Monday, June 23, 2008

A Standup Life

One of the first comedy shows I ever saw was George Carlin at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village in 1972. That show has stayed with me ever since, and surely helped steer me towards a career as a standup comedian. That night was transformational for Carlin as well, since he had recently changed his persona from suit and tie Vegas comic to a bearded T shirt clad counterculture satirist. For two hours, we were in the presence of genius, and the genesis of a comedy revolution.

He was outrageously funny, but what I admired most about Carlin was how prolific he was. 14 HBO specials and hard at work on the next one, he had a work ethic most comedians like myself are unfamiliar with. And his comedy didn't stop evolving in 1972. He kept changing, just as his life changed, just as all good comedians should continue to change. Because Carlin knew, better than anyone, that standup comedy is a work in progress. At 71, most people are either retired or rest on their laurels. Carlin did neither. He was going strong, with a performance schedule comedians like myself envy.

I met Carlin twice. A few years ago, I was opening for Robert Klein at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York. Right before I went on, I was told George Carlin was in the audience, but not to mention it since Robert Klein rightfully wanted to tell the crowd first. As much as I would have loved to tell the crowd and Carlin how highly I regarded him, I obeyed. Of course, the next comic got up and immediately announced, "Hey George Carlin is here!"

The greatest joy and highlight of my career has been the many times I've worked with my comedy idol Robert Klein. And that night was even more special. Jerry Seinfeld, who was the MC at The Comic Strip when I passed auditions there, dropped in to do a set. After the show,standing next to Seinfeld, Klein and Carlin, I turned to Gotham's owner Chris Mazzilli and said, "Wow, can you believe I'm here tonight?"

I told Carlin what a fan I was and his lady friend said how funny she thought I was. I would have loved to hear him say that as well, but that didn't spoil the moment for me. Although I do obsess about it from time to time.

The first time I met Carlin was about two years after that Bitter End performance, at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. I somehow managed to wrangle my way backstage and told Carlin how much I loved his show. He thanked me and said, "Have a nice life".

George Carlin is one of the reasons why I have a standup life.

I don't know if Carlin believed in heaven, but wherever he is right now, I'm sure he's hard at work on a new hour of afterlife material.