Posts Tagged ‘George Carlin’

A few days ago, an old friend I haven’t seen for some time dropped by for a shoot-the-shit session. We’ve never been especially close, but always enjoyed hanging out and, in the old days, did some home brewing together. He’s a smart guy, an ex-Army officer, and fairly progressive politically.

It was late afternoon, approaching evening, with a deep blue sky overhead, with a jet streaking to the northwest leaving a lengthy contrail behind it, with both of us sitting in the shade around the back-patio table. We were about two beers in, and as the contrail spread out and drifted straight above us, I pointed to it and drawled, “Chem trails!” thinking we’d have some fun talking about conspiracy theories and pseudoscience.

I was wrong.

He proceeded to vigorously expound the chem-trail conspiracy theory, but couldn’t provide anything approaching coherent explanations of why? how? — what’s the purpose? how’s it work? — who’s doing it (the government, of course)? or how could “they” cover up a massive conspiracy over a period of decades?

It was like trying to nail mucilage to a door. He retreated into a cloud of ever-vaguer (hence harder to debunk) claims, and eventually withdrew to the ultimate conspiracy-theorist position: “You can’t prove I’m wrong. Prove it!” Never mind that the burden of proof is on those making claims, especially extraordinary claims.

I then asked him where he was getting his information from. Guess, just guess. It was all on the ‘net of course, and the first site he mentioned was — wait for it — Infowars. I took a deep breath and asked him, “You don’t look at The Guardian, CNN, NBC, New York Times, AP, Al Jazeera, El País [Madrid daily, which has a great online site], or any of the other normal news sites?” Nope. They’re part of the “cover up,” and he only trusts Infowars and other sites that are “consistently accurate.”

At that point, I said something to the effect of “You’re out of your goddamned mind!” “No you are!” etc., etc., until we decide to have another beer and switch topics, to something we could agree on, such as that Trump is a cancerous polyp lodged in the colon of humanity.

My pal’s immersed in an alternate-reality bubble that’s hermetically sealed, and that confirms his faith in the reality of “chem trails.” Oh dear! Sigh.

The chem trails “theory” (a bad misuse of the term “theory”) sounds fairly harmless, but it isn’t. Why? Once you abandon rationality and evidence-based decision making — i.e., the scientific method — in any area, you’re totally adrift, vulnerable to emotional appeals, and with no even remotely reliable means of determining the real from the imaginary.

Thus, medieval clerics believed that witches caused thunderstorms, contemporary religious fanatics insist that a mass of cells smaller than the head of a pin is a human being, others insist that the world is ruled by a cabal of Jewish bankers, and still others insist that a mean-spirited sexual predator and con man who’s never done a day’s work in his life and began receiving a $200,000-a-year allowance at the age of three, is somehow on the side of the working man.

All of these irrational beliefs and conspiracy theories have obvious, real-world consequences.

So, how do we debunk conspiracy theories? Critiquing them and presenting massive contrary evidence seems, by itself, to have no effect. Just look at the Trump personality cult. Trump openly bragged that he could murder someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and no one would care. It’s probably more extreme than that. As I’ve mentioned previously, Trump could probably strangle a puppy and then sodomize its corpse live on national TV, and his sycophants would excuse his behavior as “Trump being Trump,” “a different kind of president.”

Trump flaunts this immunity by resorting to ever more blatant lies, lies that a third-grader should understand as lies, and that demonstrate his hold over his followers. A recent example is his claim that China will pay the tariffs he imposed on Chinese goods. It would take an absolute moron or a totally subservient, brain-washed cultist to buy this obvious denial of reality. Yet, millions of people apparently do buy it.

So, what to do?

Regarding Trump’s goose-steppers, they’re only 26% of eligible voters (in 2016, Hillary got 28%, minor party candidates 5%, and fully 41% were so disgusted they didn’t even bother to vote), and once economic reality hits them in the face — especially the upcoming recession [my guess, mid to late 2020] and ever-increasing medical bills — some will abandon him. Most won’t, but some will.

In a broader sense, cultists are almost unreachable. Until physical reality smacks ’em in the face, they’re unreachable — and even then most will cling to their Glorious Leader and his scapegoating, turning their hate on the helpless and near-helpless.

We need to reach those who haven’t yet fallen into the clutches of cults and those who are wavering.


One of the most important ways is the teaching of science and critical thinking skills in grade school and high school. Give people these tools early, and they’ll use them to safeguard themselves, their friends, and their families. (It’s no accident that the leading dissidents in the USSR were scientists.)

