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O. C. LIVE

Phyllis Is Still a Diller of a Comic, and Her Routine's Still Got That Fang

November 21, 1996|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"A HAAAA haaaa haaa-aaaaaaa . . .!"

She'll be an octogenarian next year, but Phyllis Diller's laugh never changes. It remains as familiar, and just about as comforting, as the sound of screeching brakes.

"The older I get, the more there is to deprecate," said the comedian by phone from New York, where she attended a roast (someone else's) at the Friars Club. She brings her stand-up show to Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa on Friday.

The older Diller gets, the more there is to praise as well. Aside from nightclub, television and movie careers as a high priestess of the ridiculous, whoever dreamed the Brentwood resident would be talented?

Diller has performed as piano soloist--she was Dame Illya Dillya--with more than 100 symphony orchestras, the last in 1990. (She appeared with the Orange County Pacific Symphony in Buena Park in 1982.) In September, she had a showing of more than 100 figure studies and portraits at a major gallery in Manhattan's SoHo district, with pieces going for up to $10,000.

But stand-up remains her main gig.

"Usually a person is simply creative," Diller said. "If they're creative, they have a choice.

"My choice of stand-up comedy was a matter of how to get the most money the quickest, and without being involved in tremendous discipline. The discipline of classical piano I can't handle. Painting takes a long time, and the rewards aren't that regular; you never know how many [paintings] you're going to sell. Stand-up you get paid every time you work, and you don't have to practice."

For her comedy routine, Diller simply runs the usual subjects through the Phyllis filter: "Madonna, Michael [Jackson] . . . anyone in the news is a target."

The veteran manages to stay in the news herself in the '90s. Diller broke a 74-year attendance record at St. Louis Muny Opera when she appeared as the Wicked Witch in "The Wizard of Oz." She received the lifetime achievement award at the televised Annual Comedy Awards in 1992 and the National Humor Institute's Lifetime Humor Award the next year.

And she's still Fang-bashing after all these years. If some of that material, which focuses on an imaginary husband (in real life she was married for 26 years to Sherwood Diller and for 10 years to Warde Donovan) seems familiar, no matter:

*

"I work so crisply and so fast [that audiences] can never remember from show to show," said Diller, who prides herself on being able to deliver as many as 12 punch lines per minute.

She launched into a typical drubbing.

"Fang thinks Friar Tuck invented the face lift. Fang is so dumb he invested in maps of the stars' homes . . . in Fresno! When Fang heard that life expectancy is 78 for women and 72 for men, he said that when he turns 71 he's getting a sex change operation, a HAAAA haaa haaaaaaa. . . !"

* Who: Phyllis Diller.

* When: 8 p.m. Friday. With singer Lexi Cooper opening.

* Where: Orange Coast College's Robert B. Moore Theatre, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa.

* Whereabouts: Exit the San Diego (405) Freeway at Fairview Road; go south.

* Wherewithal: $25-$32.

* Where to call: (714) 432-5880.

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