By LINDON DODD
Those of us who love the art of debate enjoy a subject matter for which there is no right or wrong answer, but only opinion.
I have a friend who in the past has asked my opinion on a particular subject and disagreed with my opinionated response. He told me my opinion was wrong. I had to inform him that by definition an opinion can never be wrong or right. Of course, as you might guess, he disagreed with my opinion.
In the last couple of weeks, I have had multiple conversations with people involving comedians. People who know me well know I love anyone with a sense of humor and in fact have a great affinity for humor in almost any form. In consideration of the above I will submit my list of the five-plus funniest comedians that I have seen live on stage and in no particular order of hierarchy.
I was in Chicago in the Navy in 1981. Rodney Dangerfield was in town and was fairly popular at the time due to the success of “Caddyshack” (certainly one of my top five comedy movies). A friend of mine and me went to a small theater outside of the city. We were in uniform and went to the box office but the show was sold out. The lady told us that sometimes there were no shows for will-call tickets. Right before show time, we were offered front-row seats in a small theater. For almost two hours, Rodney told nonstop one-liners. On the way home, I could remember about three of them. The pure volume caused my memory banks to overload. He absolutely told the most jokes I have ever heard in a single stage performance.
Sam Kinison was perhaps the most mind-controlling person on stage I have ever seen. He was once a child evangelist and certainly had the material, the delivery and the presence to keep me totally hanging on every word. He was brilliant, intellectual, offensive, irreverent and hilarious. I saw him three times. Once was in Freedom Hall and two times in a smaller venue where I sat center stage on the front row. We made eye contact on more than one occasion. He was mesmerizing for me.
Chris Rock was at The Louisville Palace toward the end of his last national tour. Chris is a genius at hilarious social commentary. He is proof that you can say anything and get away with it if you make someone laugh. He alternated between making the audience laugh hysterically and feeling a bit uncomfortable with the truth about social injustice, race relations and inequity. His real talent lies in making valid points about our culture while making you laugh so hard you don’t even realize he is making them. I would love for him to tour again with some updated material based on cultural events and the current political climate. He would be a can’t-miss for me if he comes to Louisville again.
Bill Cosby sat on the stage on a sofa at the Center for the Arts in a makeshift living room. Bill was well past his prime. I don’t remember him ever getting off of the couch. He had the polished delivery and the personable appeal of a friend sitting in your den by the fire and just talking directly to you.
Cosby never told a joke. He simply relayed true stories from his life in that exaggerated way which only the great storytellers can do. He was likable, lovable, enjoyable and what else can I say ... I saw Bill Cosby live. It was an evening I will always remember. Some people are worth seeing just because of what they have contributed to our culture and out society. Cosby was such a pioneer for African-Americans in my lifetime that he almost ranks up there with Martin Luther King. He was a true trailblazer in entertainment and race relations — done without any heavy-handedness — but with a gentle poke in the funny bone.
My last pick is actually two guys on the small club circuit. To think of the price I paid to see these two guys in their prime is almost embarrassing. Heywood Banks and Tim Wilson are as funny as any of the big-name comedians I have seen. The two acts could not be any more different.
Wilson has the comedy songs and the great in-your-face and sometimes off-color dialogue. Banks has an act that would be OK for your grade-school kid and you grandmother. If you can catch either of these guys in Louisville, grab a reservation.
Honorable mention goes to Jerry Seinfeld and Etta Mae — the funniest female stand-up I have ever seen. Just out of the top five is Mac King a comedian/magician from Louisville who now has a regular show on the strip in Las Vegas. Possibly one who should be in the top five but would make seven is George Carlin The first of three times I saw him was in 1972 and at that time he owned large arena stand-up comedy. Extreme honorable mention goes out to the Smothers Brothers, whom I saw at Derby Dinner Playhouse. Most amazing about their act was their perfect vocal harmony and Tom’s virtuoso guitar playing in addition to the great comedy team timing.
Goodbye to John
I have heard many John Montgomery stories over this past week. Some were sincere, others irreverent. He was a player in both legal circles and local politics for many years. His decade-plus long battle with cancer and the accompanying indignities was the stuff of admiration and a display in courage. Cancer did not beat John, it simply outlasted him.
I got to know John better in just the past few years. Upon occasion when I visited my buddy Steve Voelker’s office I would also talk with John. On a couple of those talks I was getting ready to write what would surely be strong local opinion pieces. Sometimes he agreed with me and sometimes not. Whatever the differences, our discussions were intellectual and polite with a gentleman’s disagreement. Passion never gave way to incivility.
My favorite tribute came from a mutual friend and staunch Democrat. I think John might have been a bit of a Republican. My buddy said this and since I didn’t write it down I will paraphrase it: “John liked everyone to think he was a crusty old curmudgeon when in reality he was really a nice guy. The only thing that would bother him about me saying this now is that he would not get a rebuttal.”
I only wish his wife Patti much happiness and fulfillment for the rest of her life that she deserves. If anyone ever wants to understand the vows, “In sickness and in health” and “’til death do us part” they need only to have known John and Patti over the last 10-plus years.
— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who lives in Otisco and can be reached at email@example.com