I’ll never forget the first time a commercial aired on HBO for George Carlin’s upcoming stand up special: Complaints & Grievances. There was this old guy – old enough to be anyone’s grandfather – talking to the camera in black and white, and using language like I’d never heard before. “And I might do some stuff on masturbation, too.” Wow. And this was only in the commercial! With or without my parents’ permission I was going to watch this thing – and watch I did.
That show was my first real introduction to stand up comedy. Up until then I got my laughs from Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler. Goofy voices, exaggerated faces, and little in the way of deep or critical thinking. Carlin opened my eyes to the range of subjects comedy could tackle: nothing was off limits. And I wanted to be a part of it so bad.
I did do stand up one time: when I was in 7th grade for OLM’s talent show. I did Carlin’s bit about airplanes (“Get on the plane, get on the plane. Fuck you, I’m getting in the plane!”), which, looking back, may not have been the best bit to do the same year as 9/11. But hey, nothing was off limits, right?
Since then, stand up has never been too far from my ambitions. “Someday.” I continued to perform, albeit with my bands (after all, all comedians want to be musicians, right?). But I never had the guts to get up there by myself and tell jokes. I think I can be funny in conversation, but writing material? That’s something different. I thought about it a lot in college and wrote a lot of setups, but none too many punchlines.
Time moves and so did I – away from standup. The wife doesn’t care for it, so I rarely watch it. But this past weekend, a legend – an icon – of the craft, Mr. Dave Chappelle, gave a stirring eleven-minute monologue that the country sorely needed to hear, and it reminded me of the power of comedy. Not only the healing aspects, but of the power of truth comedy can have. In an age of media bullshit overload, someone like Chappelle has the power to cut to the true core of a matter and make us laugh – no matter what side of the political spectrum we fall.
I’ve watched that monologue a good five or six times now, finding something new to love each time. It inspired me, because for the first time since college, stand up was all I could think about – like the bat stirring inside a retired, broken Bruce Wayne at the onset of Dark Knight Returns.
I foolishly texted my buddy Aaron – who has done stand up before – that we gotta get out there and hit up an open mic. He’s down. And I was, too. But now that the high of that initial comedy rush has faded – I’m terrified.
Honestly. Who the fuck do I think I am?