Recently, pianist Jim Maurer was a guest on an Experience Talks radio show entitled, “Active Octogenarians.” He talked about meeting and becoming friends with another classically trained, fine pianist when he was a college student in Ohio — Phyllis Diller. He even got her a job when she was unemployed! Her career certainly took off after those early years in the 1950s (she started performing at the age of 37), and eventually she broke barriers in the comedy world to become the first solo female comic to be a household name.
She kept all of her thousands of jokes meticulously organized in her “gag file,” a large card catalog with 51 drawers standing over 4 feet tall. In 2003, she contacted the Smithsonian to see if they’d be interested in a donation representing her career. The “gag file” was their choice.
Now, here’s an invitation from the National Museum of American History:
We invite you to help transcribe all 52,569 notecards in Phyllis Diller’s gag file to assist us in learning more about her comedy while better documenting her impressive career. Transcription will not only help the museum do additional research but will also help create greater access and searchability for the public. Beginning on March 1, 2017, the gag cards will be publicly available through the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center. Digital volunteers will be able to browse through all of the joke cards, transcribe any cards that make them chuckle, and review cards transcribed by other volunteers. Anyone can volunteer to help us transcribe Phyllis Diller’s jokes, or any other project across the Smithsonian. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers like you, researchers and fans around the world will soon be able to explore, share, and enjoy the jokes of Phyllis Diller. [Click here to browse all of the Smithsonian projects that need transcription. You can search by theme or by museum. It’s a great volunteer job!]