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Phyllis Diller, one of the first and one of the few female comic headliners of her generation, died Monday at the age of 95.
Diller performed in the persona of a crazed housewife. She usually dressed in outlandish, bad-fitting clothes with her hair teased into a disheveled mop. Then she'd fire off long strings of self-deprecating gags. She was so unattractive, she used to tell her audiences, that Peeping Toms asked her to pull her window shades down. Onstage, she called her husband Fang. Diller told Fang jokes like her male counterparts told wife jokes.
Diller got a late start as a comic — she didn't enter show business until she was a 37-year-old mother of five. She had already worked in public relations at a radio station and had written a newspaper advice column. It was her first husband who suggested she try comedy, because it appeared to pay well and they needed the money.
In an interview Fresh Air's Terry Gross recorded with her in 1986, Diller explains what her routine was like before she developed her persona.