Phyllis Diller Interview
She made her first stage appearance in March of 1955 in San Francisco. Booked
for two weeks, she was held over for an incredible 89 week engagement.
She's been acclaimed as the world's only female stand-up comic of international stature — probably because she's performed all over the world.
She is Phyllis Diller. We talked with Phyllis Diller about her life in Show Business.
Q. Ms. Diller, -what keeps you busy these days? What's your
A. Oh, boy. Well if I were in town, every night I guess I'd be out at one of those big benefit balls giving away an award. Last night was an award to one of the world's greatest ear surgeons. Monday night I'm gonna go to the Writers Guild and give an award. That's like the Writer's Oscar.
Q. Why do they select you to give the awards?
A. Well, I'm a big shot (Laughs). No, no, I always show up looking very glamorous and they love it. I have a wardrobe that makes the Queen of England's look like J.C. Penney. I open in Reno, at Harrah's, their big room. Harrah's is the best place there, and I love working for Harrah. I'm there for two weeks. Then I will fly home for one day to go to lunch for a show, for Cary Grant's widow. She's remarrying. Nancy Reagan will be there, and a lot of fun people. Then, another day when I'm in Reno, I have to fly home and do a TV show, no it's not TV, it's a movie, no, no it is a TV show. Dream On. It's one I don't know very much about. I'm giving a party in my own home where Dudley Moore is going to do a Salon concert. He, at the moment, is shacked up with Quincy Jone's daughter Julie. I can't keep up with his love affairs. I'm going to the National Safety Council Gala. Where I studied music in Chicago, they are honoring me and I'm having an art show at the Palmer House. Then I’m going to Branson, Missouri for the opening of John Davidson's Theatre. Then I'm going to the Kentucky Derby. I go every year, with my beau, if I can. Then, I'm going to have a week in Mexico, complete fun. While I'm there, my Whoopi Goldberg Show will play. Then I go to Fargo, North Dakota Civic Center, for a lecture.
Q. What will you be lecturing on?
A. Probably old folks. Then I go to St. Louis to be honored. They're having a Walk of Fame. Then while I'm there, I get a Bench Award. In the park they're going to name a bench after me. Where I went to college in Ohio, they're giving me a Doctorate, at graduation. I'm going to give the Commencement address, and I'll give them a show, and they can make some money. Then I'm going to a big ball in New York, to honor Kitty Carlisle Hart. Then I'm going to do a lecture at Marymount Manhattan College in New York. Then, I'm going to do a Ronald McDonald House Benefit in Corpus Christi, Texas. Then, I'm going to the Edmonton, Canada Comedy Festival. Then I'm going to Salt Lake City to do a lecture for Senator Orin Hatch. Then I'm going to San Francisco to honor Ronnie Shel. He's going to work with my dear friend Jim Nabors for a week. So you see, I'm busy.
Q. You didn't start out to be a stand-up comic.
A. Hell no. Nobody does, really, do they?
Q. They do today.
A. But not when I started. It was an accident.
Q. You wanted to be a musician.
A. Yes, I did. But, I don't have the talent, and I found it out.
Q. How did you find it out?
A. I studied.
Q. At one point, you were a newspaper columnist and a publicist.
What did you write about in the paper?
A. I always made it funny, if they would allow it. So you see, I had this beat.
Q. Did you cover "hard news?"
A. Now and then. I would, but not often. Usually I was a columnist. Like an Art Buchwald. You know, I was the funny person.
Q. And who did you publicize?
A. Radio stations. I promoted two radio stations in the Bay Area.
Q. What was it like for you the first time you went onstage?
Did you get stage fright?
A. I shook for ten years. I shook like a leaf. I was frightened out of my wits. I was petrified for ten years. You have no idea what it takes to become a stand-up comic. I just admire all of them so much. They get an A for guts right away.
Q. You could have done a series like Roseanne, couldn't you?
A. I have, but you're too young to know. I had my own TV sitcom series. It was called 'The Pruetts of Southampton.' It was on in '67.1 had a prime time hour NBC TV variety show, probably '67 or '68. Out of New York, I had an ABC TV regional, fabulous show that was also a half-hour variety show, which was a huge success.
Q. When you started out, there were no such things as Comedy
Clubs. You played Supper Clubs. Did you open for singers?
A. No. I was at Discovery Clubs, very chic, where owners on purpose look for new talent and presented it. But it wasn't like today, where they have an open mike night. You had to get the job and do it. In other words, you had to be pro. You had to start out as a pro almost. But, they would find talent, and those clubs, they were located in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, and that was it. But they were there, and they always presented comics and singers.
Q. We've got this huge number of comedy clubs nowadays...
Q. Do you go into these clubs and...
A. Now and then, I go in on their dark nights, and charge more money, and give 'em a little revenue on their dark night.
Q. You're talking about performing, I'm...
A. Yes, what else would I do, clean the toilets?
Q. Do you go in as a customer, and listen to the other comics?
A. Ordinarily, I would be working if I were in a town, like Syracuse. In other words, I would be there on a one-nighter and doing a convention.
Q. OK, so wherever you call home...
Q. Do you listen to other comics in L.A. clubs?
A. No. It puts a lot of pressure on you, because being the kind of person I am, regardless of how bad they were, I’d have to sit and laugh. I remember what it was like when someone like Bob Hope would drop in on me, or Jack Benny. I'd be scared out of my wits. So, I don't do much of that. I catch 'em on TV. I watch 'Improv' every night, so there I get to see all of the new ones; if they're any good they're going to be on there during the year. They're on twice a night on A and E. So, I see them all, and know them all. Just last night I met that deaf comic, that girl who's totally deaf and is a comic.
Q. You market your own chili?
A. True, but it's over.
Q. I didn't see it on the grocery shelves in Syracuse.
A. It never got that far. It is the world's greatest chili, the most fabulous, but that has nothing to do with marketing. It's over.
Q. Now you're going to have to find something else to market.
A. Well, I have it already. It'll be out shortly. It's a Philly Dilly Twister Board. You stand on it and twist and it takes off the pounds and gives you a nice waist line and general exercise. For all ages. It's gonna burst on the scene. I've already done the commercial. I'm thrilled with that, 'cause I really believe in it. Of course, I believed in my chili too, but boy there's more to that than meets the eye. Eighty thousand dollars for every market. So, there's your profit — bye. The big companies freeze you out. They don't want you around, 'cause my chili is better.
Q. Of all the performers you've either worked with, or have
known, who has impressed you the most?
A. Well, I kissed him on the lips last night — Bob Hope. I love the man. I adore him. I worship him.
Q. And you've met everybody I assume.
A. Jack Benny was a precious man. I loved working with him too. Of course, there's new guys I'm crazy about — Richard Jeni, he's wonderful. I'm crazy about Richard Lewis, and Bob Saget. These are the new Bennys and Hopes, baby.