Another way is through ridicule. Irrational, cultist beliefs are invariably absurd, and often harmful, when held up to the light of day. Ridicule won’t reach brainwashed cultists, but it will reach the young and those with doubts. We need a legion of George Carlins and Christopher Hitchens to tell the scathing truth (honorable present-day shoutouts to Jim Jeffries, The Onion, and The Satanic Temple).

A third and important way is to present factual, well documented information. For decades, this was the only approach used by rationalist and atheist groups, and it’s clearly inadequate. But in combination with these other approaches, it’s invaluable.

There are probably other good ways to combat conspiracy-theory/cult beliefs, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind.

Please add your ideas in the comments section. I’d love to hear them.



One of the recurring right-wing laments is that the entertainment industry is biased against right-wing comics. Maybe so, but who are they, and why haven’t Fox “News,” Breitbart, Infowars, et al. catapulted them to stardom? They have all the money in the world plus a mass audience, so where are they? Where are the right-wing, hilarious, world-beater comics? Why can’t anybody find them?

Short answer, there ain’t none. The only one on that side of the aisle who’s a great comic is Dennis Miller, who learned his chops as a left winger.

Again, why? Some have blamed demographics — the comedy audience is primarily young and progressive — but this is not an explanation. That comedy audience is merely a majority: there are a lot of tiki-torch-bearers who would love to laugh at women, jewish folks, gay people, black people, hispanics, the poor, and politically correct whites. The conservative comics have the platform and multiple targets. Where’s the audience?

Of the potential target groups, PC identity-politics whites are the only rich targets, and left-wing comics, such as George Carlin, often savage them. That leaves slim pickings: poor people, women, and minorities (soon to be a majority, thank god).

Comedy is a means of striking back at those in power, exposing their clothing-deficient status. Right-wing comics cannot do this. They ignore beam-in-the-eye obvious injustices and inequities, and instead suck up to the rich and powerful while attacking the poor and powerless.

And that  just ain’t funny.


Comedian Kathy Griffin is back in the news. A few days ago she posed with a mock severed head of Donald Trump covered with fake blood.

From Griffin, this isn’t terribly surprising; on a New Year’s Eve several years ago I channel surfed to CNN’s live Times Square broadcast just in time to see Griffin direct a hoary stand-up putdown to a heckler (this is paraphrased, but close): “Hey! I’m trying to work! I wouldn’t come to your workplace and knock the cocks out of your mouth!”

Once the photo hit the ‘net, the denunciations thundered down from all sides: from CNN (which axed her from their New Years’ Eve broadcast), to 37-year-old spoiled brat Chelsea Clinton, to Trump himself. The reasons for the outrage were what you’d expect: the photo was vulgar, tasteless, “over the line,” disrespectful of the presidency, and disrespectful of Trump as a human being.

My reaction was a bit different: This seems like a stupid thing to post; it seems like she’s doing Trump and his minions a favor. What’s the point? Is there one?

Then I wondered about the context. What was it? Well, it turns out that Griffin was doing a photo shoot, and posed with the mock severed head as a comment on Trump’s disgusting, misogynistic remarks about Fox News host Megyn Kelly: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

But that’s still not a good enough reason to pose for that photo, even if Griffin had made the context obvious. That, at best, would have made the photo an expression of anger and contempt.

Why isn’t that sufficient justification for shooting and posting it? If Griffin was just an Internet troll, fine, whatever. But Griffin is a well known comedian, and if a comedian is going to use a shocking image it should at least be funny, and ideally be both funny and thought provoking.

Many of the best comedians — in days past, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, and currently Dave Chappelle, Louis CK, Bill Maher, Jim Jeffries, and Doug Stanhope — routinely “cross the line,” routinely use vulgar, deliberately offensive language and imagery; others, notably Steven Colbert, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, and Seth Myers, use shocking language and imagery occasionally.

(If you want your comedy to lull you to sleep, comedy that stirs up no disturbing thoughts whatsoever, you’ll always have your Jerry Seinfelds, Jay Lenos, Jeff Foxworthys, and Bill Cosbys, comics with either nothing to say or who drastically pull their punches.)

What sets the work of Carlin, Hicks, Jeffries, et al. apart from the Griffin photo? Their use of shock and vulgarity is oftentimes funny and almost always thought provoking.

The Griffin-Trump photo is neither.

