Phyllis Diller was a pioneer in the art of stand-up comedy. Beginning on radio in the early 1950s and moving to clubs mid-decade, Diller played rooms that had literally never featured a female unless she was taking off her clothes. Diller’s act was riddled with self-deprecation, but the sheer fact that she was on that stage at that time earns her a place in American performing arts history.
But if you’re 40-ish (or younger, thanks to reruns), the first place you saw Phyllis Diller is likely to have been in a cartoon.
The cast for these special hour-long “movies” was hilariously eclectic – a WTF? combination of pop stars, club comics, deceased comedy teams and cast members from current or in-development Hanna Barbera cartoons. Davy Jones, Don Knotts, “Mama” Cass Elliott from the Mamas and the Papas, Laurel and Hardy (long after they both had died) and the Harlem Globetrotters were all featured in these delightful mysteries.
The episode with Diller was a favorite of mine.
In A Good Medium is Rare, episode six from the first season, Diller plays a rich woman with an extensive jewel collection that’s coveted by thieves who (spoiler alert!) dress up as ghouls. She also manages to slip in a few punchlines, in typical Phyllis Diller style.
Diller had appeared in animated form five years earlier, in Rankin Bass’ MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967), a stop motion animated feature film released theatrically in the United States by Avco Embassy Pictures. She plays the Monster’s Mate, and even gets a musical number: You’re Different.
Rest in peace, Miss Diller. You were a true original.