Phyllis Diller, Shock Trooper

Screen shot from Phyllis Diller's video on her Spice Girls Auditions. This was first posted at 11:45 a.m on August 21, 2012 and updated at 1:18 p.m.  I'm still working on the post, but need to leave to get some lunch, so check back.

I'm not sure the year of this video of Phyllis Diller, uploaded to YouTube in 2006. Although the dress style of the audience looks like something out of the 1960s and Mad Men, the British pop group, The Spice Girls, formed in 1994 and released their debut single on (the ironically titled) label Virgin Records two years later. Since Phyllis Diller was born in 1917 (two years before my late mother), that would have made her at least 79 when this was filmed.


Phyllis, in Ovid's Heroides, is the mythic woman who threatens to kills herself after  thinking she has been spurned by her lover.  The name would seem more apt for someone who promoted traditional roles for women, such as Phyllis Shaffley.  Diller, rather, was an iconoclast, who who broke into the then-male field of standup comedy, paving the way for the likes of Roseanne Barr.

It's appropriate to call her a pioneer.  But in the broader sense. American Heritage Dictionary tells us the word derives from the French word pionnier and before that the Old French peonier, meaning a foot soldier. It comes from the Latin pedon--one who has broad feet. The word has several meanings, but the one closest to this this derivation is the third one, "A soldier who performs construction and demolition work in the field to facilitate troop movements." Other meanings include one who "ventures into unknown or unclaimed territory to settle", who "opens up new areas of thought...or development" and in ecology, a species that "establishes itself in a previously barren environment." Yes, Phillis Diller was pioneer, but she was more--she was a soldier, she was a shock trooper.