If you are reading this, I’d like you to consider taking a moment of appreciation for Phyllis Diller, who passed away on Monday, August 20, 2012 at the age of 95 years old.
I first met Phyllis in the ‘80s when we did a Showtime comedy special together. She held court in her dressing room, as she gave us “up and coming” female comics tons of generous advice:
“The worst thing is the amateur comic who opens with, ‘Are you having a good time?’ How do they know they are having a good time? They’ve only just arrived. That’s a cheap way to get a reaction, and it’s also the worst possible move, to create an opening for the audience to talk. If they take control with that question, you’ll never get them back.”
Later, when I wrote my first book, Stand-up Comedy: The Book, Phyllis agreed to an interview. She revealed to me her motivation (and method) for becoming a stand-up comic at 40 years old: “My husband had left and my kids were hungry. I had to make a living. I was always funny, but I knew I needed to get a persona.”
Phyllis invented her persona. She knew that she couldn’t be a glamour girl, so she put on a crazy wig and created her imaginary husband, “Fang.” Many of you who were familiar with her act might be shocked to learn that Fang was invented – because he became so real to us in her act.
“For Fang, getting out of bed in the morning was a career move… Fang took the entire family out for coffee and doughnuts the other night. The kids enjoyed it. It was the first time they’d ever given blood!”
Thank you, Phyllis, for being a trailblazer for the rest of us female comics. You left us smiling -- and left this world in that same way.
Phyllis died in her sleep, and was found by her son who said, “She had a smile on her face.”
As Phyllis said, “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”
You will never be forgotten.
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