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Exclusive Interview : Phyllis Diller

It’s not supposed to be intimidating talking to a comedienne, but it is. Not that Phyllis Diller, a world-famous icon, is anything but gracious and nice. She was the first to break ground as a female standup when most women thought their choices were working as a nurse or a teacher: plus Diller is a an accomplished actress, classical pianist, painter and good Samaritan. If only we had more Phyllis Dillers, I think, the world would not only be a little kinder to each other but people would sure laugh a lot more.

Diller is currently working on a film project called “The Book of Daniel,” where, she said, “I play a dying woman. I haven’t read the script because all I have to do is die (laughs).” The film is written and directed by a good friend of hers, Jack Kinny.

Diller has had to say no to a few movies because of her health, but she still keeps busy with many projects, including a documentary called “Good Night, We Love You,” (a behind the scenes look at the world of Phyllis) which won first prize and the Governor’s Award at the San Diego Film Festival. Diller has no big method when it comes to acting, rather “I just try to completely understand the character I’m playing. When I do standup, however, I have to be silent for five minutes before I go on, to get it all together.”

And she follows a few comedians with major interest, including Eddie Izzard and Wendy Liebman (both favorites) as well as Joy Behar (“she’s wonderful”) and Richard Jeni.

For those comedians just starting out, Diller gives some good advice.

“Decide whether you have a chance or not, you should be able to know from the audience rather early. If you feel you really have it, you should go full speed ahead, and work mainly on material. The lack of material is one of the terrible shortcomings of newcomers,” she added.

Lack of material is something that will never happen to Diller, and if you read her new biography, “Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse,” you’ll know why. The ups and downs of a career totaling fifty years is at once surprising and thoughtful.

“For thirty years, people have been begging me to write my biography. The reviews have been spectacular, and I’ve been thrilled,” said Diller.

In the book, Diller talks about playing classical piano with numerous symphonies; her symphony dress is now in the Smithsonian Institution, along with her jokes and the dress she wore on a tour with Bob Hope to Vietnam.

“I also have a new career, I paint and people are crazy about my work and it’s great,” she said.
Obviously, many people are still crazy about Diller herself, for there is a new film in the works based on her life. Patricia Clarkson plays Diller in the film, which is being made by Camelot Productions. And on St. Patrick’s Day, Mayor Hahn declared it Phyllis Diller Day in honor of her 50th year in showbusiness.

Diller summed it all up when she was talking about her book; “It’s been a rich and interesting life.”

Indeed it has.


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