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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pioneer Women.

This article, or series of articles, it's too early to tell, is colored by, and predicated by the fact that
A) I never, ever found Phyllis Diller to be funny.
Not in the least bit.
B) Everybody and his uncle has been writing lately about how she has been
God's gift to comedy, and a pioneer, a trailblazer for other female comics to follow in her footsteps.

Phyllis was a pioneer in only one respect that I can think of.
She showed that you can make a good living doing Bob Hope-style one liners, as snidely as he did, with a major
soupcon of self-deprecation.
And when Bob Hope started making movies with Phyllis Diller, it was a low point for both of them.
No one ever remotely approached the level of self-deprecation that she did.
And the garish, freakish outfits that she wore only made it worse.
I believe that there is a corrolation between how grotesque you make yourself look,
and how funny you have to be to make up for it.
So I think she started out with one hand tied behind her back.
Phyllis Diller only seriously influenced Joan Rivers, who was a far better stand-up
comic, I think to a large extent because she didn't go grotesque, and Kathy Griffin,
who was a natural disciple of Joan Rivers.
Also far better at stand-up than Phyllis Diller.
Phyllis Diller also did this thing that I've occasionally seen comics do, dating all the way back to Sam Levenson.
She laughed at her own jokes.
Raucously. as if cuing the audience that this was when they were supposed to laugh. I've always found this to be reprehensible.

This has led me to discussions with friends, who oddly enough agreed with me, and caused us to try to determine
who was the actual pioneer of womens stand-up comedy,
or at least, who had more of a right to claim the title than Phyllis Diller.

It immediately led me to an extensive discussion about Martha Raye.
Martha Raye was this gloriously talented clown, who sang great, and also indulged
in some minor deprecation, because she had the realization that she was not a raving beauty.
She had her own variety show in the fifties, which caused her to have to talk to the audience, so at least in a sense,
she was dealing with stand-up.
The only thing that tied Martha Raye and Phyllis Diller together was that they both
replaced Carol Channing on Broadway in "Hello,Dolly!"
I would have loved to see Martha Raye do it. I couldn't imagine sitting through Phyllis Diller doing it.
There is a wonderful clip that can be found on YouTube of Martha Raye singing the
old lady's song in a production of "Pippin" It's glorious.
Martha Raye is a much more suitable candidate to be Daniel Boone than Phyllis Diller.

This is definitely spreading out into more than one chapter, so I will continue next
time with more potential pretenders to the throne, and eventually, one who in my eyes, actually ascended to it.


My books ,"Show Runner" and it's sequel,"Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store.
Along with the newer ones, "The Man Is Dead", and "Report Cards".
You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne & Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
Check them out.
You don't need a Kindle machine to download them.
Just get the free app from Kindle, and they can be downloaded to an IPhone, IPad, or Blackberry.
The paperback, "Mark Rothman's Essays" is still available for people without Kindle.
I have many readings and signings remaining, and the thing about Kindle is you can't sign one.
If you'd like one, contact me at
And now, we've got my reading of my "Laverne & Shirley Movie" screenplay on YouTube.



  1. I think you nailed it about Phyllis Diller. I think it's appropriate to give her credit for all the decades she put into the business but when I think back to watching her on all the variety and talk shows in the seventies she just wasn't that funny.

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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."