One of the greats died yesterday, at a time when women desperately need pioneers*. She was an awkward, loud, garish beacon of light for awkward, funny and loud girls everywhere; breaking into a field that's dominated by men to this day.
Diller made it in comedy at a time when, as her protegee, Joan Rivers, said, "you had to look funny to be funny" and that's true. Diller failed to live up to the expectations set for women and that provided her with ample material to poke fun at. But she also had to make fun of herself because society has several choice words for women who dare to make fun of anything else.
I was at an open mic last night where I saw a wide spectrum of bravery and cowardice: comics who lashed out and were mean just for the sake of being mean and comics who were unflinchingly honest and brave, if only for a 5 minute set. I hate to categorize people, but the mean comics, who said cruel things about people who were different from themselves, were all white, frat-boy handsome men. They made fun of others because they were never taught to question or devalue themselves. The honest comics were the ones who were outside that median in some way: they were gay, or a minority or female. Being on the outside often inspires people to erect** a comedic wall of defense: a desire to make fun of ourselves before someone else does it for us.
And maybe that's all making fun of oneself is: a defense mechanism. But I still think it's brave and hard to do well. And Diller did it well for over 50 years.
How to Dress Like Phyllis Diller:
Wear whatever the fuck you want.
** This word makes me giggle.