Thursday, June 26, 2008

RIP George Carlin

I only met Carlin once. We were both appearing at Bally's in Las Vegas. He was in the showroom; I was at the comedy club Catch A Rising Star.

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."

It's all about timing in comedy. If you think you're funny, try saying that line when you walk into a room. Good luck with the crickets.

R.I.P. George. And Dody. We'll miss you.


28 comments:

  1. Suzy -- Of all the Carlin tributes I've read, this one did it for me. I tip my hat to you.

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  2. I was never fortunate enough to see him in person but I never missed his HBO specials.
    Everything he did was funny. I didn’t like the movie Dogma but his scenes were hilarious!

    It was very sad for me to hear he’d died because, in my opinion, he would have kept coming up with brilliant material to keep us all laughing for a long long time.

    He transcended generations since the older ladies where I work were also deeply saddened by his passing. They’re a good 25-30 years older than I am.

    Luckily he will be remembered as a legend.

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  3. Mike Dugan8:09 AM

    Suzy - this was wonderful and brought up a lot of feelings for me. Great writing and brought back memories and parts of my heart. Also, I'm sure George would be happy you told everyone he hangs down to the left.

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  4. Mike Dugan8:14 AM

    PS - I just remembered "Class Clown" was the first album ever shoplifted.

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  5. me again duh8:17 AM

    First album I ever shoplifted.

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  6. I think of George Carlin whenever I take a peice of bread from the middle of the loaf, avoiding the first peices.
    I think of Dody Goodman whenever I hear morning announcements at E's school.
    That says something, right?

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  7. Suz: Thought you were going to publish my pithy metaphor about we comics all being in the Infantry in WW2.
    Anyway, with carlin, we just lost a 4 star General. And with Dody, we lost a real Wac! HK

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  8. I met Dody when she was in a touring production of "Nunsense" with my sister. Funny lady! She and George are probably tearing it up in the Great Beyond about now.

    And you have a cast on your foot? What happened?

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  9. Wait - I'll save you the trouble:

    "And you have a cast on your foot?"
    Fuck you, Jami!

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  10. I loved Dody Goodman in MH, MH and in interviews. She was a brilliant innocent!

    Wonderful piece!

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  11. allen Enlow9:53 AM

    Suzie:
    You always sum things up so well. have missed your column...

    I love you dad and have never met him. That man was supportive to a "T"!!!!!

    Did you know Suzie Friedman from NY? She's one of the agents I'm freelancing with and get a lot of work from. Have known here for yeeeeeears and consider her a good friend as well. Her EX was UNCLE DIRTY and they named their daughter, who is now in her 20's(?), CARLIN; as Dirty was a good friend of Mr. C.

    DODY GOODMAN- there's a moment in MARY HARTMAN MARY HARTMAN where she she reacts to seeing a dead person (memory fades as to who the dead body was).
    But her comedic scream is indelibly etched on my brain as an OMG LAUGH that springs out from your cheeks and spurts out with a full projectile spit take.

    Ain't you outta that cast yet?
    Best wishes and a quick recovery,
    Allen

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  12. Nice job, Suzy. Touching and well written. I saw him live once in Florida but have always been a fan. I had no idea that Dody had died. She was a riot in Grease.

    Thanks for the post.

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  13. There are many here among us...

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  14. I grew up with George Carlin... he was brilliant. Ditto for Dody. Nice Suzy.

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  15. Anonymous11:56 AM

    Suzy,
    As you know, I loved Carlin. Thanks for your blog.

    As to Dody Goodman reacting to the dead body on Mary Hartman Mary Hartman -- was it the body of Martin Mull's evil twin who accidentally impaled himself on an artificial Christmas tree. (As Garth?)
    Aloha,
    MJ

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  16. I saw George in 1978; I still have my ticket (see? you're not the only pack rat, er.... "Queen of the Qeepsakes"...) ;)

    It was February 21st, 1978, and the ticket was a whole $7 (plus tax!) for eighth row seats.

