Monday, July 02, 2007

Books Wormed: "Like A Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy" by Phyllis Diller with Richard Buskin

There are books over one which labours, and there are books that, no matter how slowly one reads, are over far too soon.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhyllis Diller's memoir is clearly in the latter category. I think she should have teamed up with the author of The Neverending Story on this one instead; I wanted it to go on and on.

In 1986 I had the privilege of attending one of her shows. I'd always been a fan, since the time she was on The Muppet Show in the late Seventies, I guess, although it seems like there was never a time in my life when she wasn't present. Seeing her genius (and hearing that laugh!) in person was the ultimate thrill. I've always wanted to be a standup comedian (and I may yet do it, if I can get over the stage fright) but she did it at a time when women simply didn't do such things. Yet she bears no obvious bitterness; unlike Joan Rivers' Enter Talking, which is better written, but also much more bitter.

Miss Diller's message is overwhelmiingly, almost overbearingly, positive. Having triumphed over a difficult childhood, less-than-perfect looks, and criminal taste in men, with persistence and humour she turned all her lemons into lemonade. By being able to make others laugh at the mess of her life, she has also been able to laugh at it as well. The book flits from high to high, stopping occasionally to ponder a darker moment, but never staying long.

Like A Lampshade in a Whorehouse doesn't belong on the shelf with the memoirs; it belongs with the self-help books, except that it succeeds where many of those well-meaning works fail. Miss Diller's brand of help is effective mainly because she's already tried it on herself, and her life is proof enough that it works.

The next time I find I'm taking my own "problems" so seriously, all I have to do is crack this one open again and make myself read until I've lightened up.

Gawd, I hope there's a sequel...
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