I usually write tributes to only people I knew personally, (Lynn Redgrave, Tony Curtis, Nate Dogg, for example) or at least have met a time or two (Elizabeth Taylor, John Wooden.)
But, even though I never ran into stand-up comedy legend Phyllis Diller, I felt a strong connection to her. For many years, we had the same variety agent, the loving-his-clients Fred Wostbrock, with whom she was still working at the time of her death yesterday. He revered her so much that I felt like I knew her. And I was proud that someone who was such a fan of hers was a fan of mine, as well.
I think that everyone who’s in comedy in any way feels that way about Ms. Diller, as well. She’s really the one who started it all. Though I’ve seen her perform only a handful of times in my life, when I was really young, it must have left a lasting impression. I remember being a kid and being amazed that there was a female in comedy; she was probably the only one I had ever known of for many years.
When I was doing my show, and people in the biz insisted that I just had to go do stand-up, as well, (some referred to what I did on my show as “sit-down comedy,”) I looked to Phyllis Diller for inspiration. But I still couldn’t bring myself to throw my hat into her arena. Going through that mental process of even thinking about doing it made me respect her even more, because just trying to talk myself into it was a scary; I couldn’t even begin to imagine what she must have gone through in the early years, when females in stand-up just weren’t accepted.
When I began to call my boyfriend “Mr. X” on my show, (because he thought that “my boyfriend” sounded like I was fifteen, which I was actually pretty close to when I started out!,) it caught on immediately, which I was shocked to see. Some people who know him even still refer to him as that!!! When I marveled to any older folks about that particular phenomenon, some pointed out that Phyllis Diller had referred to her husband as “Fang,” and fans loved loved that. I didn’t even know that I was emulating a comedy icon, and inwardly applauded myself for doing something in the vain of Ms. Diller. It made me feel like just maybe I deserved to be in the business, too, if I could create something like she did. (I know, I know, the moniker “Mr. X” was his idea. So, when viewers always were surprised I came up with all my material on my own, I guess I should have listed Mr. X in my credits as my sole comedy writer! I hadn’t even realized I had one until this very second!)
I’m thrilled that Phyllis Diller got to live a long life. And I’m impressed that she worked in the business forever, and continuously, with no drama, that we, the public could tell. She wasn’t creepy, like faux-faced, material-stealer Joan Rivers, (which unfortunately, I know about first-hand,) she didn’t try to create fake celebrity, (ala the kreepy Kardashians,) and, to my eye, she didn’t try to steal other people’s spotlight. She was just funny and wanted to entertain.
And that she did. And all of us funny females who came after are forever grateful.
RIP, funny lady.