4 October 1992, 92nd Street Y, New York City, USA
I want to tell you that I am delighted to be here. Of course, I'm delighted that you are here, and at my age, I am delighted to be anywhere. You know you are old when your favourite drink is Metamucil. That darling Elizabeth Taylor has a perfume out called Passion. I have one out called Regularity. You know you're old when you have sexual fantasies that involve Jessie Helms. The question that people always ask me is how do I manage to stay in business after 38 years, because some people come and go. Well, I just came. I don't intend to go, ever. All during dinner tonight with Susan and some friends, we talked about death, and what it's all about, and all that sort of thing, because I'm terribly interested in it, but first I'm interested in old, and I did a show at an old folks' home. I have some advice about visiting those places. Don't ever set a drink down, because every time I did, somebody dropped their teeth in it.
Milton Burl visited an old folks' home. The one out in Hollywood is very chic, and he was upset. He has a massive go, and he got upset because nobody remembered him. He went up to one lady and he said, "Do you know who I am?" She said, "No, but the lady at the desk will tell you." I have another tip. Be kind to your children because they will be choosing your rest home. I've already chosen one for Fang's mother, the Charles Manson Healthcare Centre. That old bitch. She went to the doctor with a pain under her left breast. Turned out to be a trick knee. People, that is a question I am constantly asked. How do you manage to stay in the business? Number one, I try very hard ... I shouldn't say try. I've taken that out of my caveat. You never say, "I'm trying to do this." You say, "I'm doing this." You say, take out every word that sounds like you might have a doubt. You have to always sound absolutely positive. I keep it up to date. That's what I'm going to say. I keep my act up to date, plus I work on it every day.
Trying. Putting in new lines about new people, and sometimes you find that in this life, a soap opera, you can call it life ... It is a soap opera, believe me. When you consider it. Say, take Elizabeth Taylor's life alone. She's been married eight times. If that isn't soap opera, I haven't watched, and I always wonder what goes through that eighth groom's mind on that wedding night. Is this passion or Memorex? Elizabeth Taylor, see, she's endlessly interesting. That's why she goes on forever. She's cover story work always, because she's ... Number one, she can do remarkable things like get fat and then get skinny. That's remarkable. Some people either get fat and stay ha or get skinny and stay skinny, but she gets fat and skinny, fat and skinny, fat and skinny, and they are going to do a TV mini series of her live. Her role will be played alternately by Cher and Roseanne Barr. Oh, I do enjoy my work. Oh, that's another thing. People say, "Why do you laugh?" I can't help it. I just can't help it.
I like to laugh, and I want to tell you, it is terribly healthy to laugh, so it will do you a lot of good if you find a place to laugh, because it shakes up the liver bile. While you're laughing, your entire body is in a state of healing. That's true. It's people who worry themselves into illness. That's true. I'm very much into psychosomatic health. If you've ever read that book, The Anatomy of an Illness by Oz ... What's his name? Norman Cousins, yes. Yes. Oh, god. What a wonderful book. He cured himself with comedy, and I sincerely believe that you can keep yourself healthy. Look at George Burns. He's about 108, and goes out dancing, has two martinis for lunch, two martinis for dinner. Maybe that's what's doing it. Maybe he's just pickled. He eats sparingly, too, but do you see, I think that people who deal in comedy are always looking at the funny side of everything. Of course, my what do you call it? Just a slight touch of Al Simmons.
Definition. That's the word I want. My definition of comedy is tragedy revisited. That is what comedy is made of, and of course it has ... If it's a serious tragedy, you have to give it time before you talk about it, but small tragedies, that's what comedy's all about. It's the old banana peel. When you think of someone who's just [inaudible 00:06:43] beautiful, like Bo Derrick, or Liz Taylor, or those classic beauties, like Grace Kelly. They are not funny. Poor darlings. When you see beauty, it isn't funny. It's something else, but comedy is a wonderful defence, and it's a wonderful, oh, it's a wonderful way to get through life, to always look at the funny side. I remember whenever I have been in the hospital, have had a double room, whoever was in the other bed always went home early because they were afraid they would blow their stitches, because I always found operations very funny. In fact, I have found operations very helpful when it comes to my face.
