By Pam Tent
Cutting-edge, stand-up comedienne, 78-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller, is now staging her outrageous floor show from a wheel chair—refusing to let surgery from a broken heel keep her sidelined, since coming off of a four-day run at The Punchline in San Francisco.
Just 5’ tall in feather boa, padded brassiere, and now, Day-Glo leg-cast, Lynn Ruth is an unabashed raconteur and the embodiment of the gamey one-liner. Reprising offbeat characters such as Granny’s Gone Wild and The Stripping Granny, she has been lauded as the darling of the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe Festivals and was presented with the Audience Choice and Originality Awards at the 2012 Texas Burlesque Festival. Despite her recent injury, Ms. Miller is performing her brassy cabaret routine in clubs throughout the Bay Area, keeping up a performance schedule that would hobble a race horse.
Her predecessor, Phyllis Diller, is well known for being the first female stand-up comedienne to play Las Vegas. She was a trail-blazer, and like Lynn Ruth, her talents were multifaceted. Both of these daring dames hailed from the Midwest, where they were born in Ohio, barely 70 miles apart. Sharing a love of music and creative arts, they bucked the traditional times in which they were raised, fleeing the kitchen for the male-dominated world of journalism, and later, the stage. These funny ladies had brains. Ms. Diller played piano and studied at the Sherwood Music Conservatory at the Columbia College in Chicago before transferring to Bluffton College to study liberal arts. Lynn Ruth (also a pianist) attended the University of Michigan where she got her BA in Education, following up with a Masters in Creative Arts at the University of Toledo and finally receiving an M.A. in Communication from Stanford University.
Phyllis Diller worked as a journalist for the San Leandro News Observer after transplanting to California. After she appeared as a contestant on the Groucho Marx Show, she was offered a gig at San Francisco’s comedy club, The Purple Onion, where her off-the-wall humor and outlandish costumes propelled her into a comedy career that spanned decades. The irrepressible Ms. Diller toured for 10 years as a concert pianist (under a pseudonym) and penned 5 best-selling books, including The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them.
Lynn Ruth Miller followed a similar path, working as a free-lance columnist for the Pacifica Times and becoming a regular contributor to local and national magazines. A prolific writer, she has written 11 books, of which two novels and two selections of short stories have been published. To promote her first novel, Starving Hearts, Lynn Ruth began an arduous tour of the U.S., reading excerpts from her book in dozens of states. While promoting her short story collection, Thoughts While Walking the Dog, she toured convalescent homes for Jewish holocaust survivors, and in the process, advanced to the next phase of her kaleidoscopic career.
“What our people really want are jokes,” a woman from the JCC Senior Center told her.
After a few years, the joke-well ran dry and at the age of 71, Lynn Ruth enrolled at San Francisco Comedy College. Before long, Lynn Ruth’s acerbic wit focused on debunking her favorite fallacy: society’s attitude toward aging. At crowded late-night venues, (The Purple Onion was one stop along the way) Lynn Ruth now appears in one-woman cabarets, such as Aging is Amazing, and Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s, Cha Cha Cha, where she lashes out with rapid-fire jokes, sings, prances and strips down to a fringe and feather covered, over-stuffed corset of 1900s vintage, with the mannerisms of an outspoken B-girl and the ribald humor of a female Lenny Bruce.
Rave reviews and spot appearances on radio and television talk shows gave Lynn Ruth the push to audition for Americas’ Got Talent, where she made it to the third tier, being chosen to appear before the judges in Las Vegas where she was selected as one out of four finalists in comedy. After an appearance in Scotland, a rep from Britain’s Got Talent approached her as well. In May, Lynn Ruth hosted a daily U.K. television review called Festival! , which covered the antics of the annual Brighton Fringe Festival*. She is currently vetting an offer for another daily show in England. Europe is a favorite destination for Lynn Ruth, where she has made appearances in Scotland, Dublin and Rome. Her next stop is Russia where she will be doing a stand-up comedy stint in Moscow next month.
It’s been decades since women were confined to the audience. Phyllis Diller was a gutsy pioneer and every funny lady owes her a nod. Lynn Ruth Miller is another. Both are brash, uninhibited and delightful. We may continue to enjoy the antics of Phyllis Diller on film. And if Lynn Ruth has anything to say about it, she’ll be with us for a long time.
“If you want to write my biography you’d better take your vitamins.” she recently told me. “Everything before 80 is just a prologue.”
*Editor's Note: Red Room author Rosy Cole wrote about her encounter with Lynn Ruth Miller at the 2009 Brighton Fringe Festival.
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