she said it, I couldn't help but laugh out loud.
If you’re one of the lucky people who remember this legendary comic, I hope this blog brought back fond memories. If Phyllis Diller is a stranger to you and you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing her on stage, perhaps you can find her on Google or YouTube somewhere.
She’s worth the search.