Have You Heard the One...? The Phyllis Diller Gag File

Artifacts/Memorabilia
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Editorial Review

The gag file of comedian Phyllis Diller to be displayed at the Smithsonian

By Jacqueline Trescott
Tuesday, July 26, 2011

She may have always looked disheveled. But comedian Phyllis Diller was a stickler for keeping her jokes in order.

And Diller thought we would all be interested in her orderliness. In 2003 she gave her gag file, a steel cabinet with 50,000 jokes, to the Smithsonian. And on August 12 the National Museum of American History is giving the artifact some pristine treatment.

“Have You Heard the One...? The Phyllis Diller Gag File” is an exhibition of the beige cabinet in the quiet Albert H. Small Documents Gallery. Diller typed her jokes on index cards and filled 48 file drawers.

The exhibit will also include some costume pieces and a video of her performances.

“Phyllis Diller used her experience as a wife and mother to create a satirical persona outside the traditional values of her audience,” said Dwight Blocker Bowers, the curator of many of the Smithsonian’s objects from the entertainment world.

Some of her classic lines were: “When I first got into this business, I thought a punch line was organized drinking.” And Fang, her husband, inspired many of her routines. “I became a stand-up comedienne because I had a sit-down husband.”

Diller is in her early 90s and is now retired.

In the 1950s Diller, and Jackie “Moms” Mabley, were trailblazers, taking stand-up routines into the clubs and theaters. Diller debuted at the famed Purple Onion in 1955. She gained a national following on television specials with Bob Hope and traveled with him to entertain U.S. troops. Diller was a frequent guest on late night talk shows and had a couple of short-lived television shows.