Writing and Filing

Here’s an interesting item I found about Phyllis Diller: she kept all of her jokes in a big filing cabinet.

A large, Steelmaster-brand beige metal cabinet contains jokes that comedienne Phyllis Diller used to create her unique solo stand-up comedy routines. Forty-eight drawers hold thousands of 3” x 5” x 5” white index cards, each bearing a typewritten joke. Drawers are labeled with topical headings and arranged in alphabetical order. Headings range from “Accessories” to “Washing.” Large segments of the file are devoted to material about the mythical characters of her husband “Fang” and neighbor “Mrs. Clean.”

How great of a writing approach is that? I’m reminded of the equally-interesting approached revealed in the Paris Review interview with Gay Talese (writer best known for the Esquire article “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”). He wrote all his pieces on the cardboard that comes from dry-cleaned shirts.

But, seriously. That filing cabinet, wow. If only all creative types were that organized.

Watch a Smithsonian video about her filing system


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