08.21.12

Roseanne Barr Hails the Comedic Genius of Phyllis Diller

Phyllis Diller, who died Monday at 95, paved the way for generations of female comedians. Roseanne Barr on the legendary and ‘paradoxically regal’ comedian, her enduring legacy, and what the gin-drinking Diller thought about the afterlife.

All hail and observe a moment of silence—a genius has vacated this space and left us here to remember her life and her work. I remember hearing her records as a child. My dad collected comedy records, and what I loved the most about her was her laugh. She was the only comic I saw who laughed at her own jokes, and I found that funnier than hell. I stole that from her, but she viewed it as more a tribute than a lift. The last several years I called my ex-husbands “Fang” on stage, too.

It was timeless, that wacky, tacky character she created; the cigarette holder was genius, paradoxically regal. She was a victorious loser hero, the female iteration of Chaplin’s Little Tramp, replete with costume jewelry that would embarrass Rick Ross.

You could tell the character had a messy house, and she couldn't care less because she also had a dreadful husband and a world of shit. So? Hey, must be time for a gin martini and some laughs!

It wasn’t until you saw her paintings or heard her play a concerto on the piano that you understood that this woman lived her life as a true artist and a revolutionary. She knew a woman’s place was not in the home, at a time when everyone on earth regurgitated that canard every minute of every day.

She buried two children who died of old age. She made it to 95, and she didn’t like it at all. She told me she was pissed that she lived through a fall off the bed that broke her neck. I asked her if she believed in life after death, and she threw back her head and laughed that laugh, and said, “How in the hell would that work? Liz Taylor had about eight husbands or something. What would it be like when they all got together, a big gangbang or something? Hey, wait a minute—maybe that would be heaven!”

Another time, when she was a little more straight to the point about it all, she sneered and declared, “When you’re dead you’re dead; you lie in the ground and rot.” I don’t know why I found that so funny, but I did. I always laughed when she said it, and after saying it we would have another drink. She enjoyed a cocktail; she was sure that her consumption of gin was one of the reasons she lived so long, and after her stroke last year, she resented being told that she should give it up. I took her out for gin and tried to get her to smoke pot, but she thought all of that was uncivilized.

She was an absurdist. She really liked men, too, and, at age 94, they were still taking her to dinner. To sit in her presence was like turning on a lamp. She is gone and I am happy for her. I imagine her shock right about now, when G-d opens the gates and places a crown upon her head. She’ll be pleasantly surprised if it turns out that all of her atheist ideas were wrong. I know she’ll laugh her ass off if that happens, and I hope it does, because then maybe I can see her again.

phyllis-diller-hair-teaser
AP; Getty; AP