Laughter has always been
music to Phyllis Diller’s ears
PHOTOS COURTESY OF PHYLLIS DILLER
By Mark E. Stroder
“When you play spin the bottle, if they don’t want to kiss you
they have to give you a quarter. Well, by the time I was
12 years old, I owned my own home.”—Phyllis Diller
Give her an audience of 5,000 paying piano soloist with more than 100 symphony
customers in a Las Vegas show- orchestras in the U.S. and Canada; she was the
room, or a just a family of freeload- struggling sole breadwinner for a family of
ers sitting across from her in a parlor, and seven—including five children—and, early
you’ll get an equally brilliant performance on in her career, her family was so poor they
from legendary comedienne Phyllis Diller. were homeless; her symphony dress and the
This woman knows how to work a room. dress she wore while performing before U.S.
Any room. Any time. troops in Vietnam, plus her complete file cab- Quipping cousins: The laugh meter was
If she entered a 12-step program, she’d inet of thousands of jokes, are on display in always running when Diller teamed with her
probably introduce herself by saying, “Hi, the Smithsonian Institute. mentor, Bob Hope, on numerous TV specials.
I’m Phyllis, and it’s been 30 seconds since I Diller, who turns 88 in July, stopped
told my last joke.” doing stand-up comedy nearly three years
She’s got a million of ’em, and she can ago, but her wit and timing seem as sharp as [laughing]
rattle them off effortlessly. And the more you ever. She’s also an accomplished artist with CC: Why did you do stand-up all those
laugh, the more she’ll talk. hundreds of paintings displayed throughout years?
And then there’s that Diller laugh. That her home. Her paintings sell from $200 to PD: There’s no higher peak of real fun than
one-of-a-kind cackle that became her trade- $20,000 apiece. She loves to cook, go on dates doing stand-up successfully, hearing those
mark. The best part is, if she thinks some- (yes, dates!) and dress up and go to parties. waves of laughter. It’s that hour on the stage.
thing is especially funny, she’ll double up on The Connection was fortunate enough to It’s nirvana.
her laugh and give her audience twice as catch Diller’s “act” during a recent interview CC: What makes you laugh while you’re
much fun. at her 10,000-square-foot, English-style doing your routine?
Diller’s self-deprecating humor made her home in Brentwood Park, Los Angeles. She PD: I can’t help it. It’s contagious. I can take
especially popular with housewives every- had her tiny but grateful audience in stitches it just so long, then I have to go with it. That
where. She played ’em all—from Carnegie as she reminisced—and quipped—about her or trying out a new line. A new line excites
Hall to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to the nearly 50 years in show biz, her indebtedness me for quite a while.
Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. She’s de- to Bob Hope, her talented fingers and why CC: Where did you come up with all your
lighted foreign audiences from Australia to she’s still in love with laughter. material?
Bermuda. She made more than 20 appear- Costco Connection: Why did you stop PD: Most of my jokes are truth, in the form
ances on Bob Hope’s television specials and doing stand-up? of a joke. The audience is always the best
co-starred with Hope in three films. Phyllis Diller: I wanted to go out on a cer- teacher. They’ll let you know right away if
A few things you may not know about tain level. I didn’t want to have to resort to the jokes are working. My goal was always
Diller: She spent a decade appearing as a using cue cards or teleprompters. to get the laughs close together. I loved hear-
Phyllis Diller has a new autobiograpy, Like a
Lampshade in a Whorehouse (2005, Iron
Crown Enterprises, ISBN 1585423963).
more on Diller.
And there was nothing emotional about ing the laughs. Applause—you can get that
my last performance. It was just another from singing, or taking your clothes off
show. It just happened to be my last. I was- [long laugh].
n’t looking for a standing ovation or tears CC: Can you share any of your trade
from the audience. Oh please! secrets?
CC: What were you thinking about during PD: Someone taught me early in the game
your last performance three years ago? to give the audience your eyes. When you’re
PD: I was trying to think of the next line, working at a 5,000-seat theater, it’s got to be
you dingbat! What do you think I am? succinct lines, studied so perfect. Your tim-