Phyllis Diller: I first saw Carol Burnett perform on television, and I fell madly in love with her work and with her. She’s such a great artist. And we became close friends over the years.

Interviewer: What was what did you notice about her when you first saw her? Was she doing anything different or what did you notice?

Phyllis Diller: I got with her at the very first of her career when she caught the world’s attention. Weren’t you the Blue Angel in New York City? She sang I’m In Love with John Foster Dulles and of because he was as tall drink. Oh, man. I mean, it’s. And she would sing it dead straight. And of course, she had that funny look. And as she was I that got her into Life magazine, which was the way to get a boost with your career and her two wonderful writers. I can’t remember names right now. Right. You are rare. Candid. Mitzie Welch wrote that number and God. Did she know what to do with it? That was her big boost. She is really not a stand up comic. She did not enjoy stand up. She is a sketch comic and an actress comic and a fabulous artist. And she and I both worked a little club in. In Dallas, Texas, on Lover’s Lane. But that was one of the few stand ups that she ever did. And then I think she did stand up was at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe. But that was not her fault, her thing. All those years was just that idiocy that she would go to the very end. And she is a physical comic, very physical. I’ll tell you how crazy I am about her. I have all of her sketches on tape with the commercials removed. I worship Carol.

Interviewer: That’s amazing. You were at the Blue Angel. Do that, John Foster Dulles. You were there.

Phyllis Diller: This when I saw her do John Foster Dulles. I was still a housewife. I had no idea ever being a comic. It’s just that I admired so much comedy. And she was like, I guess she would be my my I hold to to emulate or try to emulate. And then she was so kind to me. She preceded me in New York, of course. And she was so kind because I was a true country girl in the city. And she helped me find a place to stay that I could afford. And took me to lunch and introduced me to her little doggy love. And you made me feel human and alone home. And I was scared to death.

Interviewer: You said she wasn’t really you didn’t stand up. That wasn’t her strength. Why is that? What is it? What’s the difference between as a performer, what you need to have for standup versus what she did?

Phyllis Diller: Well, a stand up, a comic is responsible for their own material. Usually they write it or are they had person when it comes to the content? They’re responsible. They weren’t alone in one front of a curtain all by themselves. Stand up. That’s a comic. Now, I’m a comic actress. Is Carol where you work ensemble and you work other people’s material. And you were good sketches with other people. And you may saying change cast shows. She’s very different.

Interviewer: And why do you think this sketch format was so good for her? Isn’t she just becomes so many different characters?

Phyllis Diller: Sketches better for her because there’s a better way for her to show off her extremely. Oh, talents. I mean, she she can create a character. Is she a stand up comic? Doesn’t do that. They’re mostly talk, you know, talk. OK, that’s it. That’s what makes it difficult to you have to get laughs. What’s just no words. She was she was is one of the funniest women who ever lived.

Interviewer: You talk about how rare it was or was it, especially at that time for women, a woman to be doing such hard physical comedy?

Phyllis Diller: At that time, she was Leser by hands tooth then I. Because I was a standup. There weren’t any female standups. There have always been comic actresses. They would be in the movies. But she took it in the television, she was able to take comedic acting further.

Interviewer: So, I mean, so do you think, though, it was comedy in general at that time? Kind of a boys club both on standup and in television?

Phyllis Diller: Or Stand Up was definitely a boys club. But she’s an actress. She’s a female actress. There were many of those like Marie Dressler. All those girls. Betty Davis was Cheryl Armaan was groundbreaking. Anyway, I don’t know whether she was alone in that television. I guess she would be. What was she before? Lucy?

Interviewer: No, she was after. Oh, well, I think she was. She was the first woman to host a prime time.

Phyllis Diller: Is that true? Well, she was a groundbreaker in that she was the first woman who had her own variety show, hosted it and did it so beautifully.

Interviewer: You also had a variety show at one time.

Phyllis Diller: Yes, I did.

Interviewer: I’m just I’m just wondering. So you know what? What does it take to be a successful host?

Phyllis Diller: Obviously, I didn’t have it. Well, it takes a well oiled crew in Carol’s case. I think it was very, very big help that her husband was the director. And we’ll say that about Lucy Ball, too. Her husband was the brains of the outfit. And it takes an awful lot of everything going your way to make it in that field for a man or a woman. But especially for a woman.

Interviewer: She used to also she did a lot of what she said in those early days was a lot of mugging and making faces.

Phyllis Diller: And you mean Carol? Oh, yeah.

Interviewer: And was that kind of the style of comedy at the time or was it just that she was good at it or she to?

