interview and illustration by fphatty lamar


Fphatty: I heard your house is haunted. Is this true, or did I hear wrong?

Phyllis: No, that's a press agent's idea. His line was, the house was haunted until the night I tried on all of my wigs. (laughs) I have a wig room. People go in there and have a heart attack. The walls are lined with wigs.

F: Well, I guess if you're going to do it, you have to do it right.

P: You gotta have a lot of wigs.

F: Alright, let's move on to this: Do you believe in organized religion?

P: No.

F: Did you ever? Was there something that caused you to stop?

P: A lot of things caused me to think that organized religion is all about money. All of the wars have been religious. And I see so many things about organized religions that I dislike; they're all clubby. I mean, each one is "the only one," and all of the rest are no good. You gotta wonder about that.

F: Is that something you decided at a fairly young age?

P: I decided very young, when elderly relatives were dying and they used to lay them out in the parlor. I would take a good look at them and touch the cold, hard body. And I decided that they hadn't gone anywhere. So I couldn't buy the Heaven/Hell thing.

F: I don't think you're alone in that.

P: I like logical thinking and logical ideas.

F: So you follow more of a scientific point of view.

P: Yes. Scientific is what I am.

F: Talk to me a little about the book, The Magic of Believing.

P: That's a book that spoke to me and helped me rearrange my thinking, so that I could succeed rather than fail.

F: Is it more of a philosophical thing?

P: It's a self-help book that doesn't mention God. That's why it spoke to me. It was very loud in my ear, because it was straightforward and strictly about everyday life. And it changed my life, because I had pretty low self-esteem. It taught me that the main thing is to believe in yourself.

F: So do you ever find yourself fighting to remind yourself of the things the book enforces? And do you still struggle with self-esteem?

P: I read it continuously for two years, and it's pretty much a system of thought I have embraced and adhered to. So I'm busy and happy.

F: Your last stand-up performance was in May, correct?

P: It was on Cinco de Mayo. Some way to remember it, huh?

F: What was that like?

P: It was a large celebration in Las Vegas. The party afterwards was quite exciting.

F: Did it have a nice feeling of closure for you?

P: It was just,.. well,.. nice. I feel quite relieved; doing an hour of stand-up is not an easy thing, physically or mentally. It was exciting to be able to just walk away.

F: Do you think you'll miss it?

P: (laughs) I haven't missed it. And it's October, so for five months I haven't missed it, and I ain’t gonna start either!

F: What are you going to do now?

P: Well, I'm a pretty good painter, and they sell like hotcakes, so I'm enjoying that. Plus, I have the richest social life.

F: You're keeping pretty busy then.

P: I go out to dinner every night. And I have invented a gin game. I have a bunch of old cronies over and we play “Diller Gin.”

F: I read that you invented your own chili, too.

P: That was a long time ago and it went bust. Think about it, my dear. You buy chili, maybe, twice in the winter.

F: I guess that's probably true.

P: (laughs) It ain't Coke! You can drink ten Cokes a day, and that's the way to make money; making something people use a lot of. I'll give you a perfect example: the guy that was handling the chili for me was also handling dog food for Dick Van Patten. The dog food is still going and making money! You have two dogs that eat four cans of that a day, and here I am with my one can of chili.

F: (laughs) Back to your paintings. Do you do a variety of styles?

P: Yes. I'm fairly new at it, so I'm experimental.

F: Do you have any artists that you admire in particular?

P: I'm crazy about Monet and Manet, Picasso, Chagall, and Van Gogh. I love their work. I've been likened to some of those painters, which thrills me.

F: What materials do you use?

P: I use mixed media. I use acrylic and watercolor. I work with stuff that you can use quickly because, at first, I started doing it on the road. I used watercolors because they were little; you could carry them, and it would dry immediately. And that sucked me right into it. But now I have a studio and the whole thing.

F: Are your subjects strictly out of your head?

P: Most all of it's out of my head.

F: Do you still play the piano fairly often?

P: No. I just recently broke my elbow; shattered it in fact. So I can't even write an autograph right now. It's my right arm! Isn't that awful? I can't even put my make-up on.

F: That's awful! How long ago did that happen?

P: Over a month ago. It just takes a long time because it was so badly shattered.

F: Did you have surgery?

P: Three-and-a-half hours. It's all full of pins and needles-- but it'll pass.

F: Do you write anymore?

P: No, because I'm pretty lazy. I wrote one funny line; want to hear it?

F: Sure.

P: I have a stalker.

F: Oh!

