Funny Lady, Phillis Diller
Phyllis Diller (born Phyllis Driver, 1917 - 2012) smiles as she adjusts an over-sized hat, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1978. (Photo by Jack Tinney/Getty Images)
Phyllis Diller was one of the first female comedians of her time; a pioneer if you will, although it wasn’t her life’s work. First and foremost, Diller was originally a working-class wife and mother of five. She didn’t break in to show business until she reached the ancient age of 37 years old. Besides being a homemaker, prior to her comedic success, she also worked in public relations at a radio station and was a newspaper advice columnist. She had such a great and happy-go-lucky outlook on life… I would have definitely taken her advice!
Early on, Phyllis Diller was encouraged to pursue a career in comedy because she was such a “natural.” At the time, women were to be seen and not heard. Phyllis, however, began her comedic career being both seen and heard!
Prior to Diller’s heyday, male comedians were prominent and consistently ragging on their women and all women in general. At that time and even now, it is/was socially acceptable for the poor, put-upon man, to make light of his awful home life.
Enter, Phyllis Diller. Sorry, guys… all is/was fair in love, war and comedy! Diller brought public attention to the fact that marriage is a two-way street. Until then, any marital discord was assumed to be the fault of the wife. She didn’t come right out and say it but, she wasn’t having any of it.
Soon after realizing her epic comedic success, Diller had to come up with a persona. It wasn’t long before she emerged into the crazed housewife. She was a very attractive woman but played down her looks for the sake of her stage persona. When on stage, her loud clothes and disheveled hair became her signature look. She became the antidote to the “stupid wife” joke. She shamelessly poked (albeit lovingly) fun of her husband and their relationship. She was funny and right on point! Sorry, Fang! Fang is how she referred to her husband.
“Fang” is how Diller referred to her “husband”. “Fang” was actually the result of an ad-lib and could have been anyone from Buddy Hackett to Bob Hope. She was in need of “material” and… there it/he was! She was beginning to make her way and referred to her own personal knowledge and experiences. By doing so, she unintentionally created her niche.
Diller made fun of herself and her marriage by dressing in outlandish, crazy, ill-fitting clothing that was not thought of as feminine at the time. She “teased” her hair into disheveled hairdos to portray an unkempt and unattractive appearance; claiming that Peeping Toms begged her to put her clothes back on and/or pull her window shades down!
As Phyllis Diller’s persona evolved, she became the epitome of the brutal reality of the American housewife. Although it wasn’t politically correct at the time, she was a woman who spoke her mind. It was done in jest but had a brutal ring of truth to it.
Diller was a woman of great insight and viewed life with a true spirit of reality. She was of the opinion that, “it is, what it is”. Then and now, that is hard to argue with. She had an outlook on life that was not only incredibly funny but also, real. One thing she was always able to do was laugh at herself.
Diller portrayed a woman that knew her place but knew there was more in life that she was missing out on. Her professional persona was that of a “flawed” woman. To some extent, she may have really believed that she was that person. I don’t think she ever gave herself the credit she deserved. In real life, she was a beautiful, talented, valuable woman who had an influence in the lives of many other women.
Although Phyllis Diller entertained us with her light-hearted comedy, she was extremely humble and never really considered herself among the greatest. I, however, would beg to differ. Other female comedians of her time were definitely notable, but no more so than she. Sadly, she has passed on from this life but I’m sure she went with a smile on her face!
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