It isn’t funny, it doesn’t make a point, and it allowed the Whiner in Chief to whine — and this time with some justification. Kathy Griffin did Donald Trump a favor.

In the end, the only funny line (that I’ve seen) about the matter was delivered by an anonymous TMZ headline writer: “Kathy Griffin Beheads President Trump: I Support Gore.”

Mick Berry head shotMulti-talented, San Francisco-based Mick Berry was a professional standup comic for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. He’s also been a professional drummer for over four decades, and has written and performed three critically acclaimed one-man shows. His new one-man show, Keith Moon: The Real Me, will go into second-stage production in 2016, and he’ll be performing another of his one-man shows, Dad Fought Hitler, at the national World War II Museum in New Orleans this coming Spring.

He has co-authored two books, (with Jason Gianni) The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco (very probably the best-selling drum book of the last decade, with over 20,000 sold), and (with Michael Edelstein) Stage Fright: How You Can Beat America’s #1 Fear.

He’s currently working on a new standup act, and will be appearing on Bay Area comedy stages later this Fall.

S&P:  You did standup professionally for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, and are just getting back into it now. What’s changed in the standup scene between then and now?

MB: Back in the ’80s, the roof was blowing off with opportunities. In the mid-90s they started going away. It’s not as explosive in terms of novelty now. But I see just as many people going after it. I think the biggest change that I can put my finger on is that a Tonight Show set under Johnny Carson used to guarantee a career. That was the one showcase that could put you head and shoulders above everyone. Now, one TV appearance on The Tonight Show helps a great deal. But up to the end of the 1980s, it was a guarantee. Comics are no longer gunning for that one slot like they used to.

S&P: What was a typical road trip like when you were doing standup, traveling from town to town?

MB: After I did it a few times, I realized that it mattered a great deal with whom I worked. If I was performing with a comic I didn’t particularly like, the show itself wasn’t as much fun, and traveling was quite lonely. I quickly started partnering up with comics that were close friends. It made the traveling so much easier. You only work an hour and a half, and split between the two acts. If you don’t like the act you’re with, and you don’t like the personality you’re with, it’s a major drag. The one nighters are spread out from town to town, without (hopefully) too much distance in between. You pull into town and check out the bar/restaurant where you’re performing. If the sight lines aren’t good (pillars in the way if it’s a restaurant or bar and not designed as a place for performing) and the sound system is lousy, you could immediately tell it would be a challenging night. Likewise, when the place set it up so there was a stage (even a portable one) with adequate lighting and sound, it was much easier to pull off. You never knew until you got there what you were in for, although, word would spread among comics about what the best rooms were. I remember hearing about a comedy club in Wichita (Slapsticks) that everyone said had one of the best audiences in the country. I made sure to get booked there. Sure enough, the laughter was deafening. I also remember working in a place in the deep south (I won’t mention the name) where the bartender asked me if I knew a certain comic (name withheld), and how great his act was. I won’t say his name, but the stage name alone that he used made me realize this was a “hell-room.” The name of the comic the bartender mentioned was something like “General Smut Mouth.” Not a good sign.

S&P: How did you get started doing standup?

MB: It looked like loads of fun. Plus, you’re in charge of the whole show. As a drummer, how often to you get to say that? Never.

S&P: What do you like best about doing standup?

MB: I remember the first really big laugh I got. It hooked me. This is the same as every stand-up I’ve ever heard interviewed. When you get that huge laugh, not a little chuckle, or even a decent size laugh, but a HUGE laugh, there’s nothing like it. And when you string together laughs so you find out what it’s like to be on a roll, it’s a massive charge. Great great fun. The energy between you and the audience just bounces off the charts.
S&P:What else do you like?

MB: When I can surprise myself and make myself laugh along with the audience, that’s when it’s extra special. When’s the last time you laughed so much you had to beg for mercy? Who doesn’t want that?

S&P:What do you like least about doing standup?

MB: The traveling is terrible when you’re alone. And if you have to resort to dick jokes to go over, because you’re playing to a crowd that doesn’t really care to be there anyway, or the venue has  super low standards of acceptable behavior, such as fighting in bars, is when it’s terrible. You go through much of that, and you see start seeing it as just not worth doing.

S&P:What else do you dislike?

