Phyllis Diller, Feminist Badass



Phyllis Diller

It’s a tough world for women, especially funny ones. Despite the massive strides we’ve made in this country in terms of being able to vote, own property, and generally have some say over our destiny, we still have a long way to go. Standup comedy is one of the hardest jobs for women to break into (right up there with becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company and running for Congress). In standup comedy, not only are you most likely the only woman in a lineup of men on any particular night, but EVERYONE else in the lineup is telling really sexist jokes about abuse, rape, and how women are stupid and/or sex objects, and the audience (of mostly men) is generally eating it up! And then you have to go onstage to perform for this crowd that’s now predisposed to be antagonistic toward you! Yikes!

Meanwhile, society continues to keep you in your place by telling the world that women aren’t funny. Or at least not as funny as men. Which is good, because really we’re just supposed to be caring and sweet and pretty all the time, and we definitely should never have opinions of our own. So why should anyone hire you? What’s a funny lady to do in this hostile environment?? Turn to awesome and inspiring role models, of course!

Enter Phyllis Diller, queen of comedy, paving the road for women in comedy since 1917. What a badass! She took societal expectations of women and turned them into something to laugh at. Her main stage persona was a housewife with crazy eccentric hair and clothing who made lots of self-deprecating jokes about her appearance, her husband, her children, etc. She took all that sexism, reclaimed it, and threw it right back in the world’s face, and she became VERY successful doing so! What I love about Phyllis Diller is that she took what she knew and made that her material. When she first started doing standup comedy regularly at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, she was 38 years old, married with five kids. Not your typical standup comic!

It’s hard for me to imagine a world without awesomely hilarious and groundbreaking women comedians like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Margaret Cho, Jane Lynch, and the legendary Betty White, just to name a few of the many shining beacons of hope in today’s sea of sexism. Yet Phyllis Diller not only existed within that world, but thrived! What better way to begin my (hopefully not too short-lived) Feministing blogging career than by remembering the work of a kickass woman who made it okay to be a woman in the public eye!

So let’s remember Phyllis Diller and her very polite, totally feminine giggle of a laugh!

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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