Wednesday, August 22, 2012

vale phyllis

Comedy – construction, timing, topics and all that stuff – is a big hobby of mine, and I was sorry to discover that Phyllis Diller has popped the clog; kicked the bucket; fallen off her perch.

Phyllis was an inspiration in two ways; firstly because she broke through a gender barrier to establish herself as a stand-up comic; and secondly because she was such a late starter.
The message “It’s not impossible, and it’s never too late” is a pretty good legacy for anyone to leave anyone.

In her early years she slipped right into the “Take my mother-in-law – please” school of comedy. The only thing exceptional about this at the time was that the mother-in-law jokes were coming from a woman.

Self-deprecating comments about her looks formed the basis of much of her humour for most of her career and, while this might not be a feminist’s ideal way to get a laugh, she was always proud of the fact that she never ever got a laugh at someone else’s expense.
[This is not to say I don’t love Joan Rivers’ vicious wit, just to say I admire anyone who has a decent value and tries to honour it.]

Her schtick, something no one else could steal, was an incredible laugh. 
It was a gift.


  1. I wasn't a big fan of Phyllis. I much prefered watching Here's Lucy, I Love Lucy, Till Death Do Us Part, On The Buses, Love Thy Neighbour and The Jackie Gleeson Show with Red Buttons just to name a few.

    1. Hi Windsmoke,

      There's no doubt Lucille Ball was a physical comedy genius, and the absolute silliness of the situations she got herself into made for a great laugh that crossed a lot of the cultural boundaries that existed in early television in the U.S.
      Fran Drescher [The Nanny] is probably the only actress who has ever come close to pulling off the same kind of humour.

      I also agree that I much prefer a good story in sketch or sitcom form to one-liners. Reg Varney [and Red Skelton] had brilliant, cheeky faces that screamed ‘fun’, and fun can be very contagious.

      Nonetheless, in the context of an era and in the context of stand up, Phyllis was a ground-breaker by creating a character who could poke fun at stereotypes and at fun in general. :)

  2. I think she was here in Australia and interviewed on the radio. 'What sort of name is that? Edward Woodward? Sounds like a fart in the bath.'

    1. Well, I've never heard that "spa" line before. One might well wonder what edward woodwards parents were thinking.

      So, does that qualify as a laugh at someone else's expense? I do remember Ben Elton's reaction to the name Alexander Downer - "do you really want a Prime Minister whose name is Mr Bummer?" [or something like that.]

  3. She had me laughing when she said," I have had so many face lifts That God wont recognise me."

    1. She might have been right, Diane. On the other hand, he would probably know that laugh anywhere.