If you’re a creative artist with a long and successful track record, you’ve built up a storehouse of goodwill known as “cachet.” At that point, you can leverage it into ever more groundbreaking endeavors. Or you can coast, cranking out schlock and taking advantage of your fans.
Paul McCartney, half of the greatest songwriting duo in history, has enough cachet for a dozen lifetimes. And yet, despite some decent solo output (which never reached the level of his writing partner), he also produced some of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. Did I mention EVER?
I’ve always thought Sir Paul wrote “Let ‘Em In” on a bet. One night at the local pub, he scribbled some insipid lyrics on a soggy napkin and wagered ten pounds he’d sell a million. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a refresher:
“Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Do me a favor,
Open the door and let ‘em in.”
Paul won his bet. “Let ‘Em In” reached #3 on the Billboard charts and became a certified gold record. If you’ve got cachet, the public can be very forgiving.
But that only goes so far. Take standup comics . . . please. We’ve all seen popular comedians walk out on stage, say “Hello,” and get a big laugh. The audience is primed to chuckle because the funnyman or woman has trained them to do so. Just like Pavlov’s dogs (a noted vaudeville act). But when it becomes evident that a particular stand-up is just phoning it in, the audience can turn on him quickly. That’s how the term “flop sweat” was invented.
George Carlin, my comedy hero, never let his audience down. Like McCartney, he possessed cachet in spades. Unlike McCartney, he always delivered the goods. Even when George grew old and bitter, even when the intervals between jokes seemed like hours, he was always interesting. And often much more than that.
Other comedians aren’t so fortunate. I was present at a Brad Garrett concert where scores of people headed for the exits in the first fifteen minutes. The Vegas audience, many way past retirement age, came seeking Ray’s brother Robert in “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Instead, they got a taller, meaner, filthier version of Don Rickles. Without the warmth. I applaud Garrett for going against type. It’s a brave thing to do. A lot of these TV guys go out of their way to kill the character that made them famous. Those of us who stayed laughed our asses off.
I applaud Bob Saget even more. Saget, if you recall, played the bland Danny Tanner for many years on “Full House.” He still looks like a mild-mannered high school English teacher. But in his live act, he sticks a fork in that character and in any preconceptions the audience might be clinging to. Check out his 2007 HBO special, appropriately titled “That Ain’t Right.” But be forewarned. Saget’s material makes “The Aristocrats” look like a bedtime story. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is off limits. It’s so polarizing that most reviewers give it one star or five; not much in-between. I find it hilarious, but that’s just me. If you flip it off (so to speak) after the first few minutes, I’ll understand. Sort of.