MB: I remember driving to Cheyenne, Wyoming from San Francisco. Just after I left SF, I learned that Donner Pass was snowed in, so I wasn’t going to make it by showtime the next night. (I’d given myself enough travel time to sleep at a rest stop on the drive to the gig.) So, since I was so desperate for any work I could get and wanted to impress the booking agent, I made a U-turn south at Vallejo (about an hour northeast of SF) and headed down I-5 to Bakersfield, and essentially drove around the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I slept one hour at a gas station parking lot in Las Vegas, went up through Utah, and got to the gig at 6 PM for an 8 PM show. I put in a 7 PM wake up call at the hotel desk, slept for an hour, took a shower, and did my show. But none of that was the bummer (if you can believe it). The biggest downer was I was working with some comic in his mid-sixties who obviously had no life outstide of the dumpy town-to-town routine. I realized I could never resign myself to playing seedy or lackluster one-nighters across the western United States for the next 30 years. Finding something more rewarding was imperative, and I started thinking about other ways to make a living. [Editor’s note: Prior to working full time as a comic, Mick had spent years as a drummer touring the U.S. and Canada with second- and third-tier musical acts.]

S&P: How do you handle it when you bomb?

MB: Sometimes you don’t handle it. In fact, I’d say that’s the most common reaction. Comics blame the crowd, get depressed, think their life is horrible. And until they have another good set, they are quite down. Now, that’s the worst reaction. The best reaction is to remember one set (especially in a minor venue) doesn’t make much difference. And if you can learn from it, then you’re moving forward, because the crowd can often be right. So you need to ask yourself, even if you can’t find the answer, “What can I do differently?” Once in a while you have a bad set where you can’t learn anything. When that happens, you have to remember that the sun is still going to rise, and if you don’t over-react, you’ll be OK. If you remember that stand-up is a choice, it lightens the load considerably when you bomb.

S&P: How do you deal with hecklers?

MB: Ignoring them often works really well. If they persist, there are some stock put down lines, such as “I don’t show up where you work and knock the dicks out of your mouth.”  [Editor’s note: A few years ago I heard Kathy Griffin use that one live on CNN during the lead-up to the New Year’s Eve dropping of the ball in Times Square.] But the best way is if you can come back with a topper on their comment. I remember one time in Reno, somebody was talking loudly in the back and disrupting the show. So I said something like, “You want me to give you the mike to share your conversation?” The heckler shouted “He’s talking about your dick.” I responded, “He’s talking about it and you’re thinking about it.” That was the end of the heckling.

S&P: How do you deal with near-empty venues?

MB: If the people are into the show, it can be great fun. I remember a club in Corpus Christie Texas, where there were about six people. But they were really into the show. It was as much fun as having a full house. The risk is, with only six people, you might get the wrong six, and it can be deadly.
S&P: Why did you stop doing standup?

MB: I did a one-man show that was so personal, and meant so much more to be that, I enjoyed it much more than I  do on a stand-up stage. The laughs had so much meaning for me. And the whole experience made me feel so close to the audience, it was so much more rewarding than stand-up. So I just stuck with the one man shows.

S&P: So, why are you going back to it now?

MB: The thing about stand-up that makes it different than any other type of performing is that the audience knows immediately if it’s working or not. They’re laughing or they’re not. It’s hands down the most immediate form of performing art. With music, or dance, or theater, you can dig into the material and make that work even if the audience isn’t with you. But the immediacy of stand-up makes it the fastest way to succeed or fail. Stand-up comics stand out, literally. They know what it’s like to bomb, and to risk bombing every time they get up. If the audience isn’t with you, everyone knows it. All you can do is keep trying. When you can gracefully weather bombing, and even work with it, you can handle whatever’s thrown at you (not literally). I once saw Will Durst take the stage, after everyone before him had gone down in flames. And he was the headliner, so he had to do 45 minutes. Just like everyone else that night, he bombed horribly (for the first 30 minutes of his set). By then, all the comics were thinking, “This is a night to write off. Nothing worth keeping. The only thing left is to have Will do 15 more minutes, and then we all go home.” And then Will Durst, somehow, brought the crowd around for the last 15 minutes of the night. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen a comic make that transformation from a lousy first 30 minutes to killing. It was the last 15 minutes of a two hour show, and Will pulled it off. There’s a reason he’s been around forever. So, to encapsulate an answer: Why am I going back to it now? Stand-up comedy is immediate!

S&P: What will you be changing about your approach to it, and why?

