I was a junior in a Catholic highschool when I first heard those words. It was 1988 and I had won my pick of a cassette from the prize closet of a local radio station. In the dark recesses of a cardboard box in that closet, I found “Have You Seen Me Lately?” by Sam Kinison. I had no idea what I was getting into, had barely even heard of him at the time I found the cassette. His song Wild Thing was getting some airplay on our local rock radio station and that’s all I knew. Little did I know as I left the station with that tape, my entire sense of humor would be upended and changed.
Up to that point I knew little of comedians and their stand up acts. What I knew of comedy came from TV, Bob Newhart, M*A*S*H, Mork and Mindy with Robin Williams, Steve Martin to some extent, Johnny Carson and Bill Cosby to name a few. Cosby was one of the first comedy tapes I ever heard, it was a greatest hits and it was flat out funny, still is too. What I knew of comedy was very limited as you can tell.
Would you please welcome Sam Kinison, was the opening of “Have You Seen Me Lately?” the crowd roared on the cassette as Sam walked on stage and started. It’s ironic, especially on this day, that Sam’s first line was “You’re just happy I’m still alive.” Then he proceeded to make comedy gold out of the old Rock Against Drugs campaign and anything that would have been considered taboo to mine for jokes.
He didn’t start out this way. He actually started out as a preacher. I’ve actually heard a CD collection of some of his sermons, and let’s just say if he’d have stuck with it, he likely would still be around today on our TV screens on Sunday mornings. He was electric, he had a way of cutting to the chase and he had that voice that begged you for attention. I truly wonder how many people he turned to God with those sermons.
The tape continues, jokes about Jim Bakker (you young’uns will just have to look him up), the Pope then suddenly came jokes mined from the Bible. I heard these, listened to these and couldn’t help but laugh. It was that moment I realized that God had to have a sense of humor. If we are created in his image, and we have a sense of humor, the only logical conclusion is that God himself has one as well.
It wasn’t until much later that I saw the movie Back to School. Now a lot of fans talk about Sam’s performance in it. How great it was, how funny it was. I’ll be honest and likely piss a lot of Kinison fans off, but I’ve never been crazy about it. Did it help his career, yes. But overall it was a performance meant to show the stereotypical Sam scream. For me, his pinnacle on screen performance was in Married with Children during the 4th season Christmas episodes. It was a typical It’s a Wonderful Life story, but with a Sam Kinison twist. It still stands as one of my favorite Christmas moments of all time.
Sam didn’t seem to believe any topic was untouchable and if there was a joke in something taboo, he’d find it. His whole routine about world hunger, simply saying that we shouldn’t send them food, we should send them U-Hauls. We should move the hungry to where to food is. Not only funny, but some could even say quite logical. Considering that the same problems exist 20 years later, he might actually have been onto something.
Twenty one years ago today, April 10, 1992, Sam Kinison was killed in a car accident. I remember my dad was the one to pass along this news. It being pre-internet days, he had heard it on the radio. I remember it being mentioned on national news as well. I instantly regretted that I did not go to see him in concert when he had come to my town, despite the fact I really wasn’t old enough at the time to go. I do remember spending a lot of time that day putting his cassettes into the player and listening all day.
Sam is still with me though. Every now and then his voice pops into my head reminding me of an old joke or sometimes showing me the funny in something that shouldn’t be. At least I attribute it to him, I’d hate to think my own sense of humor was like that. I sometimes wonder what he would’ve said about major news stories in the last twenty years. I’m sure Bill Clinton would have been a platinum mine for him. I’m also sure he’d have been disappointed in all the political correctness going around today. Maybe the PC police would’ve shut him down by now if he was still alive. Maybe in some way it’s good that he didn’t make it to see where we are today.
So here’s to you Sam Kinison. I’ll lift up a toast to you tonight as I listen to one of your albums. You were funny, irreverent, loud, one hell of rocker and overall entertaining. Wherever you are, know you are remembered, and I personally thank you for all the laughs I’ve had throughout the years and the permission to find the humor in anything.
R.I.P. Party On, Sam.
Originally published April 10, 2013