I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Remembering Phyllis Diller

Photo: Public domain
Phyllis Diller always reminded me of the woman in the neighborhood who never changed out of her nightgown but still roamed around in her yard, talking to passersby as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Every neighborhood has one.

It’s beautiful to live that way.

When I heard that Diller passed away yesterday, at the age of 95, four memories of her came flooding back – her crazy hair, her unique laugh, her self-deprecating humor, and that long cigarette holder she waved around during her routines.

As a boy, my mom took my sister and me to my grandma’s on Saturdays. All of us headed to Kmart where I ended up with a cherry Icee with one of those famous bubble top lids, or a milk carton full of chocolate malted milk balls. Saturdays were glorious as a result.

After the shopping was complete, we went back to grandma’s where she would cook a meal (the best pot roast in history, potatoes and green beans) before we settled in to watch the Carol Burnett Show and other variety shows.

I was too young to remember any of the bits specifically, but I do remember Burnett’s signature ear tug, Tim Conway’s portrayal of a character named Dorf, Flip Wilson dressing up like a woman, and Diller making fun of herself as she appeared on these various shows. Of course, that was the same era in which Johnny Carson was the master of late night television.

It was a golden era of comedy and it became part of who we were as a culture.

If I got out of bed with crazy hair and failed to comb it, Mom was sure to say something like, “You have Phyllis Diller hair.” If somebody did something wrong, he or she would invoke Flip Wilson theology and say, “The devil made me do it!” Conway’s “Dorf on Golf” became a video that was a connecting point between my dad and me.

We can never go back, and that is probably not a bad thing. Oh, it would be nice to experience good, relatively clean humor like the old guard used to produce. But we have Bill Cosby, Jeff Foxworthy, Mark Lowry and others. The thing is, a good comedian knows herself and the culture she lives well enough to find humor in the mundane of that era, so every generation needs to produce new comedians.

Every generation needs a Phyllis Diller, a Johnny Carson, a Bob Hope, a Lucille Ball, a Tim Conway, a Flip Wilson or a Carol Burnett. We were just fortunate enough to have all of them at the same time.


I’ve been combing through YouTube videos this morning looking for some gems of Diller in action. This seems like a perfect one to share with you – it’s from the Ed Sullivan Show in October, 1969:


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