I'm an authority, of course, on plastic surgery. I got into it early, and have done a lot. I've had so many things done to my body, when I die, God won't know me. There are no two parts of my body the same age. That's true. If I have one more face lift, it'll be caesarian. I had to do something. I was so wrinkled I could screw my hats on it. One night I answered the door with a broom in my hand. A guy tried to sell me flight insurance. My face has been pulled up more times than Jimmy Swaggart's pants. Oh, we were discussing at dinner about heaven and hell. Is there one, or two, or aren't there, or are they, and different religions, of course ... Of course, a lot of religious wars that are still going on are sort of based on religions and differences in religions. I'll have to tell you about my belief, and I don't ask anyone to join me in my belief, because I started working on it when I was about four years old.
Because I was born to elderly parents ... I don't know how they did that, but then I was, because all the relatives, aunts and uncles, were terribly old, they kept dying, and I was taken to funerals as a young child, a lot of funerals. They were conducted in the home. It was just a nice day in the country, and they would put these old people in these beautiful boxes, all gift wrapped on up, and I had never seen my aunts and uncles look so good, or so dressed up and peaceful. I started thinking about death seriously as a child, and I touched them, and realised they were cold, hard, like cement. I realised they were definitely not alive, and I thought a lot about that, and started thinking about it early in life, because I wanted to decide. I find that if you have a lot of unresolved questions in your mind, it ties up a lot of your energy that you need for creative work, and for creatively handling your own life problems.
In order to handle your life problems, the whole idea is to solve them so that you don't have any. That's why another thing that I have written is that a good divorce is better than a bad marriage, because my theory is that you should get everything out of your life that isn't working, even if it's a dress, pair of shoes, or a husband. It's all the same, but for myself, I've decided that about that thing where you die and you go to heaven or you go to hell, one or the other, I decided that didn't make too much sense for me. The way my mother described heaven, and she believed that she would definitely go there, was that the streets were made of silver and gold. Number one, I thought that'd be awfully cold and slippery, and then you see these angels with wings, and I knew I couldn't handle that, so I wouldn't want to go there. I don't like heat enough to go to hell, because in Hollywood, we have automobile heaven. That's the automotive town of the world. Everybody from the driving age of 16, everybody has a car. That's why we have the smog. That's why you have to come to New York to get a breath of fresh air.
You probably think you have smog. Oh, you don't. No. If you want a breath of fresh air in LA, you have to find a car with an out-of-state licence and open a tyre. There are people who go to simply automobile heaven, and there were three men who died in the same auto accident, and they all went there simultaneously. Saint Peter asked them, they were asked questions. Had they been true to their wives, and the first fellow was a realtor. He said that he had actually had an affair, and that was it, but other than that, he had been true, so they gave him a Buick to drive around heaven in. The next guy was a travelling salesman, and he had a worse record. He had had not only an affair, but various little people on the road. Then there was another man who had had two mistresses, and many one-night stands, and he was given the piece of junk, an old Volkswagen Bug with no fenders and half an engine and a door hanging on it to drive around it. He was sorry that he had been such a stud. Then he saw his wife go past on a skateboard.
I personally decided years and years ago, as I guess a teenager, that this life is it, because I believe in nature, and I'm a naturalist. That's why I believe that in nature, in more ways than that. I think nature cannot be gone against. I don't think you can go against nature. I think nature is of the law. For instance, I am against taking the pill because it's sort of like holding back the tide, which I wouldn't want to try that. I think it's wrong to go against life's cycles, and try to manipulate them, and I think it's playing with fire. Another thing. For instance, they just recently came out, and of course the dairy farmers are going to go nuts. They're saying that the dairy products are not good for adults, and of course, I would agree because of my feeling that all mammals are weaned, and then they don't ever have milk again. That to me would be nature's way.
I learned something recently. I was playing in a gambling town, and I was paying for something I'd bought. The lady at the cash register has a, get ready, pet tarantula. It's a mammal. Can you feature a tarantula nursing its young? I had no idea. I love to find out those strange things that you don't know about, but we were talking about ... Oh, anyway, so I feel that when I die, now I don't know when you're going to go, but I'm just going to be dead. I will regret my death, I know that, because I know I'm going to miss me. I don't have to have the promise of anything more. This life has been so wonderful. It is so wonderful. Life is so wonderful, and it's good to be alive. You see, if all those people who put all that money into these evangelists' coffers, they are all afraid of dying and going to hell, which gives you an idea of the kind of life they're leading. They're having a lot of fun, but these people, they offer them eternal life, meaning going to heaven, and having a great time up there, and getting them out of hell.
