Ain’t that the truth, brudda. Recently, after a comedy showcase (One of those gigs where you have to be invited), a comic from Dayton told me it took him five years to come up with a solid ten minutes. Of course, a lot of this is probably due to writing. If you don’t have time to do it very often, it’s going to take longer for that 90/10 rule to sift out the crap. It’s taken almost a year to get a solid five minutes, and part of it comes from my original set.
Dying? You just drop dead. Step off a building. Step in front of a bus. Be the paranoid Republican sitting next to me on a plane panicking about the swarthy guy with a mustache in the next row. (For the good of air travelers everywhere, I’d have to jam a pen in your carotid artery. Your estate will be paying the dry-cleaning bill.) Or just wait for nature to do it. We’re all headed there eventually, one way or another.
It is death that brings us to this week’s final post about George Carlin. Today, I want to bring your attention to Jerry Seinfeld’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. (Unlike Bill Kristol’s, I did not read this while sitting on the john. Nor did I need to.) One of Carlin’s comments just days before he died was a joke about the recently deceased Tim Russert and Bo Diddley.
“I feel safe for a while,” Carlin told Seinfeld. ”There will probably be a break before they come after the next one. I always like to fly on an airline right after they’ve had a crash. It improves your odds.”
Of course, George forgot about the rule of three, and ironically, he was #3. Or maybe he knew there was a bit in it whether he died or not. You’d expect nothing less from a 71-year-old man whose last gig was only a week before he died. Not only that, he had a whole tour planned.
My Dad went like that. He came home from work to start his vacation. Apparently, he’d be vacationing with Mom, who died two years earlier. Now that’s timing, ladies and gentlemen.
Carlin’s work ethic, though, shows what it takes to make it in an incredibly tough business. Seinfeld writes:
You could certainly say that George downright invented modern American stand-up comedy in many ways. Every comedian does a little George. I couldn’t even count the number of times I’ve been standing around with some comedians and someone talks about some idea for a joke and another comedian would say, “Carlin does it.” I’ve heard it my whole career: “Carlin does it,” “Carlin already did it,” “Carlin did it eight years ago.”
And he didn’t just “do” it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian. He was like a train hobo with a chicken bone. When he was done there was nothing left for anybody.
Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. If every comic had to worry about a premise being used before, Bob Hope would have been a shoe salesman at Higbee’s in downtown Cleveland, and Jack Benny would have been a footnote in jazz history. The trick is to make the audience see things the way you see things. This is why people didn’t notice for a long time that Dennis Miller was conservative or why Fox News can have its people on The Daily Show.
Of course, you do have to worry about copying someone else, even unintentionally. My stepson thinks Dane Cook is hysterical, and his repeating one bit everytime I wear my bathrobe around the house led me to take that premise and write a radically different bit about it. I don’t think its Dane Cook, but I had to beat the hell out of it to make sure.
Which leads us to every comic’s last bit: Death. We’re all going to have to do that joke sooner or later, even if we leave standup comedy. On that, Seinfeld says:
Like death, they were just more comedy premises. And it just makes me even sadder to think that when I reach my own end, whatever tumbling cataclysmic vortex of existence I’m spinning through, in that moment I will still have to think, “Carlin already did it.”
Nothing you can really do about that. Maybe I’ll just have “Maybe it’s… MEATCAKE!” etched on my tombstone.
Just giving credit where credit is due.