When our new carpets were installed, I was telling people that it had been so long since we had cleaned behind some of our furniture, we found one of our son's old diapers under his bed. (He just turned 25.) I stole that joke from Phyllis Diller, who sadly passed away last week. If I had repeated that in one of my columns, it would have been downright theft. But when sitting with friends on your sofa sipping a wine cooler, you can get away with a little petty larceny.
I heard Ms. Diller use that line on the old Jack Paar Show some 50 years ago. Yes, I remember every zinger I hear. It's a curse, really. Of course, Ms. Diller told it with greater aplomb and it didn't hurt that she was dressed like Lady Gaga. By the way, Ms. Diller's life and analyses of her work have been in all the media. You could Google her, but if you want to see something really googly, take a look at her eyes on a YouTube video.
In April of 1987, Phyllis Diller was in Indianapolis for a live performance at one of the local theatres. I was hosting A.M. Indiana, WTHR-TV's talk show from Union Station, and Ms. Diller graciously accepted an invitation to appear on the program. I was then, as I am now, fascinated with the process of humor and the construction and delivery of a joke. But I knew that a one-on-one interview for an hour with the comic legend on this topic would fall flat, too analytical for the average viewer. Instead, I phoned five local fledgling comics who were starting their careers at Crackers and other comedy clubs and asked them to join me on the set. I thought their interaction with the legend would make better TV.
When Ms. Diller was introduced at the top of the show, she walked through the audience like a crippled stork, her electrocuted hair trying to escape from her head. The first 15 minutes, I conducted a pretty standard interview, where she discussed her gratitude for Bob Hope's mentorship, her decision to dress in an outrageous fashion, the power of self-deprecating humor, and, of course, a plug for her appearance at Beef & Boards. And then I said: "I have invited five local comics who would all love the opportunity to ask you about the art of stand-up."
It was a dicey thing to do. I really didn't have her permission to do that beforehand, but I gambled that her love for the art of comedy, the science of the perfect one-liner, and her own ego would endear her to my idea. Her face, and what a face it was, lit up. The ensemble of comics paraded onto the stage. Each one got a hug from Ms. Diller. Each was armed with several questions about her craft.
What kind of insights did Ms. Diller have about comedy? A forty-five‰Û"minute segment was not enough time to do the topic justice, so that evening after her performance, the whole motley crew of guests, some dressed worse than Ms. Diller, reunited and retreated to a local pub to talk comedy for three hours. I'd like to tell you all about that evening, but sadly, I am out of time. We'll take a short break and be back in a moment‰Û| in a week or so. Stand by.