Phyllis Diller: Carol has one of those faces, I guess you call a rubber and. It was a time when people made funny faces. I made funny faces. And it’s one sure way to get a laugh out of an audience. Now, I find that a lot of the new comics just use bad words, shock words. I prefer faces.

Interviewer: And was that a particular kind of an acceptable way for women to be funny at the time to make fun of themselves, or was it just men or women?

Phyllis Diller: Well, the men the men comics really didn’t make fun of himself ever. They always made fun of their wife. So, you see, I snuck in there and got that Mitchell there and turned the tables. I built a fan to be the receptacle of all those. So I want to lay it out here saying I got back out it, Carol, doing anything similar with her sketch comedy and sort of with her sketch comedy, her sitcom, a sketch sketch comedy show that. They were sketches written by great writers.

Interviewer: I just want to ask you a little more about your time in New York. You were both there. Did you see Carol in when she performed in Watts? Once upon a Mattress.

Phyllis Diller: That was when she was in Once upon a mattress. It was before. I was going to see everything. I saw her in it, take two or take Wanner. What’s the name of the outfit? I saw on Broadway only once in, fade out, fade in. I just wasn’t in the right place at the right time. I would walk through hot coals to see her do anything. And she was so perfect for that story. Once upon a mattress just to hear her sing. Wow. Has she got lungs?

Interviewer: Going say that that voice is kind of a surprise coming out.

Phyllis Diller: That’s right. She sure looks like a lady. Sounds like a horn. And when she does that call of the wild. That Tarzan call. The windows rattle. But she has this wonderfully strong vocal chords. Great chords.

Interviewer: Were there sort of certain stereotypes at the time for women in comedy? Like you could be sort of the cute ditzy one or you could be sort of a few just different types?

Phyllis Diller: Well, this we were talking about before Joan Rivers, even at for 10 years, I had an answer myself. So there was no competition. As a female. Which sure helped me. But then Joan came on. And then for the next 10 years, there was Joan Totie Fields and me. At three stand up Lady Comics. Then after that, the they were flooded with Lady Comics. We have a lot of lady comics now.

Interviewer: It seemed like at that time to go especially women in comedy, where you couldn’t be funny and sort of beautiful or glamorous. Was that true?

Phyllis Diller: It is a drawback. To be beautiful and try to be funny. I’m going to give you an example. Picture Grace Kelly being funny. Picture Liz Taylor. Being funny is not possible. It’s true, you have to be a certain type of woman. All the comics they love. They’re usually chic women. And slightly ugly or in some way dysplastic, maybe up to a big nose, too big mouth, say a Martha Ray mouth to say something a little out of kilter in my case. Everything was out of kilter. It was a big help. I had a broken nose. It was crooked. And they named a movie after my old nose, Z. Oh, dear. My teeth were crooked. But I’ve had all that fixed and my nose fixed, straightened, shorten my teeth, straighten and line up and my face fixed. But I’m still funny because I am a funny woman.

Interviewer: It can be done. And how did Carol fit into that as well? She fit in with what you’re saying?

Phyllis Diller: She did an all funny thing. All comic. All these comic ladies. We all want to be beautiful. Tony Fields death was caused by a facelift. I mean, it’s very sad. I’m sure Carol has had some kind of worked out. And we know that our dear friend Joan Rivers is a deep that she looks like 17 years old and got a real honor. And, you know, she’s so addicted to liposuction. She wants a perfect finger. She goes to dinner and then all the way home she goes, the doctors say, lipo, lipo, or take it out. I just say it’s right here. So my boy and I must say, she is so beautiful, Joan, and dresses so beautifully. Great figure. I think she does that walking thing every day on those things. Trade measure, whatever you call it, Carol.

Interviewer: She started all her.

Phyllis Diller: Louder, louder.

Interviewer: Carol began all her variety show coming out in those beautiful Bob Mackie gowns and so was able to kind of be glamorous and funny.

Phyllis Diller: It was so smart of Carol to come out and say hello to the audience and herself in a beautiful gown. It was just the most brilliant thing. And she was beloved by the people. Another great thing about that show, cause I did that show with her and Red Skelton. It was an actual theater, setting. She was on the stage. It all happened on a stage with the dancers and the singers. And it all worked. It all worked so well. And having her husband up call those shots didn’t hate it. Shouldn’t wait.

Interviewer: Can you talk about that episode that you did with her when you came on her show?

Phyllis Diller: I was never very good. She’s I was always in search of her. And, you know, she’s a health nut and an exercise that and she every lunch hour, she took the whole cast and made them exercise. They all lay down the floor and kicked up. And I went once. And then a little boring sandwich. Oh, not for me.