They won't go to hell if you give them money. That's what the promise. How about that? Jim Jones, who took 900 people down to where he thought he'd never be found, and they gave him everything they had, just to get into heaven and not go to hell. They gave him everything mortal, physical things that they had, property, money, whatever they had, just to be taken care of. In other words, they want a daddy. They want someone to take care of them. They don't want to do it themselves. See, life is a do-it-yourself kit, and the minute you find that out, you're on your way, because people who are just beginning things, they want help, and they're always begging for help, and asking for help. There will be help if you don't ask for it, but asking for it almost repels the help. It's sort of like being [inaudible 00:17:00], begging, and you don't like to look at those people. You like to help people who actually probably don't need it. It's the way you get a loan at the bank. Don't need it.
When you need it, you can't have it. I think there's a line in the Bible. To him that hath, it shall be given. From him who hath not, it shall be taken away, so you got to act rich. Where was I? Oh, god. I do ramble. Oh. Oh, those people who take all the money. That Jim Jones, my god, so then they all drank the Kool-Aid. 900 dead people. What a horrible thing. That's a mass suicide. That to me is the sad, sad, and these evangelists like Jimmy Swaggart. What a nasty man. He just does a lot of crying, cries, and cries, and cries. He sins, and he repents, and he cries, and ugh. I haven't seen a face that wet since Jacques Gusto came up for air. That Tammy Fay Bakker. What a ugly little bitch. She looks like a Pekingese. She looks like a little dog that was running too fast, hit the wall. Then she cries, and runs all down, and then she looks like an Exxon oil spill. All that black stuff on her.
There was a funny moment in the Exxon trial when they tried Hazelwood. The judge said, "Order in the court," and Hazelwood said, "I'll have a Harvey Wallbanger." Of course, this was a year when television to look at was mostly trials with Clarence Thomas, and Willy Smith, and all those people. Ted Kennedy starred in most of those trials, and John Kennedy Jr., he's a lawyer. I think he could make a very fine living just defending the family. Think of all the money that could be saved if they didn't give it to these evangelists, and ask Swaggart, "If you ever flip the dial," and he always pulls the Bible out here, and I know he's looking for loopholes to cover him. Tammy Fay's husband, that Jim Bakker, he probably put two Ks in his name so it would balance Swaggart with two G's. Probably went to a numerologist. Numerology, they're always telling you how to spell your name? Anyway, he set any religion back years, and gave a whole new meaning to the term missionary position.
Of course that Oral Roberts started that. He's another one. What a terrible name to give a little boy. You remember four years ago, when he walked up into his prayer tower and spoke with God, who spoke English. Then he came down and spoke with his flock, whom he is fleecing, and he said, "If you don't send me $8 million by March, God will take me." Of course, now, I have had doctors like that, especially doctors out in Hollywood are very strange. This one doctor said, "Take off your clothes." He put them on. There's another doctor out there, if you want a second opinion, he goes out, comes back in. Friend of mine went to the doctor, and she said, "One of my breasts is longer than the other one." The doctor says, "That is not unusual." She said, "But ... " He wanted to know if she knew why one of her breasts is longer, and she said, "Well, I think I have an idea. It may be because my husband likes to sleep with one of them in his mouth." The doctor said, "Well, that isn't unusual either." She said, "We have twin beds."
Doctors ask these dumb questions like, "How old are you?" I said, "You mean now or when I came into your waiting room?" Boy, they do make you wait. While you're waiting, you get a lot sicker reading those germy magazines. People cough in there, and spit in there, and all that. Just breathing those magazines is enough to make you sick, and they ask these stupid questions. One doctor asked me if I had any running sores. I said, "No." He said, "Do you have a rash?" I said, "No." He said, "Do you have herpes?" I said, "No." He said, "What are you doing Friday?" Of course, the main thing is to not get into the hospital. Don't let these doctors stick you in there, because that's when they are through with you, and nurses are overworked, underpaid, and they hate sick people. The last time I was in I had this great big butch thing, nurse thing. Oh. She had one eyebrow went all the way around her head. Small animals were trapped in the hair on her legs.
