Archive Monthly Archives: March 2009

Twit World

Sunday, 9:50pm
Reno, NV
The hounds of Hell are now following you on Twitter…” (Email in a dream I had.)


I just wanted to share a few thoughts about social media.

The topic came up in my coaching program (the Radio Rant). People are understandably baffled about the cornucopia of ways available to gossip and reach out to touch other people.

And nobody has 4,000 friends. I don’t care what your Facebook total is.

Yet, many top online marketers (and politicians, and journalists, and probably the guy making subs at Quizno’s) are obsessively writing 140-character neo-haiku on Twitter, including me. I’ve had an account since mid-summer, and I’ve been playing around with it almost daily for weeks at a time.

Then I get bored and ignore it.

The good part: I have reconnected with a few old friends from across the globe. Of course, I could have just as easily reconnected with them via email, actual mail, or the phone. (Does anybody say “telephone” anymore?)

But, no, it’s been Twitter where we have the majority of our contact.

And I’m not sure what to make of this.

I see my colleagues almost frantically searching for ways to monetize their Twitter accounts. The Holy Grail would be to discover a tactic that justifies the time we spend telling strangers where we’re at and what we’re doing. (“The heat just came on. My nose itches. The little dog is laughing…”)

I find it odd that a good pal will tweet something, and I’ll reply (with my typical charm and wit) within seconds… and he won’t even see my reply. It gets buried in the avalanche of responses from his 4,000 followers.

Or — horrors — I’m starting to suspect that (like Britney Spears) my friends aren’t actually doing their own tweeting at all. They’re hired some ghost-writer drone to slam out YouTube alerts and push new marketing agendas.

Joe? Polish? You reading this?

So, for me, the “social” part of the medium is murdered in its sleep when so little actual social interaction takes place. (I guess you could argue that Direct Messages takes care of that need. But then, DM is really just a short email, isn’t it?)

This thing is NOT defining itself.

Anyway… here is what I wrote in my coaching forum about Twitter. Take it for what it’s worth.

And after you read this… I would like to hear what YOU think about all the social media sites, and they’re affecting the culture and the way we do business. (Personally, I don’t know of a single dollar having been earned from a tweet, from anyone. Enlighten me, if you know something I don’t.) (And no fair claiming anything vague like “brand recognition” or any of that shit.)

Here’s my post:

My 2 cents on social media. By little Johnny Carlton.


As you know, I’ve been logging onto Twitter for months now. About 20% of the time I use it to announce biz stuff — blog posts, a new launch, a new product.

The rest of the time, I’m performing pure social interaction. That’s what pleases me.

I call my tweets “Twitter Bombs”, because I toss them out into the grid just to wake people up and cause chaos.

I am seeking the give-and-take of witty repartee, like the brassy (and extremely funny)
sessions I have with other writers in the bar after a hard day of seminars.

The advantage of Twitter is that it’s instant interaction. You tweet, and the folks still awake, or alert to action on Twitter, respond.

I’ve actually re-established some long-dormant friendships through Twitter.

The DISadvantage of Twitter is the same instant interaction element.

A blog post stays up until you post again.

People come to a blog, and read the first post — so if you put something up of real value, you can engage large numbers of people with it.

Plus, you can archive it, and make it easy for people to access even years afterward. (I’m always getting comments on old blog posts from 3 and 5 years ago.) (Not sure why year 4 gets no respect.)

No such archiving exists with Twitter.

Just as in a real party, your witticisms and observations and brilliance pass into the ether as soon as make them. Within minutes, others tweet and move you off the main page.

I don’t think there is any habit in Twitterville of going back through old tweets to see what you missed, either.

If you’re following more than a few people, you’ll have hundreds of tweets, sometimes, in an hour or so. Anything you missed is long gone… unless you have more time on your hands than God, and can’t think of anything better to do than drift lazily through a thousand old tweets looking for something interesting.

It’s like texting, for me. I’ve heard it called texting for adults, and maybe that’s accurate.

