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Thursday, August 23, 2012

I'm No Phyllis Diller

Before I kick off this edition of the Thursday Confession, I wanted to take the time out to pay a small tribute to one of the funniest comediennes of all time.

As many of you know, legendary comic Phyllis Diller passed away on August 20, 2012 at the age of 95 years old. 

During her career (which lasted an astounding sixty years), Diller wore many hats.  She started off working at an Oakland, California radio station in 1952, and shortly after that began hosting a 15-minute long television program entitled “Phyllis Diller, the Homely Friendmaker”.  Three years later, she ended up performing her first stand-up gig at a club known as “The Purple Onion”.  Her first gig was so successful that she was asked back again the following week, and the week after that.  She appeared for a total of eighty-seven consecutive weeks!  Eighty-seven weeks!  That’s roughly a year and a half!  Quite impressive.

But really, it wasn’t that much of a surprise.  Phyllis Diller had such quick wit, and her style of humour was such that almost everyone in the world could relate to it at some point.  And, who could forget that laugh?

From the various appearances on Bob Hope television specials, to guest appearances on such television shows as “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”, “Full House” and “The Bold and the Beautiful”, to appearing in movies such as “Splendor in the Grass” and “The Aristocrats”, Diller showed no signs of slowing down even as she approached her nineties! 

And, Phyllis Diller had even more talents than stand-up comedy and acting in various sketch comedy shows.  Did you know that before she embarked on a career in comedy, she had ambitions to become a musician?  Not only was Phyllis Diller skilled in tickling the ivories on a piano, but she reportedly also owned a custom-made harpsichord! 

And, here’s some more trivia for you all.  Despite the fact that Phyllis Diller often smoked from long cigarette holders during her stand-up performances, it was later revealed that the cigarette holders were harmless props, and that Diller had never touched a cigarette in her life! 

(Maybe that’s how she ended up living to the age of 95?  Just speculation though.  Then again, my grandfather smoked since he was in his teens and he passed away in 2000 at the age of 84, so what do I know, right?)

At any rate, Phyllis Diller was a force to be reckoned with in the world of stand-up comedy, and she paved the way for other female comediennes to make their mark on the medium such as Rosie O’Donnell, Elayne Boosler, and Ellen DeGeneres.  Her talent, wit, and personality will never truly be duplicated, and she will be forever missed.

Phyllis Diller

Now, there’s a reason why I decided to talk about Phyllis Diller besides honouring her memory in this blog.  It’s because my Thursday Confession is loosely tied to the style of humour that she was most famous for.

Though I’ll just come right out with it first...she did it much better than I did for one obvious reason.

You see, Phyllis Diller was known for her self-depreciating humour in each and every one of her stand-up performances.  In many of them, she often performed under the persona of a crazy-haired frazzled housewife who often poked fun at herself about her age, her appearance, the fact that she could not cook, and her husband who was affectionately named “Fang”.  I imagine that you would like to see some visual evidence of this, so I took the liberty of scouring YouTube for video references of Diller in action.  Here’s what I came up with.

Even Phyllis Diller could take self-deprecating humour and make it seem like the funniest thing in the world!  She saw her flaws and she not only embraced them, but actually turned them into funny jokes that made generations of people laugh and laugh!

And this is where I insert my confession for this week.

THURSDAY CONFESSION #34:  Phyllis Diller wasn’t the only person who used self-deprecating humour during her lifetime.  I used it too.  The only difference was that I was never any good at it myself.

And yes, I will explain that in a minute.

You see, Phyllis Diller did end up poking a lot of fun at her own expense...but she ended up doing it for a reason.  She did it to make a living as a stand-up comic, and she succeeded in spades with that goal.  She made a wonderful living for herself with the formula that she perfected over the years.  But more importantly, she was performing as a caricature of herself, which could explain why she had such a healthy, self-confident attitude whenever she was on stage.

Myself on the other was nothing like that at all  It most certainly wasn't funny.

For me, using self-deprecating humour was my defense mechanism for many years.  I turned it on and off the way that most people would flick the switch on a ceiling fan because I had mistakenly believed that it was the only way that I could deal with people.

The reason why I felt as if I needed to do this?  I suppose it was because I was in a situation where I constantly being mistreated in school.  I was called names, and I was pushed around, and it was just a miserable experience all around.  Can you imagine having to go somewhere where everyone else around you treated you horribly?  It wouldn’t be very nice, would it?

Part of the frustration that I had to endure was that with some people, I never really knew exactly what to expect.  You know those days where a certain person might be incredibly nice to you one minute, and then the next minute they’re basically making your life a living misery?  Yeah...almost all those particular days were centered within my teen years.

It seemed as though no matter what I did to try and get people to understand me, or even talk to me, they would find new, creative ways to make me feel as though I did not belong there.  I could almost predict when and where the next insult would be coming from, and who it would be that would say it.

Somewhere along the way, I ended up getting a really stupid idea in my head to deal with the situation (and the reason I say that is it stupid now is because of the realization that I wasn’t ‘dealing’ with it at all).  I don’t know where I got the idea from, but I honestly believed that I could diffuse the situation by making fun of myself before other people had the chance to.

So during my teens and twenties, I would often insult myself.  I think I would mostly joke about my weight because I was (and I kind of still am to some extent) a chubby person.  I joked about my clothes and how someone from the 1800s wouldn’t be caught dead in some of the stuff I wore back then.  I even think that I called myself names in an effort to try and keep other people from harming me.

I know.  You don’t have to say it.  I can read it in your face as you skim over this blog topic. 

I’m sure you know where this is going.  Whereas Phyllis Diller’s brand of humour helped her grab a firm hold on the ladder of success, I was stuck on the slippery slope downward.

Everyone knows that one must have a positive attitude to try and get anywhere in life.  Even Phyllis Diller had a grand attitude towards life herself (which could explain how she ended up living nine and a half decades).  I was nowhere near that stage back then.

I was making fun of myself in an effort to deflect the criticism and cruelty of others...and all it ended up doing was leaving me with a rather depressing view of the world.  I thought that I was being clever by making fun of myself because I was taking away their ammo...but instead what was happening was that I took their ammo and inflicted self-inflicted gunshot wounds to my soul.  Wounds that I’m not afraid to admit are still healing.

Fortunately, I readily admit that I have gotten a lot better at trying to avoid self-deprecating humour.  I have my moments where I still catch myself poking fun at myself and being needlessly cruel to myself, but I’ve been better at recognizing the fact that it is a pointless exercise to do.

My hope is that one day, I will be able to only be able to tell myself nothing but good things about myself.  Fortunately, with the help of some very good friends, I believe that I am well on my way to recovery.

It hasn’t been an easy go of it...but then again, in life, what is easy?  Life is about challenges, and you have to take matter what the risk is.

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