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Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times Legend Phyllis Diller: On Joan Rivers, gin and retirement
NUNN ON ONE: COMEDY
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2011-12-07

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Phyllis Diller is one of a kind. Breaking out in a comedy career at a time when many women were not prominent in the business, Phyllis pretended to smoke from a long cigarette holder, talked about her husband Fang and burst out with that infectious laugh.

Many may not know she studied in Chicago at the Sherwood Music Conservatory. She appeared in the musical Hello, Dolly! Diller appeared in such cartoons as Family Guy and A Bug's Life. She graced our television sets for decades from The Jack Paar Show in '50s to now with The Rosie O'Donnell Show who created a loving tribute to Miss Diller recently. After turning down major news outlets for interviews, Windy City Times was honored to e-mail her a few questions as she just discovered the Internet.

Windy City Times: Hello, Ms. Diller. I just saw you on The Rosie Show. Do you have any special memories from past Chicago trips here?

Phyllis Diller: It was so great hearing Jackie & Ray work the Ritz Carlton.

WCT: How was visiting Roseanne Barr and appearing on her reality show?

PD: I found out she's really nuts.

WCT: You met her a long time ago, correct?

PD: It wasn't a meeting. It was an explosion!

WCT: Roseanne said that you can drink her under the table. What is your favorite cocktail?

PD: A gin martini.

WCT: What's a day in the life of Phyllis Diller like?

PD: It would make your head spin.

WCT: I can imagine. You never actually smoked with that cigarette holder?

PD: It was a wooden and a prop. People swore they saw smoke coming out of it. This is acting. I am proud of this. I used it to make a point.

WCT: I didn't know you play music and paint.

PD: I have been practicing since birth.

WCT: Mad Monster Party is one of my favorite movies from Rankin/Bass—any favorite memories from the experience?

PD: I loved being married to Frankenstein.

WCT: Do you have any advice for new comics going into the stand-up business?

PD: One piece of advice is: Don't ask the audience questions. What they need is an audience. When they laugh, you are a winner. When they don't laugh, you are a loser so it is very simple.

Stan Freberg caught one my earlier shows at the Purple Onion and gave me some wonderful advice. He said, "I don't care how in love you are with a line, try it three times. If it bombs after three times it's out." A lot of comics fall in love with a line and leave it in. Material is the secret. Also, have a stance like Joan Rivers, who has an attitude. She's Jewish, chic and smart. That's her attitude.

WCT: She's the best!

PD: There are many comedians but I am a comic. That is hardcore. When I started the men were working in duo like Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Being a female as a single in stand-up made me responsible for my material.

WCT: Who inspired you starting out?

PD: Comic actresses inspired me in my childhood. It was okay to be pretty in the movies but doing stand-up was a whole other ballgame.

WCT: Where does that laugh come from?

PD: That was a trademark by accident. That is my real laugh. In the beginning it was nerves. When people are nervous they giggle and I was just so nervous for so many years. People think I laugh a lot more than I do.

WCT: Do you have more projects coming out?

PD: Yes, I was just on Celebrity Ghosts on The Biography Channel.

WCT: At age 94, are you ever going to retire?

PD: I thought I did, but it didn't work!

Purchase Phyllis Diller's Goodnight, We Love You where major DVDs are sold.


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