My nephew, in college, uses it ironically — his tweets are little bits of language art, absurd or weird or confusing (kind of like Seinfeld asides). He’s establishing himself as smart and irreverent — Twitter, for him, is a way to define his personality to others.

I would be more addicted to Twitter if more people would respond to my Twitter Bombs.
(Though, often, I get dozens of great replies in real time. See the “Anybody want a beer?” tweet-fest I had going a couple of weeks ago on my page at

I usually tweet late at night, when I’m on Miller Time, so I’m feisty and looking to play a little.
I have people in Australia and New Zealand who respond, but only a handful in the States.

Out of the 4,000+ folks supposedly following me.

Just my perspective.

I don’t think the form will last long as it is. They have to monetize it, or sell it to some media giant.

It will change dramatically, soon.

Or vanish. That much is almost for certain.

Odd to think that Twitter is just over, what, a year old now? What’s the next new social media thingie lurking in the coming months to enslave our brains?

I dunno. I tweeted today, several times. Tried to communicate with someone (no reply), left a smart-ass comment with someone else (they loved it), offered up some news stories for general consumption (no consenus yet on what my followers think about any of it).

I’ll probably announce the posting of this blog on Twitter later tonight.

Oh, the irony.

What do YOU think?

Are you using ANY of the big social media very much? (Blogs don’t count. Blogs rock.)

Can you swear to me that you’ve seen actual monetary results from using this stuff? (So, you know, you can claim it’s now integral to Operation MoneySuck for you.)

I’d like to know.

No rush. This post will be on the blog for years…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

A Little Biz

Thursday, 10:19pm
Reno, NV
Psst, c’mere, I wanna talk to ya…” (“Down In Hollywood”, Ry Cooder)


Listen. I’m just doing a drive-by blog tonight.

We’ve simply got so much going on this week, that I’ve got to keep my nose to the grindstone. Get some sleep, stay frosty, corral some deals that are currently roaming out there in the ether.

So I just want to touch base here, and make sure you’re in the loop on some of this.

First Loop Thing: I have been on the phone these past two days with a “Who’s Who” of online marketing.

Check out this line up — Rich Schefren, Perry Marshall, Andy Jenkins, Jeff Walker, Brian Clark, Tellman Knudsen…

… and guess what?

Every one of them has agreed to participate in this mysterious little business adventure Stan and I are cooking up, as we speak. (You’ll get advance notice in less than 2 weeks, if you watch the blog.)

Things get a bit giddy when the talent pool goes high-end like this.

And no, I’m not gonna reveal what’s up… yet.

But I will tell you this: For a few smart business owners, an opportunity is about to arrive that will give you exclusive personal access to these experts…

… with me as a referee. And, probably, ring leader, too.

It’s gonna be something special.

You’ll be thrilling the grandkids with this story for a long time.

What you can do now… is to make sure you’re on the blog notification list (top right of this page).

So you will get early warning of anything cool and worthwhile happening.

Second Loop Thing: I want to remind you that my much-revered Freelance Course is available again.

After a hiatus of over a year.

If you want to juice-up your current freelance efforts with some serious professional mojo…

… or if the lifestyle of a pro freelance writer (the money! the fame! the adventure!) has always appealed to you…

… then you must see what all the fuss is about here:

No obligation when you hop over and see what’s up on this site.

However, be aware that I’ve pulled the course from circulation before (for over a year last time)… and will do so again if the coaching thing gets too crowded with copywriters.

So, yeah, you probably do want to get over there right away, and check ‘er out.


… I want to thank Kevin Rogers, again, for handling the first “guest post” on this blog so well. It was a blast trading barbs and jokes with other writers in the comments section.


… I want to thank, again, all the folks who chimed in with thoughts, advice, and insight to how we are presenting the Freelance Course. It was very helpful.

I’m always open to opinion and suggestions.

And I am constantly impressed — and stricken with gratitude — when I witness just how smart and hip the audience for this little blog is.

