Friday, June 27, 2008

Under The Influence

With the passing of George Carlin last weekend, I started thinking of all the people who influenced my writing style and my humor over the years. I look at my sense of humor and my writing style as a symbiotic relationship. I like to make people laugh and I like to make people think. Humor is an easy way to put facts out to people in a mostly disarming way that gets them to think about what’s wrong with the world and keep them thinking about it by presenting it in a manner that’s less dry but still in-your-face. I love to make people laugh; it’s one of my own greatest personal satisfactions. I lack the wherewithal and temerity to be a standup comic, though, and instead focus my efforts to entertain through the written word. I envy comics for their ability to get on stage and do what they do while I peck away on a keyboard.

One of my school mates, a year behind me at dear old Robert W. Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine was Juston McKinney. Juston was a quiet dude in school, unlike me, and it kinda surprised me that he ended up in stand up. I never suspected that he had the talent hidden away. However, the man is hilarious, and it’s always a treat to catch him on TV. It’s ironic that while we both went into law enforcement after school, he went on to be a comic and I went on to write an obscure blog with a smaller audience than the Versus cable channel. Juston inspires me by showing me that a guy from a small Maine high school can make it with a little luck and a little perseverance. Please, I beg of you, go look him up and support his material.

But who were my inspirations to write, and write with such a skewed bent?

I already mentioned George Carlin, whose ability to call it as he saw it was amazing, as well as his vast command of the English language.

Hunter S. Thompson’s book “Generation of Swine” and his essay “Fear and Loathing on the Kindergarten Trail” were hugely impactful on me. Sarcastic and totally irreverent, always questioning authority and pointing out the absurdity of life, Thompson’s “gonzo journalism” showed me that you could be a writer, with a real job, and still be yourself. (UPDATE 2015: Turns out the essay was a parody of his style, done by The National Lampoon Magazine, entitled Fear and Loathing on the Nursery School Trail.)

Dennis Miller, of all the people on Saturday Night Live who did the weekly news send-ups, did it the best. I never cared much for Chevy Chase, Kevin Nealon was just okay, and Colin Quinn’s gravel voice grated my nerves. Norm MacDonald did a decent job, and the duo of Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon was as close to the classic sarcasm and parody of Miller as SNL could ever hope for. For a news-junkie like me, to be able to mock the news is great fun.

Denis Leary is a master of the rant. I love a good rant. Ranting is an under-appreciated art. He’s also from the Boston area, and a lot of his references strike home with me. He loves hockey, the Red Sox, and coffee-flavored coffee.

Kevin Smith, director of some of the funniest movies I have ever seen. He understands the absurd, and perfects it. It’s hard to watch a Smith flick and not find a character in it that doesn’t remind you of someone you know. I love how he pays homage to his own heroes in his films, like Carlin and Stan Lee, and he’s also a hockey fan to boot.

The late Sam Kinison taught me that if the squeaky wheel gets the grease, then the screaming wheel gets the attention. His whole style was delivered with the fire of a holy roller revival meeting and it was so in-your-face that it simply blew me away.

And, oddly enough, I owe some measure of my writing influence to Kurt Vonnegut. In high school I read a couple of his novels, and you had to struggle to keep up with the timeline shifts, the characters, and even what the hell the story was even about…and anyone who has ever heard me try to tell a story in person knows that I’m the same way. Some of my blogs seem to amble on that way too...

So, who influenced you?

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