June 24, 2008

The Loss of a Class Act Class Clown

If you've heard me speak before, or read my poetry, you probably wouldn't notice that my style, performance, and to some degree, subject matter hails from a man whose language is legendary...or at least legally legendary.

George Carlin is the reason why you can't say seven specific words on TV or the Radio. He also passed away today from heart failure. Tragic for a man who had lotsa passion for his work.

While this may shock some (although not surprise many) I first saw a George Carlin special in HBO when I was three. Admittedly, I understood like 60% of his stuff then. I thought him swearing was funny. And I laughed at the sports and driving things. Of course, watching Carlin is what made it for me then.

When I got older, I started to realize a lot of the brilliance with what he said, and how he said it. A friend of mine once said that in the public speaking business it is always wise to watch those whose style you can appreciate it. Much like writers read. Much like artists peruse other art. From Carlin, much of how he said things, and a little of what he said, has impacted my own performance.

He lists, and not just the famous Incomplete List of Impolite words. He's a frequent user of anaphora (repeating an opening line...like what Walt Whitman did). His alliteration and internal rhyme is phenomenal. Most importantly, he wasn't afraid to say anything either.

Many forget that Carlin started out as a straight man in comedy. Something in him one day made him switch. An internal desire to push the envelope, but not force it open. He soon became part of the 60's and 70's counter culture. But during this time, his act wasn't all about swearing for swearing's sake.

It's all about his sense of irony.

He's receiving the Mark Twain award for humor. Only ten others have thus far received it. Mark Twain is one of America's greatest satirists. Only fitting that Carlin will be recognized.

In a CD compilation I have from Carlin, he talks about cigarette advertising in the 60's. Talked about how all the subliminal messages were focused toward men being manly man. Then he did a fake commercial where he mocks the "cool" lifestyle of smoking (and this was when smoking was considered a chic habit).

The first person to receive the award, by the way, Carlin's compatriot, Richard Pryor. Both are known by scores of comedians and comediennes as the founders. They were the ones who brought stand up comedy out of the basic routine of set up, joke, punch line. Most importantly both brought laughter to millions.

While I haven't watched or listen to Carlin as religiously as I used to, I did pop in a tape casette today, and laughed, and cried. Regardless of your views, we lost a class clown today, someone who had a keen view of the world and wasn't afraid to speak his mind. And while I remember him once saying "God and I have an understanding...I don't understand Him and He doesn't understand me" I'm certain that he was met at the pearly gates with a standing ovation.

In honor of George Carlin, one of my influences, and whom I thankful for his style and substance, here is my favorite prayer (read when Red Buttons died):

The Clown's Prayer

As I stumble through this life,
help me to create more laughter than tears,
dispense more cheer than gloom,
spread more cheer than despair.

Never let me become so indifferent,
that I will fail to see the wonders in the eyes of a child,
or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged.

Never let me forget that my total effort is to cheer people,
make them happy, and forget momentarily,
all the unpleasantness in their lives.

And in my final moment,
may I hear You whisper:
“When you made My people smile,
you made Me smile.”