On Phyllis Diller And A World Without “Mean Girls”
Take a minute to imagine a world without a pop culture phenomenon that so perfectly captured the hell that is high school for teenage girls: imagine a world without “Mean Girls.”
Without “Mean Girls” we wouldn’t be able to congratulate our friends with an enthusiastic, “You go, Glen Coco!” Without “Mean Girls,” the Internet couldn’t have joked that Olympic athletes were personally victimized by Nigerian runner Regina George after her first place finish in the 400m. Without “Mean Girls,” there would be nothing for Lindsey Lohan to look back on as a highlight of a career otherwise characterized by alcohol and cocaine abuse.
“Mean Girls” was the product of the mind of Tina Fey. The “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” star wrote the “Mean Girls” screenplay based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, a self-help book intended to help mothers help their teenage daughters cope with the cliqueyness of high school.
Fey is only one of many comediennes acting, writing and performing stand-up routines. Fey’s former “Weekend Update” co-anchor Amy Poehler stars in and produces NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” Sarah Silverman and Wanda Sykes are only two of dozens of women booking stand-up shows for sold-out crowds. And Lena Dunham, creator, writer, director and star of HBO’s new hit “Girls,” could take home an Emmy for all four of her roles with the show.
Women are some of the funniest people in the comedy business today. But on Monday, many somberly reflected on a role model without whom comedy may have remained a male-dominated world.
Comedy legend Phyllis Diller died in her sleep at her Los Angeles home the morning of Aug. 20. She was 95, and her career in stand-up, film and TV spanned 60 years.
Millennials may only be familiar with her voiceover work in movies like “A Bug’s Life,” as the queen of the ant colony, or “Family Guy,” where she voiced Peter’s chain-smoking mother. But in the 60s, Diller was a household name in comedy. Much of her humor was inspired by her everyday life as a housewife: “Housework can’t kill you, but why take a chance?” Diller quipped at comedy clubs. “The only thing domestic about me is I was born in this country.”
Both men and women laughed at Diller’s jokes about her ineptitude at cooking and cleaning, her not-so-good looks (“It’s a good thing that beauty is only skin deep, or I’d be rotten to the core”), and her distinct cackle of a laugh. While Diller’s comedy reflected the sad state of women’s rights, the fact that she was telling jokes and working with established comedians like Bob Hope would serve to fuel future generations of female comics.
“She was the first lady of stand-up comedy. She paved the way for everybody. She paved the way for Joan Rivers, Chelsea Handler, Roseanne Barr, Ellen Degeneres, and all the women stand-up comics,” Diller’s talent agent Fred Wostbrock said after her death. “She was the first and the best.”
Zooey Deschanel told CNN that female comediennes owe Diller their careers, and she may be right. Just as feminists had to fight for the women of the future to have full access to their bodies, Diller told jokes about looking different than the Hollywood standard so future funny women could be judged by the quality of their material rather than their lives in the kitchen or laundry room.
Now a singing comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates will have a show on HBO, Margaret Cho is touring through the fall, and Whitney Cummings stars in NBC series “Whitney” and created and writes CBS’s “2 Broke Girls,” one of the most watched shows of 2012. All made possible by Phyllis Diller’s breaking of the comedy glass ceiling.
Thanks for the laughs, Phyllis. You go, Glen Coco.
Written by Lauren Slavin