The passing of a master
Sunday saw the passing of the comic great George Carlin – except that he would have skewered my use of the euphemistic “saw the passing of.” In his special, irreverent way, he loved the English language, playing around with it, pointing out the foibles and irrational usages. I can just hear him saying, “Why don’t you just come out and say it … I died!”
I always admired him, and I found much in his material that I could use in my teaching. No, I don’t use those seven words … I’d probably lose my job immediately if I did. But his irreverence, his looks at language, seeing beyond the clichés, all the fun he had while he was at it …
“‘Tell me what happened using your own words.’ ‘My own words? Meep badeep bap blaaah.’”
But beyond the sheer joy of wordplay, much of Carlin’s genius was in his comic timing. He could go fast in the right place, pause in the right place, to keep the audience having fun along with him. Over the years, as I have developed course curricula and specific lesson plans, I have come to appreciate the gift of great timing. If I can keep my audience – er, students – engaged in my routine – er, lecture – the way Carlin always kept his audiences alert and enjoying themselves, they come out ahead. They remember more, and they remember it more vividly.
One of the professors I remember most vividly from my days as an undergraduate bore a strong resemblance to Carlin, both physically and in his delivery. This was a lecture class, in a 998-seat auditorium, although typically only about 500 students would show up to each lecture. This professor could keep the house alive, because he had the same sort of genius timing as Carlin, and I’m guessing every student in the audience felt a connection to him.
I’m playing to a much smaller audience, since the class limit is 20 students, and as the term goes on, students sometimes have to drop the class for various reasons. But still, I have found that Carlin’s sort of timing and wordplay pay off. I may be playing to a small supper club rather than a big auditorium, but the delivery has meaning, and the interplay between the performer and the audience is even more a vital part of the success of the act.
Recently, I had a classroom observation by an administrator, part of this year’s round of evaluations. I wonder what the administrator would say if he heard (or will say if he looks at this blog and finds out) that my lecture style is based on George Carlin’s monologues.