Really, guys. Thanks for putting up with me, and thanks for staying involved through your comments, emails, and all the other ways you make my job so damned enjoyable. (Note to the person down in Vegas last month, who recognized me walking by and wanted a handshake and quick photo. Glad to oblige. Mike Koenigs took the photo, but we lost the biz card you gave us! So we can’t mail the photo to you. If you’re reading, we need your address. One nice photo of you and me in the Wynn is waiting…)

And if there’s anything — anything at all — you’d like to see discussed or addressed in this blog, just say so.

Good time to do that would be… oh, now.


Stay frosty,

John Carlton

Two Copywriters Walk Into A Bar…

Saturday, 7:58pm
Tampa, FL


Hey, a big “first” for this blog today: We have a guest writer filling in!

Let me introduce you to Kevin Rogers, an experienced, savvy, successful copywriter (who has earned a spot on my “Inside Team”) who brings a unique perspective on writing sales copy.

See, his first line of work was stand-up comedy.

I’ve been pushing him to dig into the lessons he learned as a stand-up… which I intuitively know also apply to writing copy… and share.

For years, I’ve been the sole person to post on this blog… and I’ve always wanted to bring in other ink-stained wretches to guest-post. Kevin won the lead-off job by having the best story to tell.

So I’m outa here, on a brief and rare day off.

No matter what niche you’re in, the competition is stiff out there, and with AI and chatbots on the rise, it’s about to get even more so. So here are some more resources you need under your belt if you want to survive and thrive as a marketer. 

You, however, need to read Kevin’s take on writing copy, below.

It’s excellent stuff.

Let’s have a warm round of applause for…

Kevin Rogers. Ladies and gentlemen, Kevin Rogers… (here ya go, Kevin… don’t blow it…)

Thanks, John.

Hello, everybody.

I’m honored to have scored this gig writing the first guest post on John’s “Big Damn Blog.”

As a kid I dreamed of filling in for Johnny Carson as guest host on “The Tonight Show”… and while I did spend a wild decade performing stand-up in comedy clubs and college bars all over the U.S., I never got near Johnny’s shoes.

However, for a copywriter… this is the equivalent.

Carlton is to the blogosphere what Carson was to late-night TV: the hip, gracious, straight-shooting host who always leaves you better off than before you tuned in.

I’ll do my best to fill up “Johnny’s desk” here the way a raw and relevant Jay Leno once did… and not just read from cue cards, like Ed McMahon.

You may have noticed a lot of copywriters are also recovering entertainers.

It makes perfect sense actually, for a few reasons:

First, the work pattern is very similar.

You wake up whenever you want, perform at your optimum level for a few hours, and then avoid going crazy until it’s time to perform again.

Second, writers and comics are all twisted in the same way. Someone once asked W.C. Fields what makes a comedian laugh.

He said: If you want to make an audience laugh, you dress a guy up like an old lady and push him down a flight of stairs. If you want to make a comedian laugh… you have to use a real old lady.

I’d say that’s accurate. But it works even better if the old lady was Ruth Madoff.

(Bonus similarity between writers and comics: Neither can resist one-upping someone else’s tag line.)

Anyway, the parallels in psychology between writing killer sales copy and slaying an audience with stand-up are endless…

… mostly because copywriters and comics come from the same school…

…the one where class clowns get to outshine the class president.

Whether you’re after the sale — or the laugh — the same ass-saving strategy used by smart runts on the playground to keep bullies at bay will take you a long way toward closing the deal.

The kids with comic blood found safe ground as court jesters, while the kids with salesman’s blood kept their lunch money by playing the role of “trusted adviser.”

The approaches may differ slightly in detail, but underneath it’s all about persuasion.

So, here now, for your useful enjoyment, are 3 important copy lessons on persuasion I learned from the comedy stage:

1. You’ve Got About 6 Seconds To Win Your Audience.

People are stingier than ever with their attention these days. There’s no room for error in that critical first impression.

Performing in a comedy club gives you the slight advantage of facing an audience that actually wants you to succeed. They stood in line, they paid a cover, and they want their date in a good mood later.

Still, that opening is crucial.

