I once held a dream of becoming a stand-up comedian.
This was not just a fleeting fantasy that would be replaced daily by aspirations of one day walking on the moon or becoming the first man to float down the Colorado River on a keg — this was my grand plan for about five years. I watched any comic on television that I could find, constantly wrote down thoughts or jokes that I figured I could use one day and practiced my routine in front of anybody who would listen.
My goal was to be the kind of comic who could tackle real issues in the world and use humor in a way that would keep people off balance. My aim wasn’t to be a political comedian as much as it was to be a narrator of the world around us — to point out the absurdity that surrounds us and hopefully make people laugh along the way.
In short, I wanted to be George Carlin.
There were a few roadblocks I encountered on my way to “The Tonight Show.” The first was that nobody could do that kind of humor the way George Carlin did. The second was, well, I just was never as funny as I thought I was.
Though his material was lights-out fantastic, Carlin’s greatness was enhanced by the fact that it was him telling the stories. Oh, we could talk about timing and delivery and any number of elements that make up great stand-up, but at the heart of it all comes the person who is on the microphone. Carlin came across not only as the funniest person in the room, but also the smartest and most hip. He seemed like that guy you just wanted to hang out with, and had the audience in his pocket from the first minute he spoke.
“I think the things he said and the guts he had to say them, it was just breathtaking,” said Roseanne Barr on “Larry King Live” earlier this week.
And that’s what his brilliance came down to — the amazing ability to make a strong point without really offending people. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, it was hard not to laugh at what he was saying and how he was saying it. There were times when I was listening to Carlin when I would just drop my jaw in awe that he was saying something as outlandish as he was, but he had that ability to drop it in the middle of his story and he just kept going like nothing happened.
Off-limits topic? Not to Carlin. He could venture into an argument over the merits of baseball and football into a discussion on abortion into his thoughts on what to do with all the “stuff” he’d accumulated over his life and you’d simply buckle in for the ride. You would start shaking your head at something he said and, right before you could get offended, he’d spiral into something else and have you laughing again.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
And his popularity never really wavered much over time. Carlin was the prototypical counterculture comedian. He was a strong voice against the happenings in Vietnam and seemed to always be a beret away from performing sketchy poetry in a 1960s San Francisco coffee house. But he didn’t leave his significance behind as time continued forth.
“This guy did 14 HBO specials — I’ve done two,” said Jerry Seinfeld on “Larry King Live.” “And, you know, very few comedians do more than three or four — I mean, plus the books. I don’t think we’ll ever see someone who, in their lifetime, creates as much comedy as this man did.”
And now we’re left with reruns and his books — still priceless to this day, but I can’t help but feeling there will somehow be a void when something major happens in the world and Carlin isn’t around to give his take.
George Carlin was not the only comedian I looked up to when I was dreaming funny. I also loved hearing the old works of Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and Bob Newhart, and was a big fan of Eddie Murphy — back when Eddie Murphy was still doing stand-up and was, well, funny. Remember? Before those silly movies he did that pleased absolutely nobody ...
But I digress.
Regardless, Carlin was the one who had that special talent not to alienate while saying alienating things. He was brash and loud, profane and opinionated. He had a famous temper, and a reputation for not having the most patience with others. And he was flat-out funny.
For all the talk since his death about his ability to make people think, it comes down to his ability to make people laugh. Talk to an 80-year-old or an 18-year-old — chances are both people have laughed at something Carlin said over the years. His relevance continued because his ability to make people laugh continued, and that’s a gift that didn’t only benefit Carlin and his family over the years — it benefitted us all.
If laughter does indeed make the world go ’round, Carlin was often the person spinning the wheel.
The world will continue on without George Carlin and his outlook on life. There will still be wars, death and births, and people will still do great things and not-so-great things.
I just wish Carlin was around to talk about them.