Running down the hallway, past the nearly empty lobby of the Stardust, I called out George Carlin’s name. My now looking back at it, ugly red suede shoes thumped heavily on the even more hideous multicolored rug of the casino floor. Multicolored I am sure to easily blend in stains from drinks, vomit, and blood of guests of the once respected Stardust Hotel and Casino. George I screamed again while chasing him down with my $8.99 disposable camera. As his handlers were rushing him to his next show at the MGM Grand just down the strip, after he accepted a meaningless Las Vegas Performer of the Year award at the 2002 Las Vegas Comedy Festival. No doubt just a paper award to get Carlin to even show up and give some type of creditability to the festival. Carlin, in his all black t-shirt and jeans, turned in rebellion of his entourage to hear me out. I quickly explained in about two seconds and in an-out-of breath speech pattern what a hero of mine he is. Not giving a shit he quickly agreed to take a photo. I quickly pass the camera to my friend who clicked the disposable camera with out winding it, as is always the case with cameras purchased at local drug stores. Carlin promptly remarked to put a quarter in it. Nervously I laughed; just happy he was not abandoning me. Amongst the dealers at the empty Pia Gow poker tables and the woman with fat ankles killing time at the one arm bandits as there husbands gambled away at the real card games, Carlin taught me once again an important lesson; one that I would remember for years to come.
I first became familiar with Carlin when I was about ten years old. It was just about after the first Gulf War and my parents decided to buy HBO even though I am sure our budget could not afford it. Carlin’s Jammin’ In New York was in heavy rotation. I watched it over and over, mesmerized by this old man who seemed to be angry about everything. I laughed repeatedly at the same jokes every time it replayed. Laughing louder and harder every time I heard them, which is common of a ten year old. Now looking back at it I can not imagine why I laughed so hard. With no life experience how could I have possible related to any of his material. I didn’t know what anorexics were, or even heard of bulimia. Sure I knew Colin Powell was in charge of the Gulf War invasion, but why did I think it was funny that with names like Colin Powell and Dick Cheney it meant someone is getting fucked in the ass. However I did laugh; not because of the exact wording of a joke, or the hidden satire of his material. I laughed because of the passion in his voice, the disappointment of his tone, and the pure rebellion of his language.
In my early twenties, when I first began to pursue comedy as a career, I did as many aspiring comics do; I looked to the past to build my act for the future. As my taste for Comedy grew worse during my teens and early twenties, passing on Carlin for what seemed to be at the time a more cooler, but now looking back at it more pathetic, pop comedy. I watched less of the Carlin and more Damion Waynes. So, when I finaly decided to do stand up comedy I looked back at all the greats. In my small home town of Monterey I had to go to an independent record store, which I am sure has since closed thanks to the Ipod. There I bought comedy albums that were nearly impossible to find anywhere else. I slowly built up a collection of comedy albums from Woody Allen to Lenny Bruce and finally the George Carlin double disc CD set of AM/FM and Class Clown.
Every Saturday for about six months, I drove from my home town of Monterey to San Francisco. I listened and studied Carlin’s double disc set in the six changer CD player that sat underneath the passenger seat of my Geo Prism. Although my CD player was a six changer, there was really no need for more than two. AM/FM and Class clown were the only albums I listened to. Over and over again I listened to them, while my girlfriend and I drove two hours to do a five minute open mic set at the Java N’More on Church Street. If we were lucky, and the traffic gods were on our side, we could arrive early enough to sign up for a spot to perform at the March’s Moch Cafe. Later we would return after we were done performing at the Java N’More to perform at the Moch, which would double my stage time from five minutes to ten minutes, and surely justify the four hour drive to and from San Francisco. However, what made the four hour drives bearable was Carlin’s double disc set. A masterpiece in the art of stand up, I listened and learned why it was funny and so good. Carlin was a master of the English Language. Every punchline was so well written; so clever it slapped you in the face. I studied the timing and the amazing amount of tags for one single joke (there are 32 tags for the Shit Joke on Class Clown). Listening to those early Carlin albums gave me a love for the comedic written word, the timing of words, and the editing of words so that the punchline makes you not only laugh but cringe.
During Carlin’s later years I found myself in many of comedy club green rooms defending George’s work. Many newer comics felt Carlin lost it, replacing comedy for complaining. I argued that Carlin was in a constant metamorphosis of his act. He was performing for close to 50 years at the time and there was no way a comic could stay the same for so long. I remember an interview Carlin did for the extremely boring Larry King Show. Carlin said he did not consider himself a stand up anymore, but rather a writer who performs his material. This explains perhaps why we heard less laughter coming from those HBO specials and more cheers, hoots N’ hollers that encouraged such a change in Carlin’s performance. Although, Carlin’s act did lack the enormous amount of punchlines that was featured on his old stuff, the new Carlin would rant and rave, then show a sign of his old self with a quick punchline that still caused ribs to tighten from laughter. He would just through the line out there with ease and grace in the middle of an angry rant. The line was quick, witty, and with a smirk that said fuck you, I could still do this if I wanted to.
Now I am set to perform at a George Carlin tribute tonight at the San Jose Improv. Something surely George would never want to be apart of. George was never the one to be sentimental, constantly mentioning his love of atrophy, his love that all things fall apart to allow for something new, much like his act, always evolving. While I am sure it is great to be appreciated, he would rather us get pass the sentimental stories of the past, and get to the jokes of the future. George Carlin passed leaving behind a great body of work. However, there is still work to be done; jokes that need to be told, injustices that need to be revealed, and societies that need to be criticized. What is needed now are more Court Jesters that are not afraid to tell the King to FUCK OFF!
Finally I think back to all of the lessons I learned from a man I barley met, none seems to be as important as this. After I finally made my way home to San Francisco after meeting Carlin in Las Vegas, I could not wait to get my cheap little disposable camera developed. My girlfriend picked me up at SFO expecting me to be exhausted from a three day bender in the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.. She was surprised that all I wanted to do was get to the local Costco in Daly City to get my pictures developed, more importantly, one specific photo developed. One hour and two Costco hot dogs later my photos were ready. Quickly I flipped through the photos of people I dealt with on a day to day basis, but really could care less for. Finally I saw the photo I waited for. There it was, with a dark casino and an illuminated profile of a nameless cocktail waitress behind us, I stood there with a grin the size of the Grand Canyon, and my arm around one of my idols. Standing next to me as I smiled the largest grin ever seen on a casino floor without winning a jack pot; stood, frowning, was George Carlin, making me look like just another asshole. Carlin taught me one more lesson. Whenever you take a photo with a celebrity never smile bigger than the celebrity …it makes you look like a douche.