The first joke must be 3 things:

  1. Relevant…
  2. Pithy…
  3. And quick to establish your character.

It also needs to be an applause line.

For sales copy, as Carlton says, money is applause.

When your ad lands in front of a reader, he’s begging you to screw up, lose his interest and let him off the hook so he can jump off your greased slide and go do something else.

And you can triple that risk online, where every visitor enters your page with an index finger poised on a hair-trigger mouse click… just praying for any excuse to zap you into oblivion.

If your message fails to spark interest and resonate with your reader in those first few seconds, you’re dead.

So, the key to a powerful first impression is: Know your audience.

A seasoned comic can take one look at a crowd and know the best joke to open with, how often to curse, and how to close the show.

As marketers, we do our peeking from behind the curtain by stalking available data on potential buyers.

That means: Engage your niche in forums… survey existing customers… attend seminars… and do everything else you can to mind-meld with your target audience. People love to tell you what they want to buy and why they want to buy it.

Listen close enough and the copy practically writes itself.

2. Create A Penetrating Hook And “Pay It Off” Big.

In both stand-up and copywriting, ensuring your audience will hang with you requires a strong hook.

Like John teaches, it’s all about shaking your audience out their zombie state and getting them to lean in closer, wide awake and receptive.

And the best hooks will buy you undivided attention. (No one is going anywhere until they find out how a “one-legged golfer” drives the ball further than they do.)

But never forget the golden rule:

You must pay off your hooks!

I’m amazed at how many marketers miss this. They craft a compelling hook, announce it in the headline, then fail to ever mention it again in the letter.

What the hell is that all about?

Some even do it on purpose under the false assumption it will create curiosity.

It does not.

It creates frustration and destroys trust.

(I don’t have space for tips on creating hooks here, but the best lesson I’ve ever seen is in the “Simple Writing System.” that section on hooks alone is worth whatever price he decides to charge for it.)

3. Use Segues To Switch Topics Smoothly.

A typical comedy audience is not quite as demographically targeted as a typical direct marketing list.

In the club, you’ve got about equal parts dude and chick… and then a wide range of age, interest, intelligence, and alcohol consumption to deal with.

So, comics tend to write material with general themes that anyone can relate to, like dating and pop culture. The goal is to cover a variety of subjects so everyone feels involved in the show.

However, getting the audience to follow you from a joke about “your awkward first kiss” to one about those whacky “ShamWow” commercials can be tricky.

So comics use clever segues that quickly tie the subjects together and smooth any bumps in transition.

For instance, in the example above you might transition the topics by saying something like…

“That first kiss is a sloppy affair, too… drool everywhere. You need a ShamWow bib just to keep your shirt dry.

(… beat…)

You’ve seen those commercials for ShamWow, haven’t you…”

See. Nothing special, just enough to take their minds where you need them to go.

In sales letters you can use the “bucket brigade” list of short phrases that make the page flow smoothly through transitions and keep a reader’s attention.

For instance…

Right there where I said, “for instance…” is a bucket brigade term.

And not only that, but…

There are hundreds of these phrases, and you can easily go back and drop them in after you’ve written your copy.

But first, a word of caution:

Using too many bucket brigade terms together like this can backfire by giving your reader “Eyeball Whiplash”.

Moderation, and timing, are key.

So, there you have it.

Next time you’re stuck on a piece of copy, flip on Comedy Central for a few minutes. You might find the answer you’re looking for, and if not, at least you can laugh about it.

Thanks for having me. You’ve been great…

Try the veal!


P.S. For more inspired musings and off-color anecdotes, check out Copy Chief. You won’t regret it. 

P.P.S. You weren’t going to let me get away with not paying off the title of this post, were you?

Let’s have some fun: The title is, “Two Copywriters Walk Into A Bar…”

Let’s finish the joke. I’ll go first…

Two copywriters walk into a bar… a rookie and an A-Lister.

The rookie copywriter says, “I’ll have a Scotch… whatever you have in the well is fine.”

The A-List copywriter says, “I’ll have Scotch, too, but make mine the 25 year old Macallan.”