She came into the room with a needle. I said, "I hope that's an umbrella." If you complain about anything, you get the Velcro bedpan. It may never come off, and I told her if I pass on, I'd like to be cremated. Hell, she set the bed on fire, and I met the dumbest woman I have ever met in the other bed. I had a double room. This woman should marry Fang. They would be very happy together, because he is the dumbest man in the world. There is no doubt in my mind, whatever. Oh, God, just the other day, I said, "Look at the dead bird." He looked up. He was reading the obituaries, and he said, "Isn't it just amazing how people die in alphabetical order?" This woman had twins and the doctor brought them both in. She thought she had a choice. I wish I had ever had a choice. In my day, there was no pill. It was trick or treat, and we had far too many kids, far too many kids. At one time in our playpen, there was standing room only. It looked like a bus stop for midgets.
Used to get so damp in there we'd get a rainbow above it, because housekeeping is not one of my long suits. In fact, it's not any of my long suits. I hate it. I just hate it. One time I asked Fang, "What could I do in the bedroom to thrill you?" He said, "Clean it." He's always threatening. He says, "Housework never killed anybody." I say, "Why take a chance?" That woman and Fang and our dog, his dog is stupid, too, they would make a lovely family, and then I'd be rid of him. What a lovely thought. The happiest day of my life will be the day I open that refrigerator door and see his face on a milk carton. After 50 years with Fang, Claus von Bülow looks good. That's the way, but of course, I can't begin to tell you how stupid he is. I asked him to spell Mississippi one day. He said, "The river or the state?" He thinks Roe vs. Wade is about two guys in a canoe. Oh, god. He is dumb.
He read in the newspaper where 75% of all accents happen within 25 miles of your own home. Now he wants to move. And add to that, a new thing he's got. Paranoia, and he caught this at the mall. That's where he caught paranoia. He went up to one of those maps, and it said, "You are here." He wants to know how they know. He checked all the maps. They always knew. Of course, this is the same man who drove downtown, came to a flashing red light, and stopped 13 times going through the intersection. This is the man who every time he drives over the house at the gas station, he answers the car phone. Somebody gave him a camera for his birthday, just got back his first roll of film. 12 shots of his right eye. He's afraid of everything. He's a coward. He's afraid of his own shadow. He says it isn't his. Can't get him on an aeroplane because I can't get him past the bar. He's a terrible drunk. My god, oh, and besides, he said he's never read of two bars colliding in midair.
Oh, what a drinker. You ought to see him in the morning with a hangover and the shakes. He can thread a sewing machine while it's running, and then the idiot tries to shave with a straight razor. One morning, he lost so much blood his eyes cleared up. He's scared to death of everything, and once I tricked him. I got him on an aeroplane to London, and it's a long trip. It's 15 hours from where we are, and we lost an engine, and the captain's voice came over the loudspeaker. He said, "Now don't worry about a thing. Relax. It just means we will be one hour late landing at Heathrow," and then we lost another engine. He comes on the loudspeaker again. He says, "Now relax. This is a fine aeroplane. There's nothing to worry about. It just means we'll be two hours late landing in London." We lost another engine and Fang said, "Jesus Christ. We lose one more, we'll be up here all night." After we got to London, we had to do all those sites, so those wonderful, red, double decker buses that you sight see.
Oh, they are so cute, and I rode downstairs, and he went upstairs. When he got off, he was white as a sheet. He'd had a couple of heart arrests. He was hardly walking. He was shaking. I said, "What is wrong with you?" He said, "Ha ha. You had a driver." Everybody asks, "Is Fang real?" He's every man. He isn't real. I'm a single person, and I have been married twice. These are some of the questions you might ask, and of course, before I got married before I had been done over. You see, I was always very ugly. I don't know how to tell you this. On our wedding night, I said to Fang, "Let me hear those three little words." He said, "God, you're ugly." For you to be an ugly girl to have a beautiful sister is the pits. Oh, that was it. My complexion was the pits, and hers was peaches. She had all the boys. She was a cheerleader. She had pom poms. I had no pom poms. How can you have a cleavage when you have no cleaves?
