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If Phyllis Diller’s one-liners hadn’t kept pace with her famously wacky wardrobe, she might be remembered only as a wildly costumed freak who starred in some Bob Hope movies. “Have You Heard the One…? The Phyllis Diller Gag File” spans the comic’s career from her early days on television with Jack Paar to her retirement in 2002. The exhibit includes a handful of her outlandish accessories: ankle boots, loud minidresses, and wigs that evoke Albert Einstein and Angora rabbits. Her getups were supposed to make her look flat-chested and awkward, which Diller saw as a comedic asset. “These are not hot pants,” she once said, clad in a lime-green satin bubble-hemmed romper on a variety show in the ’70s. “They’re lukewarm bloomers.” But the exhibit’s centerpiece is a steel filing cabinet full of jokes written on note cards, organized alphabetically by topic (“Avon lady,” “Moby Dick,” “Polish jokes”). The 50,000 cards, which fill 48 drawers, reveal the brain and work ethic behind the costumed curtain.
The exhibit is on view 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily to Oct. 28 at the National Museum of American History’s Albert H. Small Documents Gallery, 1400 Constitution Ave. NW. Free.