I had just moved from New York City to Los Angeles in the hopes of pursuing a bigger career than New York offered. I had agents and an apartment by the Hollywood sign and I felt I was on the right track. One of my first gigs was in Las Vegas; how horrible could life be?
Driving into Vegas and seeing Carlin's name on the marquee at Bally's and knowing I was going to be in the same place, doing the same thing made it seem like I had moved for all the right reasons. I immediately wrote him a note saying I was at Catch and that I wanted to see his show. I dropped it off at reception and wondered whether George would get it. He did and called me in my room to ask how many tickets I needed because it was Valentine's Day. He assumed I needed two. I had just started dating The Impotentate (GET OUT. RUN AWAY. YOU'RE GOING TO WASTE 7 YEARS OF YOUR LIFE WITH HIM.) but left him back in L.A. It was my first time playing Vegas and if I went down in flames I didn't need him to see that. So I asked George for one ticket and a fire extinguisher.
The first note pinned on the yellow sheet below is the message the operators at Catch A Rising Star took from George telling me to be at his 9 pm show. You know I'm the Queen of the Qeepsakes so I have this hanging in my Hall of Fame. You can't see it in this photo but it hangs down on the left, under the Muscle and Fitness magazine with my sister on the cover.
Valentine's Day in Vegas couldn't be more annoying if it tried. People running around all in love and shit and strangers looking at you with sad eyes because OMG you're alone! But I didn't care because I couldn't wait to see the guy that all comics put in their top 5 of best standups ever. If you don't get that, chances are you might not understand what makes great comedy. It's hard to explain if you're not in the business of making people laugh. You're just going to have to trust me and every other comic on the planet on this one. Can 20,000 of us be wrong? Uhhh. No.
Standing on a stage for over an hour trying to hustle an audience into laughing is not for the weak. It's so difficult that sometimes I look back on my younger self and wonder what convinced me that I could tackle such a job. How did I believe I had the wherewithal to make an audience love me? Or make them laugh or require them to think? Few of us will ever attain the rank of making an audience think. That requires enormous skill and I'd be the first to admit that I can't do it. I'm not that gifted. But Carlin had it in spades. Imagine trying to talk about religion, as George did in his bit on the Ten Commandments, and yet point out how ridiculous those Ten Commandments were. Who makes fun of that and wins? George. Because he was a master of comedy. My friend and fellow comic Matt Davis sent me an email that really summed up George's genius. He was a maestro with his words. He would start a premise or a story and he would zig and zag and weave and go off onto several different tangents (all of which were relevant and hilarious), and he would always come back and join it all together 10 or 20 minutes later and tie the end piece with a bow. It was amazing. It made me want to write more jokes and quit comedy forever at the same time.
That's really the hallmark of great anything. That it makes you want to do it better and yet quit because you don't think you'll ever be as good at it as the ones you admire the most. Comics can make a room full of strangers laugh. We don't know if it will work every time, and sometimes it doesn't, but we do know that most people can't do it and for some reason, that's why we keep doing it. And most of us hope we're one hundredth as good as Carlin. And know we're not.
The next night there was a message from George. "Want to know if you saw the show." I've had boyfriends who have dropped me off in front of my building and haven't waited to see if I made it inside alive. I have relatives who assume I'm dead because they never call. George was a real class act. And p.s., how many comics have you seen remain successful through their 60's and on until their 70's? Newhart. Cosby. Rivers. Carson. Believe me, we should all be so lucky.
Those of you who read me on a regular basis know I struggle with what I did with my life but when Carlin died I realized I'm grateful that I chose to be a comic, no matter how difficult the road. I remember once when my career was in the toilet and I didn't know what was going to happen to me and I called my Dad. I told him I had wasted my time flying around the world doing comedy and what did it bring me? And my Dad said "You made a lot of people laugh. Not many people can say that about their lives." And over the years I realized how right he was. Making people laugh is a lucky gift to have. It also reminds me of what The Laugh Factory here in L.A. puts up on their marquee when a comic dies. RIP George Carlin. Make God laugh. So if I can do that one day when I'm long gone and forgotten down here, make God laugh? Well, there will be no regrets. Except for this one: GET THIS CAST OFF MY FUCKING FOOT.
Another great comedian died the same day as Carlin but at 93, her heyday had come and gone. Dody Goodman was in both the Grease movies and played the mother in the hilarious sitcom Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. But more importantly, she was a Johnny Carson and Jack Paar fave. And if those two guys didn't know great comedy, no one did. Dody also did Broadway in her later years. I came across this quote from the producer of one of her shows about her prowess on the New York stage:
"Dody had the most impeccable comic timing," Goggin said. "When we had her in the show Nunsense, she was the only person on Earth who could walk on stage and say, 'Are you ready to start?' and bring the house down."