There were five comics I watched when I was a little girl. I am sure I saw more, but these five made an impression on me: Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Rich Little, George Carlin and Phyliss Diller. Thank you, Ed Sullivan.
Phyliss died this week at the age of 95. She made a mark for women in the business, the stand-up comedy business. Her hair, laughter, and wonderful comedy mesmerized me. I don’t think I understood her jokes when I was five, six or seven… but I got it: She was funny. If my math is right, she was in her early 50’s when I remember seeing her not only on Ed Sullivan, but on other shows and movies.
The stand-up comedy life is hard. Getting the gigs is hard, driving all over the country is hard, and sometimes, the crowd is harsh. I believe comedy is a calling, and once you answer that call it is in your blood. You can cut off one of my limbs, but don’t cut off my career, no matter how small it is. It is like my heart, pumping and driving my life. It is a reason.
Lady Diller blazed a trail for women in stand-up. Minnie pearl was there, too- I would imagine they got together from time to time. There are many women out there now, and we all owe a thanks to Phyliss. Today, we are still told we aren’t as funny as a male comic, or that all women are dirty. Todd Glass once told me I would never know what it would be like to look out at an audience doubled over in laughter. Nice. I remember the night when I looked out at the audience and there many were, bent over in laughter. I saw it, felt it, lived it. In your face Todd Glass.
Once I went to open for a comic who was recently on MAD TV. He was awful to me- saw me and said, “Great.” (Add frowny face- his then mine). After I finished my 30 minute set, he met me as I walked off the stage and said, “I am so sorry. I had no idea you woud be that funny. Most women suck.” (Add his smiley face and my “What the” face). He really hated me when he saw me. All based on my gender. Did he not EVER see Phyliss?
Brett Butler was on my morning show back in 2001. I asked her if I could do 5 minutes so she could see me and possibly get some work. Her response, “I never share the stage with a woman.” Did she not EVER see Phyliss?
Rosanne opened a show I saw recently with these words, “I hate women.” Two things: Does she not realize she is one and did she not EVER see Phyliss?
Women comics have it tough. Think of every sexist scenario and women stand-ups have had to deal with them all. Clarence Thomas is nothing compared to some of these funny guys out there. I wonder, did Bob Hope ever hit on Phyliss?
Goodbye Phyliss Diller. You are one of my heroes. Next time I see someone doubled over in laughter, I dedicate that moment to you, and Todd Glass!