Friday, January 15, 2010

Last Words from George Carlin - a book review

Last Words, George Carlin's posthumous memoir, is a must read for every fan of Carlin as well as those who want a look inside the mind of the word-obsessed, meaning-searching, stand-up comedian. What we find inside is not always pretty, but it's as open, honest, and truthful as any memoir can be.

While the book is, at times, uproariously funny, the focus here is not on making comedy, but on how comedy is made. Humor, it turns out, is no laughing matter. Carlin worked meticulously on notes on topics, slowly and carefully shaping his 'bits' over years, carefully nursing them until they were ready for public view. This book, too, was decades in the making, and the effort paid off.

But also on view here is the private Carlin. The father who tried so hard not be the over-bearing parent that his own mother was that he missed huge chunks of his daughter's childhood. The addict and co-dependent with an addict wife. The workaholic who's career was declared dead several times, and who fought back with comeback after comeback.

Those who hate Carlin will find reason here to find him as the self-centered, uncaring, drug addled freak that they expect. And those who love Carlin will find the working class intellectual who rose above two-dimensional shtick to rip the lid off polite society and show it for the hateful, greedy, violent mess that it is, and did so with great humor. They're each part of who George Carlin was, and what made his work unique.

I miss George Carlin, I miss his work, and I am grateful that this book invited inside his head one last time.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Dream About the Van Dyke

Last night I dreamed that I accidentally shaved off my mustache.

For some reason I was shaving in the dark, without a mirror, and it was only after running the razor over the right side of my upper lip that I realized that that was a mistake.

I felt around, to asses the damage, and that one swipe had pretty much eliminated the hair from that region for the first time in several decades. I considered what to do. Should I leave it as is, with one side intact and the other reduced to stubble? Should I shave off the rest of the mustache? Or should I shave off everything, mustache and beard?

In the dream, I decided to continue on the other side of the upper lip and remove the mustache, but I left the goatee on the chin below. Yes, I thought, it will now truly be "just a goatee." No longer the full Van Dyke... Van Dyke; a much nicer term than "goatee" for a far more symmetrical beard. Yes, I thought, I like the symmetry of hair above and below the mouth, connecting at the sides.

I remembered this dream not when I first woke up, but later, as I stood before the mirror, preparing to shave. I wondered for a second whether I'd take the dream as a dare or even a prophecy and go for a new look. But, no, I left the Van Dyke intact.

I've worn my beard this way for nearly a decade. Previously I had a full beard and mustache, but I trimmed it back to the Van Dyke on the advice of one of my staff who thought the full beard was "too rabbinical."

I've also considered cutting it all down even further, to not even a goatee, but a mere triangle of fuzz below the lower lip: The Soul Patch. A minimalist approach to facial hair that's perhaps the coolest beard of them all. If I do it, of course, I'd also have to shave my head to go with it.

And I'd do it today - soul patch and shaved head - if I didn't think I'd wind up looking like Howie Mandel's chubbier brother. Not that I don't love Howie. He's an incredibly funny guy. I just don't want to encourage that kind of comparison. No, the "Full Howie" will have to wait.

For today, and tomorrow, at least, the Van Dyke survives. Except in my dreams.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A New Year and a Look Back

Happy 2010 to one and all! Personally, I'm glad to leave 2009 in the dust. Not that it was the worst year, far from it, but it wasn't quite the best either.

Probably the best highlight that comes immediately to mind this New Years' morning was when my short film, "Gravehunting With Steve," was accepted as an Official Selection at IndieFest USA, to be held at Downtown Disney, Anaheim, CA. So, in August, I went Behind the Orange Curtain to spend a week as a "real filmmaker." It was a great week, and the fulfillment of a long-time goal.

Other highlights of 2009 also revolved around a bit of in-state travel. We went to Desert Hot Springs in April, up to Bodega Bay and the Sonoma Coast in July, and shorter weekend getaways to Carmel/Monterey (twice) and the wine country (Napa and in-land Sonoma Counties).

Unfortunately, the major downer event of 2009, my car wreck in May put a bit of a dark shadow over the rest of the year, as I'm still dealing with major back pain and a very slow recovery from that. (The wreck was not my fault: I was rear-ended at high speed by a hit-and-run driver).

As a result of being somewhat incapacitated, we've had to put off a lot of work around the house that I'd planned to do over the late spring and summer. Yes, contractors would do most of it, but I was unable to even do the basic prep, cleaning, and moving of stuff so the contractors could start. So now, 2010 will have to be "the year of the house."

The upside of having your car crushed while you're sitting in it is that you get to pick out a new car when it's all over. I picked out the new VW Tiguan and filled it up with nearly all the options. I am loving that, but I'm sure there must be easier (and less painful) ways to get a new car.

Work-wise, 2009 was good and busy, with a mix of rewarding projects and stress. When your work is about nonprofits in trouble, recessions can be a boost to business. While so many of my friends are out-of-work, or "under-employed," I'm not going to complain about being busy. As my friend Tom likes to say; "High quality problems."

Socially, 2009 was also very good, with Bay Area visits from many friends from the on-line world of YouTube. In fact, today will be spent having a traditional Southern New Years lunch of Hoppin' John, Corn Bread, and Mississippi Mud, and we'll follow that up with a wild night of Karaoke and drinks in San Francisco (we'll get a room in the city and take a cab to the club - no drinking and driving this weekend) ... Each with YouTube friends.

Yes: Online community is true community!

Which leads us to the last highlight of 2009, a creative collaboration that resulted in a fundraising event. Gary (known on YouTube as Anakin1814 - and one of tonight's karaoke participants) noticed that a lot of us vloggers are also into photography, and organized a 2010 calendar of our photos from around the world. Best part: the proceeds from the calendar will all be donated to the Nature Conservancy!

Learn more about that collaboration and the calendar at

Have a great 2010 and thank you for being with me for 2009.

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