It wasn't easy being a female comedian in the late '70s when Diane Ford began plying the comedy club circuit.
"It was horrible. It was a war zone," recalls Ford. "I was the only one for years who was traveling and the club owners, and other comics were so mean to me. Not all of them, but there were quite a few bad apples in those days. They just didn't like the idea of a woman comedian."
But, she says, times have changed.
"It's changed because there are a lot of women (comedians) out there, plus the attitude of the country has changed," she said. "People are more open and fair. Not that there isn't an old boys' network, but they're not so judgmental. They look at you more in terms of your doing the job."
Judging by the response of critics and comedy club patrons around the country, Ford is doing the job better than many stand-up comics--male and female--on the circuit.
Ford, who has been featured on two HBO specials--"Women of the Night" and "One Night Stand"--will perform in the "Five O'Clock Funnies" live stage show at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim on Saturday. Also on the bill is headliner Richard Jeni, along with Rocky LaPorte, Greg Ray and the host, KLOS-FM disc jockey Geno Michellini.
Ford, a Minnesota native ( "uffda, uffda, uffda , play me that polka, big boy"), was recently described by a Times critic as looking like a "conventionally stylish and attractive business or professional woman (who) carries the earthy good humor of a bordello queen."
She has also been referred to as a "feminist comedian."
"I'm definitely feminist," Ford said by phone from her home in Santa Monica last week. "When you think about being a feminist you think of someone who doesn't believe in stereotyping men or women. But I tend to make fun of the stereotypes. I like to make people laugh at themselves, to see how silly we are all the time."
Take her signature bathing suit routine.
As she observes in her act: "Men sometimes wear those baggy trunks. Sometimes they're too baggy and a part of them scootches up the leg. . . . Women have that awful thong bathing suit. One thin strap right up the middle in the back. I spend my whole life trying to keep my underwear out of there."
Ford, who has been described as having a talent for "healthy bawdiness," said she uses salty language "only if it's important to the joke."
"I tell jokes I believe are funny in a language I think people can relate to," she said. "I don't pretend to be something I'm not. I'm true to myself. I think that's what people react to on a very instinctual level."
Unlike Elayne Boosler, who studiously avoids being categorized a "woman's comedian," Ford embraces the designation.
"I think I'm a strong woman," she said. "People say I'm a 'woman's comedian' because women really relate. I very much keep the women's perspective. I like appealing mostly to women because it also helps men to understand women. Guys come up all the time (after a show) and say, 'Now I know why my wife was so (angry) the other day.' "
Ford said much of her current material deals with marriage and divorce, dating and relationships.
Shopping, according to Ford, is one area where men and women are different. A lot of men, she said, just don't understand why women like to shop. But, she said, "it's a woman's natural predisposition to shop and adorn and attract.
"It's like, as women, we bond with our clothes. That's how we find out who our friends are. We go over to someone's home, open up their closet and go, 'Beautiful sweater, can I borrow it sometime? I can? You're my new best friend.'
"Men hardly ever say, 'Ken, great slacks! Makes your butt look incredible. Can I borrow it? Hey, you're my new best friend.' "
Here's Ford on the battle of the sexes:
"Women and men don't really know how to fight because if you fight with a man he'll almost always insist on sticking to the subject. Women, it takes us years to prepare for a good fight because we have to find out everything we can about their past relationships."
Ford also zeroes in on the way women are "put into traps that we don't need to be in," such as TV commercials that stereotypically portray women cleaning.
What Ford would like to see is a beer commercial for women.
"After all, women drink beer," she said. "I'd like to see a woman order a beer and belch and say all the vowels. Wouldn't that be great?"
Ford even wrote a beer commercial once. She said it's for conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly:
"Your kids are going to jail, your husband's left you for a 16-year-old, you've got a run in your panty hose and your feet hurt. But for all you've done for women, this Bud's for you!"
Who: Diane Ford.
When: Saturday, May 18, at 8 p.m.
Where: The Celebrity Theatre, 201 East Broadway, Anaheim.
Whereabouts: Take the Santa Ana Freeway to Harbor Boulevard, go north on Harbor and turn east on East Broadway. The Celebrity Theatre is three blocks east of Harbor Boulevard.
Where to call: (714) 999 9536.