P: But not to worry-- he's on a walker! (laughs)

F: (laughs)

P: Isn't that fun?

F: Well, at least you were able to share that one with me.

P: Hey, wherever I can put it.

F: You do a lot of creative things: piano, writing, painting, etc. Do you think the reason you do so many things is so you don't get bored with any one thing?

P: That's it. I like variety. My attention wanders very easily; I have the attention span of a gnat! I love to pop from one thing to another, so it's all very fresh.

F: Are you involved in politics at all?

P: Not really, because there's nothing I can do. It rumbles on, and on, and on, the same way it always has.

F: I know you won the Minuteman Award. Are there any other awards you have received?

P: I've got a house full of awards.

F: Are they all charitable awards?

P: Well, I showed up and did something,.. for free. That's the secret word. (laughs)

F: What's your biggest pet peeve?

P: Oh,.. I guess it would be that people are so dishonest.

F: What's your greatest luxury?

P: Health.

F: And how do you indulge yourself?

P: I do pretty much what I want to all day long. And being in that position is an absolutely wonderful thing. Another great luxury is that I have a host of very interesting friends.

F: I know that you are very close with Bob Hope. What is it about him that makes you revere him so much?

P: He's just one of the greatest guys I ever met in my whole life. He’s the most talented, most creative, most terrific man. And everybody's just holding their breath until May 29th of next year, when he's going to be 100.

F: Have you spoken to him lately?

P: The last time was at his 99th birthday party.

F: What were you doing right before I called?

P: I had a call from some people in Vancouver. They're coming down and wanted to know what night they could take me to dinner. And then my beau called and wanted to know what night he could take me to dinner. All of the calls were bunching up, and I wanted to get rid of them for you. So I got rid of all of those people.

F: You're quite the social butterfly! Now, your beau, how long have you been going out with him?

P: Two years. We met at a dinner party. He's very tall and handsome; and he's a lawyer. He’s very smart and has a sense of humor.

F: Do you live near each other?

P: He lives right around the corner. I see him at least three times a week. I also have other beaus.

F: Does he know about them?

P: Oh sure!

F: Do you have any pets?

P: I have a kitty. She's so pretty.

F: What's her name?

P: Miss Kitty.

F: Perfect!

P: (laughs) So creative! Well, I had a male cat named Mr. Cat, so naturally the next one had to be Miss Kitty.

F: A long time ago you were homeless, right?

P: Yes. A family of seven, homeless.

F: What did you do during that time?

P: I worked to try to become un-homeless. It took me five years to buy our house. I worked my ass off to buy a lovely eleven-room Colonial, and now I have a 22 room English.

F: That's very admirable that you were able to accomplish all of that.

P: That was my goal.

F: Are you the type of person that likes to do everything yourself?

P: Yep.

F: I've read that you liked to have everything scripted out exactly for your stand-up.

P: There's no such thing as "ad-libbing." There's no one who can get a laugh from ad-libbing. To the very end, I worked on my act all of the time. That's why it was good. That's why it was one hour of solid bauff. Not just giggles. The giggle lines, they all got dropped. Bauff, bauff, bauff! Laugh, laugh, laugh!

F: You have been called "the only international comedienne." Do you think that's because your subjects are universal?

P: I was always careful to keep it right down the middle, so that it could be understood in every English-speaking country. I'm well-known in Canada, Australia, and England. So, you see, I did it on purpose. I wanted to entertain everybody.

F: You’ve said that an oval room is the best place to perform. Why is that?

P: Round or oval, because it doesn't have any corners. Square rooms with shades of blue are no good for performance. The ideal color is red or wine. They're warm colors. An oval or circle is a warm shape. The worst possible place to entertain is one of those big ballrooms in the hotels. People are sitting at tables and aren't all facing you; they're sitting at big tables that separate them from each other. And it's not even a real stage. I don't miss that at all.

F: Tell me about your plastic surgeries.

P: I've had marvelous doctors, and I haven't had as much (surgery) as people assume. I have not had a lot, just one little facelift and other little additions. The first complete (face, nose, and neck) job was worked on by such a fabulous doctor that they just lasted forever. He started out by working with a crooked nose that was too long-- he just made it wonderful. My bones were okay, but they were broken.

F: I didn't know that.

P: My nose was broken when I was 9-years-old.

F: You had pictures taken of you for Playboy that were never published, right?

P: That was kind of a joke. But it is true though.

F: Why weren't they published?

P: Because they weren't really nude pictures. They had a little leg showing-- my favorite was one where I was face down on a bear rug, like one of those baby pictures.