Comedy Isn't Pretty: Phyllis Diller Takes a Long Look at Her Career
Her laugh is as legendary as her one-liners. A cross between Burgess Meredith as the Penguin and Sesame Street
's Count, Phyllis Diller
's signature cackle cracks up anyone within earshot. Unfortunately, it's impossible to hear (or even spell) in print, which is one of the many reasons why you should see Goodnight, We Love You
a loving and revealing documentary about the groundbreaking comedian that arrives on DVD today. In between riotous clips from her 2002 farewell concert, Diller offers an unprecedented peek at her private life and her outrageous wardrobe. TVGuide.com joked with the octogenarian stand-up about her five decades in showbiz, her plastic surgery and her ill-fated Playboy
TVGuide.com: Hello, Ms. Diller?
Phyllis Diller: Hello, Raven? Oh, you're a lady! [Laughs.] I heard your name and figured you would be a man.
TVGuide.com: Are you disappointed?
Diller: No, no, no. Just confused.
TVGuide.com: My favorite part of Goodnight, We Love You, was when you showed off your hats and wigs and dresses. Are you the envy of drag queens everywhere?
Diller: Honey, baby, they drool at my wardrobe. Many of them have bought things from me.
TVGuide.com: Wait, you're selling all that fabulous stuff?
Diller: Since I no longer perform, I don't need those gowns anymore.
TVGuide.com: What are your most sought-after items?
Diller: Cigarette holders! If I had only known. I was giving them away right and left 'cause I had a lot. And they were expensive, lovely, good ones. Now they're bringing $1,000 each.
TVGuide.com: When you launched your stand-up comedy career in the '50s, there were no other women in the business. But there you were, a thirtysomething mother of five making your name in a boy's club. What inspired you to do it?
Diller: I had been doing comedy all my life without realizing it! All I had to do was polish my act. For years, my first husband, Sherwood Diller, had been nagging me to become a comic, and I'll tell you why. Milton Berle had just signed a multi-million dollar contract with NBC. My husband was after the money.
TVGuide.com: Did he get it?
Diller: [Laughs] He got the house and the car and an apartment building with eight units. But he deserved it, poor thing. He just could not make a living. That's why I did it. Somebody had to feed the kids.
TVGuide.com: Seems like you did well financially.
Diller: Now, yes. But in the past, I was dumb, dumb, dumb about money.
TVGuide.com: Were you giving it away to your young suitors or what?
Diller: I used to just spend it lavishly. And what I did wrong was I had eight homes, and I sold them. Bad advice! You should never let go of real estate. That's why they call it real estate.
TVGuide.com: I read that you posed for Playboy. Is that true?
TVGuide.com: Did they publish the pictures?
Diller: No! See, they had just published a spread that they meant to be funny. Do remember Mama Cass?
TVGuide.com: The large lady from the Mamas and the Papas?
Diller: [Laughs] Baby, that broad was fat, OK? Playboy did her in a foldout, and they thought a follow-up of a really thin woman would be funny. I was hot as a pistol in the '60s, and they thought I was skinny. Well, I never was bony-ugly skinny — I was shaped like a lady, and I actually had big t-ts! — so I wasn't what they were looking for at all.
TVGuide.com: Sounds like they confused you with your stand-up persona. On stage, you always claimed to be an ugly toothpick who couldn't cook. The documentary proves that wasn't the reality at all.
Diller: That's right! Everyone bought my character. But I love to cook and I have a figure and I was never really ugly-ugly. When I started out, I had crooked teeth and a crooked nose. My makeup was to throw up. I had the worst hairdo you ever saw, and it was the worst possible hairdo for me. So you put all that together, and I was pretty ugly. See now, I've had a complete face-lift, I know how to do the hair, I've been taught by the greatest makeup people in the world, so I've got a whole different thing going.
TVGuide.com: Although you still appear in movies and on TV, you've permanently retired from performing live. Do you miss being on the road?
Diller: No, I'm enjoying not having to work so hard. Remember, I'm almost 90! That makes an awful lot of difference.
TVGuide.com: It doesn't sound like you sit around, though.
Diller: I don't. I paint a lot, and I'm out every night for dinner with friends.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of friends, a few years back I saw you on that reality show Star Dates. Did you keep in touch with that guy? You really seemed to dig him.
Diller: You mean the big, good-looking Marine? He was a paratrooper, you know....
TVGuide.com: Did anything ever happen between you two?
Diller: No! He never called me back. I would have welcomed a call from him. Perhaps he was already involved with another lady.
TVGuide.com: Or a man. You never know these days.
Diller: Oh, god, I never thought of that.
TVGuide.com: Has that kind of thing ever happened to you before?
Diller: Yes, but I'm always aware that they're gay. They make great friends, though!
One of Phyllis Diller's recurring TV gigs is on The Bold and the Beautiful. Read Michael Logan's latest rave about that CBS soap in the Dec. 4 issue of TV Guide.
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