Happy Birthday Phyllis Diller: Remembering the Influential Comedian’s Funniest Moments

by Megan Molseed

One actress, comedian, and longtime fan of Phyllis Diller compared the trail-blazing comic to Lady Gaga.

“In the era of Lady Gaga, Phyllis Diller did the same thing – she wore the crazy outfits wherever she went and she spoke fearlessly and she had one goal in this world, which was, make us laugh,” noted Kathy Griffith shortly after Diller’s 2012 death. “And she did it.”

Fans of the one-of-a-kind comedian included admirers from every generation. If you weren’t old enough to get her humor on popular shows such as “Ed Sullivan” or “Johnny Carson,” you at least grew up knowing her name. Her jokes have spanned the generations, making people laugh even nearly a decade after her death.

The comedian even brought the famous Carol Burnett to tears.

“She had me on the floor with a few choice jokes,” Burnett remembered of Diller. “Funny, charming, and loving.”

Burnett added that Diller’s career helped build a foundation for comedians that followed.

“She was a pioneer for women stand-up comedians,” Burnett noted.

Nothing was off-limits for the comedian. Diller even gave President Ronald Regan a zinger in one performance.

“He started out as an underweight, inexperienced, untalented dishwasher,” the comedian said of the former president. “Unfortunately, he never lived up to this early promise.”

Phyllis Diller Had Many Talents

Today, Phyllis Diller would have turned 104 years old. Phyllis Diller came onto the entertainment scene fairly late in life. According to a biography of the actress and comedian, Diller first tried to break into the field by creating two television series. One was called “The Pruitts of Southampton,” and the other, “The Phyllis Diller Show.” Neither production found much traction.

Phyllis Diller’s first big performance came as an appearance in “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” in 1961. In 1970, the actress and comedian found herself in her most notable performance. She took over the role of Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!”

While the “Hello, Dolly!” role brought Diller’s name to a sort of prominence, once the production ended, she did little stage acting until 1988. It was then that Diller portrayed Mother Superior in the San Francisco production “Nunsense.”

Comedian, Actress, Pianist…and Author

Diller was also an accomplished author, penning five best-sellers. Some of these works include “Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints,” “Phyllis Diller’s Marriage Manual,” “The Complete Mother,” and “The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them.”

She also wrote, “Phyllis Diller Tells All About Fang.” Fang is the husband Diller often references in many of her comedy acts. Such as her classic zinger she would deliver with her ingenious style: “The last time there was a gleam in Fang’s eye, there was a short in his electric blanket.”

In the early 1970s, Diller decided that she would become a “quadruple threat” in the entertainment industry, adding musical performance to her repertoire that already included acting, writing, and comedy. For ten years, from 1972 until 1982, Diller performed as a solo pianist across the country with a variety of orchestras. She performed under the name “Dame Illya Dillya.”

One of the comedian’s iconic moments came playing the piano with music icon, Liberace. Both stars were known for their wild styles. And, the two made some memorable music together.

Diller received the American Comedy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1992.

Diller passed away at her home in 2012. She was 95 years old.