Phyllis Diller was an original. And for generations of funny women, she was an inspiration.
Before Sarah Silverman, before Lisa Lampanelli, before Ellen Degeneres and Margaret Cho, Roseanne Barr and Paula Poundstone, Whoopi Goldberg and even before Joan Rivers, there was one pioneering funny woman. She was Phyllis Diller, and she was one of the very first female comedians to find success as a stand-up.
Diller, who died yesterday at 95 years old, began her stand-up comedy career at age 40 at her husband’s urging. As a housewife and mother of five, Diller found fodder for comedy in family life – and as an ad copywriter, she had the skills to craft a good joke. Many of her jokes and gags featured the husband she referred to as “Fang,” whom she later admitted bore little resemblance to either of her real-life mates: “Fang is permanent in the act, of course. Don’t confuse him with my real husbands. They’re temporary.”
Also among Diller’s favorite standup topics was her own appearance – she could build an entire routine on her “bird legs.”
Diller was one of the great self-deprecating comics – but she gave Fang his equal share of deprecating, too.
From her wacky dresses to her signature cigarette holder (unlit – Diller was a lifelong non-smoker), from her unmistakable laugh to her joke cabinet (donated to the Smithsonian a few years ago, it contained more than 50,000 jokes and gags), Phyllis Diller was an original. And for generations of funny women, she was an inspiration.