Interviewer: Do you remember any of the sketches that you did when you were on the guest? You remember that the the routines that you did, you were on?

Phyllis Diller: That was my favorite routine, is when I played John Lennon. In that something Band, what’s the name of that band.

Interviewer: The Beatles,.

Phyllis Diller: Beatles, the Beatles band was the name of that band.

Interviewer: Oh, Sgt. Pepper.

Phyllis Diller: Sgt. Pepper something Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I was a Beatle but I was I felt that I was never. I was in awe of her soul. And still, I am I mean, she’s she’s the greatest comic who ever lived.

Interviewer: Do you think so?

Phyllis Diller: Oh, no, no. No doubt about it. No doubt about it.

Interviewer: How does she for you surpass, even lose?

Phyllis Diller: I’ll tell you what I know. I thought she was too pretty. And security pie. It bothered me. See, I wanted someone to be just plain funny. I don’t want him to be pretty. Pretty, kind of cutie pie.

Interviewer: Did you ever see any of her later dramatic work, her film?

Phyllis Diller: Yes, I’ve seen Carol in very serious, heavy, dramatic roles and she’s very good. It’s so hard for a person who’s known for comedy to fit into a role, but she’s certainly capable of it.

Interviewer: Do you know, I’m sure you’ve heard that expression many times, that the comedy is tragedy plus time, and I wonder if just knowing Carol personally, do you think that for her she’s had a lot of tragedy in her life? Does that brings something to her comedy that we relate to?

Phyllis Diller: There’s no doubt that comedy is tragedy plus time. And I agree completely that there isn’t a comic in the world that hasn’t come out of tragedy. Let me put it this way. It takes an irritation to make a pearl in an oyster. And to have a comic, you have to have that tragic irritation.

Interviewer: And do we see that in Carol and some of her characters?

Phyllis Diller: We don’t see it, but it’s there. We don’t see the tragedy, but it’s there. I think that now, though. I don’t know, Carol. I don’t see her that much. But I believe she doesn’t want to do comedy anymore. I believe that she doesn’t want to do what you have to do to get laughs. I don’t think she wants that anymore. I think she wants to turn back on it.

Interviewer: Because you think because it’s too difficult or.

Phyllis Diller: I wouldn’t know why.

Interviewer: Did you have any favorite characters of hers?

Phyllis Diller: Oh, I have to blow my nose. I’ll be right with you. There is a classic scene. We’ll all remember where she is playing Scarlett, and she walks down the stairway with the whole drapery across her shoulders because of that scene where that poor woman has made a dress out of the draperies. Bob Mackey is responsible for that bit of genius, but I think that is the top scene that we’ll all remember forever.

Interviewer: I think this is the longest laugh.

Phyllis Diller: There we are. Well, it was hilarious. It was beyond.

Interviewer: Just in terms of the variety shows, the variety show format. Why was that so popular for television in the early days, particularly when our show was hot?

Phyllis Diller: It was the age variety shows. That was it grew out of New York. And I when I got out here, it got really hot. There was Andy Williams. There was Red Skelton. There was Liza, not Liza, her mother, Judy Garland. And there was that Jerry Lewis show. There was my show. A variety shows. That was it. And everybody who was anybody had one.

Interviewer: What what made her’s unique or different, or was it just her?

Phyllis Diller: I’m deaf. You know, you’re now speaking.

Interviewer: What what made her variety show different than the other ones?

Phyllis Diller: Well, Carol’s variety show, she had everything in place. She had Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, and the girl played her sister, Vicki Lawrence. And he she has her husband in the cockpit. Let’s fly away. What more do you want? And Bob Mackie and a bunch of wonderful dancers. She had everything. And then she had that wonderful little brain where she says hello to the people. And what about that song? What about that good, nice song? We had this time together. Hope everything was right. Everything was right. And that’s what it takes.

Interviewer: Do you think that her show was on through most of the 70s? Was it sort of reflective of that time period? I mean, the women’s movement was going on. And can you sort of see that in her show at all?

Phyllis Diller: I don’t know. I don’t say anything like that. And I don’t get very deep dear.

Interviewer: You’ve been very deep. What do you think is her show was on 11 years in that in that.

Phyllis Diller: I’m sorry about all about it. It was a brilliant show.

Phyllis Diller
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Phyllis Diller , Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). June 6, 2007 ,
(1 , 1). Phyllis Diller , Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Phyllis Diller , Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). June 6, 2007 . Accessed March 24, 2023


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