MB: I’ve gotta make this personal now. I had an act that worked really well, but it meant nothing to me. The jokes got laughs almost all of the time, but nothing was rewarding about it. No one in the audience was getting to know me. I wasn’t sharing anything about myself that mattered to me. I was quite lonely as a performer. I remember killing in Milwaukee, getting back to my hotel room, and pounding the bed shouting “I hate my life! I hate my life!” When I did my first one man show, about attempting to attain spiritual enlightenment along with attempting to levitate, through 14 years of Transcendental Meditation, and graduating from Maharishi International University, that loneliness of performing disappeared; there was no possibility of it existing with that material. Embarrassment, yes; lonliness–only from people not being into the show, but not from a void of substance on my part. So, I want to have much more guts now to do what I want on a stand-up stage. It’s going to be outrageous in many ways, because I’ve got some ideas that scare me. [Editor’s note:  I’ve heard parts of the new act–it’s hilarious and shocking.]

S&P: What’s the funniest thing you ever witnessed while doing standup?

MB: Sometimes the audience is funnier than the performer. I remember Mark Curry (Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper star) doing an open mike in Oakland. He was warming up the crowd and talking to an audience member who was complaining about his job. Mark asked, “Is your boss white?” The guy shot back, “Everybody’s boss is white!” Every comic in the place split a gut. Another time I was doing a show in Tahoe. And the guy who followed me (Paul Lyons–great comic) got on stage doing some stupid looking dance move. Some woman in the audience started doing it, too. He invited her on stage, they went behind the curtain, and started throwing out their articles of clothing. All impromptu. Best opening I’ve seen, and that was 20 years ago. I met Paul that night, and he’s now one of my closest friends.

S&P: What’s the strangest thing you ever witnessed while doing standup?

MB: Two people, at a table, having full on sex during the middle of a show. (I’m kidding, but I’m sorry it didn’t happen.) I can tell you the dumbest thing I ever did. I was hired by a movie theater to do stand-up for their employees (all teenage high school students) before their Saturday morning meeting. I should have turned down the gig, because it screamed of failure. But I had only been doing stand-up about two years, and I figured I should take every gig that came my way. Some kid heckled me, and I should have said “I don’t show up where you work and knock the popcorn out of your hand.” It would have been the perfect comeback, because it was literally true, and right in front of me to use. But instead I used the standard comeback about knocking dicks out of his mouth. The management couldn’t believe I said that in front of teenagers. They never mentioned anything, but I didn’t get rehired there.

S&P: Who are some of your favorite comics, and why?

MB: Woody Allen, George Carlin, Mitch Hedberg, Wendy Liebman. With these people, you come to really feel you know them, with the possible exception of Mitch Hedberg. But he was so out there that I didn’t care if I knew him or not. His jokes were so fall-on-the-floor outstanding. I’m still mad at the guy for having such lousy personal habits that he killed himself accidentally with drugs. He was headed for one of the biggest careers in the history of the genre, and there was no one else even remotely like him. I just saw Wendy a little over a week ago. And she was personable, hysterical, warm, inviting, charming, and several other adjectives I could dream up.  I was swept into her world, absolutely thrilled to be there. That’s when it’s brilliant. It doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does, the audience and the performer know they’ve experienced something unique. It makes life worth living. I haven’t experienced that on a stand-up stage yet; with one man shows yes, but with stand-up, not yet.

S&P: Other than “Don’t,” what advice would you have for people who want to get into standup?

MB: It’s such a sacrifice that the only reason to do it is to have the time of your life. Remember what it is about stand-up comedy that makes you want to do it. Ask yourself what is it that will make it the most fun for you? That’s what you need to hold onto, and strive to return to when it’s elusive. And it is going to be elusive, whether it’s one night of bombing, or two years of trying to find your voice. We mess up our lives in remarkably similar ways (drug/alcohol abuse, depression, fear of attempting to achieve our most cherished goals, etc.) But the ways in which we can enjoy ourselves are infinitely varied: mountain climbing (I’d never want to do that) parachuting (not for me, I throw-up at the thought) horseback riding, swimming, writing, playing music, or whatever the hell it is that turns you on. What is it that would make stand-up thrilling for you? That’s what you need to go after. And don’t sell yourself short by doing what you’re supposed to do. You’ve got the microphone; you can say or do anything on the stage you want short of physically harming yourself or anyone else). So do it! Say and do whatever you really want. If it doesn’t go the way you’d like (and it probably won’t), listen to the audience’s reaction, and learn from it, and try again. Use your head, and eventually you’ll figure it out. In everyday living, impulses are often best kept in check. On stage, they should be unleashed.



“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”

–George Carlin


“Nobody ever said, ‘Hand me that piano!'”

–George Carlin (attributed)