    I loved George and will truely miss his intellect and wit.

    This weekend SNL is playing his first appearance from '75. I am definitely TIVOing that!

    Great tribute...thanks.

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  17. wait just a second... joan rivers is successful?

    huh.

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  18. Kathy, thanks.

    Bee, I couldn't agree more. He will be a huge loss to the world of comedy.

    Dugan, haul out your IBM Selectric and learn to spell. And type. Thief. George would have loved that.

    Jami, you remind me of what we were all saying out here after Anna Nicole died. We'd be in the middle of a convo and go, "OMG, did you HEAR? Anna Nicole died."
    gm, the BREAD! I'd almost forgotten that bit.

    Hiram, the post got too long so I cut it out. But yes, we lost a 4 star on this one.

    Deb (and gm) glad you remember Dody. She was so hilarious. A brilliant innocent. Great word for her.

    Allen, (he's the guy on my sidebar who drew my caricature)I can't believe someone named their kid Carlin. How cool is that? And see MJ's response to your comment.

    bex, thanks.

    Black Hockey Jesus, we're using English so translate and get back to me.

    Anne, thanks.

    MJ, I'm sending your comment to Allen.

    Maureen, thanks for the head's up on SNL this Saturday.

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  19. Jeremy, you posted while I was typing. If you're a standup, then you know she's been a working comic for her entire adult life. We're not talking about whether we like her or not, just whether she can pay the bills in her 70's! And now you've reminded me that I have to do an entire post on Joan. Maybe I already have. I'm currently brainless.

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  20. Oh this was perfect. I fucking loved him.

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  21. ... who feel that life is but a joke.

    I was totally using Dylan in a tribute to Carlin, displaying my vast associative abilities to make interesting connections. It seemed like such a cool, not your average, kind of comment. Can I have one of Stefanie's books?

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  22. You only have to know my daughter to know how timeless George Carlin was. My mom, my daughter and I shared an affinity for all things George Carlin.

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  23. Carlin is not in my Top-5 favorite comics... He's #1 with no close 2nd.

    As weird as this sounds, what I keep thinking about is how much I'd love to take a look at his notebook - See all the never to be heard and unfleshed gems.

    I've seen the notebooks of two iconic comedians and both times was floored... I'm sure Carlin's would blow your mind.

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  24. chandler in lasvegas5:06 PM

    Congolia Breckenridge is IMMORTAL!

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  25. I think everyone has summed my feelings up nicely, so I won't try to add to it.

    Great post!

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  26. chick, just shows you how far and wide Carlin's appeal was. He wold be so touched to read all of these comments.

    black hockey jesus, no soup for you.

    jenn, same as to chick, George would be so honored to know how everyone spoke about him.

    tommy, great comment. The NOTEBOOKS! OMG.

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  27. stephen zahaluk3:56 PM

    umm......hello suzy? yeah i just read about your tribute, im a 21 year old canadian from windsor ontario, who wants to pursue comedy very very badly, im right now trying to observe things (everything) and i really love george's works, i am partly ashamed of myself for not fully studying his acts so fully, prior to his death. But it has soooo much made my mind sharper just by listening and understanding to a point what George Carlin spoke of. as a fan i thank you for continuing his legacy through memory. I also really really want to know, did george know he was going to die? Life is Worth Losing when i watched it... it really gave me a feeling as if he knew back then... i live in canada and i dont have as much gossip tv as you guys get in california, so i was wondering if maybe you could answer this?? thank you

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  28. Stephen, I heare that George's health had declined a bit but I don't know if he thought he was going to die. He had heart problems and heart attacks in the past so maybe he did.

    In any event, please visit my blog over at http://www.uproariousblog.com
    (there's a widget on the sidebar of this blog) and read my weekly reviews of the comics on that site. Maybe some of them will inspire you!(leave a comment if they do)

    Good luck with your career. It's a hard road but if you work at it, you can comfortably make due with only 2 other parttime jobs!

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