They want me to talk a little bit about the technical part of being funny. It helps to be somehow dysplastic in some way, dis ... By that, I mean away from the norm. For instance, Martha Ray had a big mouth, big, big, big mouth, and oh, it comes down to us from the age of kings and medieval times when it was the court jester, who had turned up boots, and wore gloves. All clowns wear gloves, even Mickey Mouse, and they usually had a big hook nose. You've seen them. The court jester always looked the same. He was often a hunchback. Of course, that bring us to Dolly Parton, who's a hunch front. He was sometimes a dwarf, but anyway, in comedy, it helps to be in some way not ideally beautiful, because that tends to make you grow up not funny. Having something to defend yourself about makes for a comic. Comics are made in childhood, and because I've done a great deal of analysis of what makes a comic, my theories are that it's a child who is a hypersensitive child, who is very bright, who is somehow - feels - maybe it isn't even real - feels some sense of abandonment or lack in childhood, emotionally.
It often creates a comic. It's often an only child who doesn't have other children to play with, so they tend to have a wild imagination, and that would ... I think I'll start that sentence again. I had about 18 syllables and no words. Someone asked me what I thought of current comedy as opposed to older comedy. Oh, I want to go back to Martha Ray. Carol Burnett used to have sort of teeth that stuck out, and then less chin than one would want. She's my idol. She's had it fixed, though. She's had everything fixed. She's rich, but the thing is, Martha was ... She always did that teeth commercial. These are very lucrative deals. What's her name. What was that. McLaine. Shirley McLaine does a commercial for cat food, nine lives. Martha had that commercial for the teeth, and then after she couldn't do it anymore because she was ill, they offered it to me, and do you know that I couldn't have it because I have my own teeth, and I didn't think it was worth having them pulled.
That means that June Alison wets her pants. There's this new thing about truth in advertising. The other day, my manager called and he said, "Do you have rheumatism?" I said, "No." He said, "Well, there's this commercial." I said, "Yes, I have it very bad." I can get it. Anyone can have it, but in the old days of comedy, there was a time when I was really the only standup comic. I want to tell you about three categories of comedy, for females only. I won't go into the male. There's comic, which is what I am. That means you just stand up on a bare stage, or all alone. You work in one, meaning that's it. You are responsible for your own material. A comic actress works ensemble. That would be Lucy Ball, Carol Burnett, and that's a comic actress, or movies, sketches. They work always with other people, and things are written for them mainly. Then there is comedian, which is a lighter form of comedy. They sing. They dance. They might work with dancing boys, and they might change costumes. In other words, it's lighter and they're not necessarily responsible for their own material, so there's three categories of female comedy.
Before me, there were practically no female standup comics, and I didn't know that, or I probably would've thought it was impossible. Nothing is impossible if you don't know you can't do it. Anything is possible, if you believe that you can do it. I'm sure that's in all the good books. The main thing is believing. There's a friend in the audience tonight, Donald Wild, who wrote a play which I put on the boards. I loved it so much. It was called "What Are We Gonna Do With Jenny?" It was about a reverse generation gap. In other words, the children were horrified at the mother, because she was living with an old man, and not married to him, and having a ball. She painted nudes all day long, and sipped champagne, and was happy as a lark, and her daughters were quite upset about that. I loved the play, and it went very well. We did it in Chicago, and then it travelled in Europe, and South Africa, I guess, but anyway, Donald is here tonight, and I am so thrilled that you are here, Donald.
I have no idea what I was setting up there. See, I don't do lectures. I just didn't do this one. I have no idea what I'm talking about. I think this would be a very good place to throw this open to discussion, and we'll do what Joan Rivers, my dear friend ... Oh, I know what I was talking about. That brought it all back. She always said, "Can we talk?" I love her. I'll tell you, for 10 years, I had this field all to myself. Then along came Joan Rivers, whom I adore. She's Phi Betta Kappa, bright broad, and then after we had it all to ourselves for another 10 years. 20 years of just the two of us, and now, I got to tell you, there are 250 female comics, and many of them are extremely, extremely talented. There are 500 new male standup comics, young men, middle-aged men. Of course, everybody to me is young. Imagine three quarters of a century. Oh, my god. Anyway. It took me that long to solve all my problems, and to reach a plateau of happiness I didn't know existed. One, the pinnacle of it is right here tonight with you, and it's wonderful to be happy.
On the question of craft, Phyllis Diller also famously kept a gag file. See clip below.