“I wanted to become me, totally me. The more me, the better. I instinctively knew this and I was right.” – Phyllis Diller
Unconsciously, the two blogs that I’ve written so far this week involve two titans of female comedy: Carol Burnett and Joan Rivers. Consciously, female comedians have been a part of my DNA from day one. It’s quite a delicious juxtaposition: a suburban white boy who idolizes aging female comediennes who all have the sex appeal of a can of tomato paste.
I can’t pinpoint the first moment when I became aware that all my life’s role models were women pushing sixty and up, but I’ve never been one to question providence. I do know that I was drawn to them become they epitomized power, defied gender stereotypes, and succeeded in a business overrun by extremely chauvinistic men who took every opportunity to quash the light of strong broads.
I do remember that I worked my way through them chronologically, by complete chance:
I discovered Phyllis Diller, a woman with the face of a sardine and the laugh of a broken toaster, who paved the way for all who came after her. She became homely and fleshed out that persona to become accepted in the male-dominated world of comedy, yet became a feminist icon by never backing down from life’s challenges. And, despite sharing a fondness for cackling, we both play the harpsichord. Who knew?
“As comedians, we are all laughing because life is so horrible. Life is so difficult, and I cope with it by making jokes about absolutely everything.” – Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers inherited the yoke that Diller perfected and played the role of the woman just long enough to break the boundaries further, before blossoming into a woman who would win Emmys, piss off Johnny Carson, and star on Broadway. She created a comedy empire though sheer force of will and determination. She lived through her husband Edgar’s suicide and problems with daughter Melissa, yet reinvented herself right up until her untimely death. I remember that day fondly, because I knew it was coming. I was in the car and the radio disc jockey announced that Joan Rivers had died after being in a medically-induced coma for over a week. I was stunned, saddened, and will never forget the grief I felt at that moment.
“The road to success is always under construction.” – Lily Tomlin
Lily Tomlin and Carol Burnett flourished in the era of the birth of feminism, finally able to ignore trying to please the patriarchy, and simply do their own schtick. Lily chose her own life, her own character, and her own sexuality at a time when men were still trying to beat back the tide. Carol took the reins of Broadway and slammed them into prime-time TV, planting her flag on the variety show and redefining the idea of sketch comedy. It was during this time that the era of the homely diva was gone.
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball
“I may be a senior, but so what? I’m still hot.” – Betty White
“If we can’t laugh at ourselves and the human condition, we’re going to be mean.” – Eileen Brennan
The list of female comics I adore would fill a thousand posts, and happily so. I am so blessed to live in a time where these trailblazers are heralded and appreciated as the truly unique, inspired beings they were. Comedy isn’t male or female – comedy is the universal common denominator. It is the light in the darkness and the only cure for the woes of the world.
I can honestly say that, without these women, I would be a frightfully dull creature indeed. These women taught me to be funny, never apologize for a joke, and to live your life exactly how you picture it. It doesn’t matter if there are barriers all around you and giant iron letters spelling the dreaded word, “CONFORM.” It’s your life to live, no one else’s.
And it is to the spirit of all the greats who have left us and all those that remain that I tender this simple blog as a way of saying thanks to the women I never met, and will never meet, but who have made my life heaven on earth.
“Aim high, and you won’t shoot your foot off.” – Phyllis Diller
I invite you to visit my new website, StevenKrage.com! I’m very proud of my new creation and would love to hear your feedback about it.
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