The bartender hands them their drinks.

The rookie takes a sip of his cheap Scotch and winces, “Aacchhh…” he says. “That tastes horrible!”

After a short pause, he grabs the A-list copywriter’s glass of Macallan and takes a giant swig.

The A-lister says, “Hey… what the hell are you doing!?”

The rookie says, “Split testing.”


OK, now give me your punch lines in the comment section. It doesn’t have to be brilliant (as I‘ve skillfully demonstrated), just have fun. It’s good brain exercise.

Let Loose The Dogs Of Freelance Wealth

Wednesday, 9:07pm
Reno, NV
“You can’t handle the truth!” Col. Jessup, blowing it


I’d like some feedback on this, if you got a minute.

We have — just tonight, less than an hour ago — finally pulled the trigger on the new website offering the sought-after “Freelance Course” I’ve been teasing people about for months.

If you’re uninterested in the freelance life, you can skip this small favor I’m asking.


… if your heart beats just a little faster when you consider the freedom, big bucks and glory of a successful freelance writing career…

… then you’re gonna want to check this out.

Here’s what I want you to do: Just hop over to this new site…

… read it with your normal jaded, stubborn reluctance to believe anything anyone says about anything…

… and see if the copy here meets the test of overcoming the outrageous level of stubborness of the average wannabe freelancer.

Here’s the site:

I’m doing this, because… if I can’t get the point of this opportunity across to the readers of this blog (who are easily the most worthy candidates for this information)…

… then I’ve got some work to do re-jiggering the pitch.

C’mon. Be brutal. Here’s your chance to shake-down some Carlton copy.

And, yeah, sure…

… you’re at some small risk of succumbing to the offer.

But I’m sure a strong, confidant, filthy rich marketer like you can survive such a simple, straight-forward appeal.

I mean, the whole sales angle is as uncluttered as possible: If you’ve ever wanted to make the Big Bucks with your writing skills…

… or if you’re a freelancer who is struggling because no one is watching your back (or sharing the inside secrets of the game)…

… then a slight twinge of desire may ripple through your veins when you see what’s available.

I mean, I sure wish a simple shortcut like this was available back when I started my career as a freelance copywriter.

It would have shortened my search for wealth, fame and respect by…

… oh, around ten years. At least.

Look, I’m sure you’re doing fine. More clients than you can handle, rave reviews on everything you do, results up the yin-yang.

I’d still like to hear your thoughts about the site.

A lot of people’s lives have been changed, dramatically and quickly, by what you’re about to see.

But, I dunno… the “noise” level of the Web is so loud these days, it’s hard to be heard.

No matter how legit or how critical the message is.

So please do me the honor of looking the site over, will ya?


Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Quick story: Back during my first mid-life crisis, I quit the business world, and decided to try writing some fiction for a year or so.

I attended a couple of hard-to-get-into writer’s conferences (including the very prestigious Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference in Tahoe)…

… and I had a series of nasty reality checks that brought me rather quickly back into the game of marketing.

See, whenever any of the writers at these gatherings discovered that I routinely earned more from writing a single ad… than the best of them could earn in a year writing an entire novel (which required months and months and months of grueling research, writing, editing, and sweating over)…

… well, they were flabbergasted.

And these were the BEST of the group. The ones who had actually made ANY money at all with fiction. (And most of those novels took longer than a year to write. Average time to create a novel that gets published: 5 years. Whoa.)

The majority — easily 99 of every 100 in attendance — had never made Dime One from anything they’d written.

They were skilled writers.

They just had never figured out how to turn that skill into cash.

I realized two things:

1. Fiction really was only gonna be a hobby for me. (I didn’t fit in too well with most of the wannabe-novelists — they were too freaking idealistic, and naive about the world.) (Give me a street-wise salesman any day — the stories are better, the insight more profound.)

2. And — most important — I got back in touch with that feeling I had back when I received my first check for writing some copy for a client.

It was pure, raw euphoria. I was getting PAID — a LOT — to do something I loved: Write.

