Slice of Turkey: Phyllis Diller, 1986

As I said in my inaugural post for this series, when I was a kid, non-balloon segments during the Thanksgiving Parade would often send me scurrying away from the TV with sense of cringey embarrassment. This was particularly true if the person appearing on my screen was going to belt out a song, or if they were somebody I’d never heard of, or both. The sight of this cleared the living room faster than the opening theme to M*A*S*H (which to Kid Me represented the pinnacle of adultness/kid kryptonite).

Which means that, in all likelihood, I never saw the segment below when it happened. In fact, I’m positive I didn’t, because if I had, I think my brain would have boiled and poured out of my ears out of sheer mortification. It features Phyllis Diller as Mother Goose, for some reason. Look: Phyllis Diller was a trailblazer, a very first successful female comedian at a time when Joan Rivers was basically the only other woman standup. (Yes, I know there were more, but as far as nationally famous ones, that was pretty much it.) She was on Scooby-Doo in animated form! Who else can say that, other than Jonathan Winters and Batman?

What I’m saying is, she deserves to be judged on her finer accomplishments, which are not on display here. Her delivery suggests someone who either does not know her lines or is highly medicated, or both. Even accounting for this, many elements of the bit seem as if they were constructed purely to embarrass her.

As with many Thanksgiving parade non-balloon segments, the number of items that make no sense in this clip are legion. To wit:

  • Why is Diller’s rhyme as Mother Goose sort-of dirty? Isn’t this supposed to be for kids?
  • Why were the cue cards situated at an odd angle from Diller? Couldn’t they have just put them to the side of the camera and spare this poor woman the effort of craning her neck, not to mention the embarrassment?
  • Why is Pat Sajak “surprised” about her being Mother Goose, like she’s just parachuted onto the scene? What purpose does this “confusion” serve?
  • Why is Sajak delivering his lines as if he just swallowed a fistful of downers?
  • Why are cast members of Another World shoehorned into this segment? Or Victoria Jackson, for that matter? (Ironically, nowadays Jackson sounds a lot like Diller did back then.)
  • What is it about the Hickory Dickory Dock segment that sends Diller over the brink of insanity?
  • Why does she suddenly want to be Cinderella? Why is she dragged off the “stage” Sandman Sims style? You just set her up to fail, didn’t you? DILLER HAS BEEN FRAMED!

The quality of this clip leaves much to be desired. However, the historic nature of this live TV meltdown demands that it be shared nonetheless.