Freelance copywriting saved my life. It gave me an important, critical position in the world — business owners desperately needed me.

It offered me the independence and freedom to be myself. However weird, eccentric and lazy I was… as a freelancer, I could create my own damn lifestyle.

And, eventually, I attained something else I’d craved since becoming an adult: Respect.

I could do something crucial, something essential… that most of the business world feared, could not understand and considered voodoo.

I was free… I had mounting fame that I earned… and I was the master of my ship.

It’s a great gig.

For the right person, freelance copywriting is the ONLY profession worth striving to get really, really, really fookin’ good at.

If you’re one of us, this “Freelance Course” may be exactly what you need to get a fresh start on living the life you want. On your terms.

Or not.

The gig isn’t for everyone.

Read the site we just put up.

See if, just perhaps, you’re actually one of us. And all you need is a little inside help to get moving.

Here’s the site again:

Big Damn Update: Thursday night, late…

Thanks to everyone for their feedback.

And a bigger thanks to all the folks who came aboard. We’re way past expectations for sales, and fresh momentum seems to be building all on its own.


I love providing the fuel for someone’s new adventure in life… and, again, there is NO other career like freelancing for writers who crave maximum freedom, treasure and fame.

(After the first few comments that came in, savvy writers who know the power of this stuff started piling on with personal stories of success and happiness. It’s worth a quick read to see how the writing world regards this kind of opportunity, both good and bad…)


Rule #15: The Squares Outnumber The Hep Cats 10-to-1

Friday, 8:56pm
Reno, NV
“Like, that is totally squaresville, man.” Maynard G. Krebbs, to Dobie Gillis


Do you recognize the quote, above?

If you do, you’re old enough to remember when the world was pretty much divided between the “squares” (buzz-killing, humorless mainstream zombies)…

… and the “hipsters” (the dudes and dudettes with no boundaries on experience or knowledge).

I’m not gonna go into the history of the word “hip”… because it would take me days to get through it. Entire Ph.D programs are based on research into this peculiar area of mid-last-century American life…

… and you might be shocked to realize where the original term comes from. (Hint: It’s more about overdosing on cough syrup than being well-read or artsy.)

(Though it was still important to BE well-read as you toasted your brain.)

No. Today, I just want to touch on a small part of this history…

… as it pertains to business.

Here’s what I’m talking about: I have always been attracted to intelligent people…

… and through that attraction, I learned that many smart-ass folks tend to be “free thinkers”…

… which means they aren’t afraid of new ideas, or excursions into the darker areas of human experience.

As a slacker, I was obsessed with writers from the Beatnik ranks (Kerouac, Wm. S. Burroughs)… the “Lost Generation” (Hemingway, Henry Miller)…

… and the travails of First Amendent “freedom of speech” heroes like Grove Press (whose owner was frequently prosecuted, along with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, by insisting on publishing books the uptight element of American politics wanted to ban and censor).

(And yes, they went to jail because The Man didn’t want Americans reading stuff that might be dangerous to the power structure.)

I wanted to know and experience the world as deeply as possible… so reading “dangerous” authors and studying “degenerate” art movements opened me up to ways of thinking completely alien to my otherwise normal lower-middle-class small-town upbringing.

The early lesson I learned from this was alienation.

When you care about stuff that most of the rest of the world is appalled of…

… you start to feel “different”.

Nowadays, geeks have earned some respect. The greatest directors in Hollywood indulge in sci-fi and fantasy, comic books are regarded as high art forms, and wealthy people collect vast archives of childhood memorabilia without shame.

Back in the last century, though, being “different” made you a social leper.

Unless, of course, you were lucky enough to find other like-minded souls to hang out with.

This is why my professional career veered sharply from working with “A List” clients like Rodale and large corporations…

… to entrepreneurs.

The corporate world paid well… but was soulless.

And pretty much mindless, too.

It nurtured conformity and mediocrity.

So when I met Gary Halbert, I chucked everything (and I was one of the rising stars in the “A List” ranks of copywriters) to go slumming in the entrepreneurial world with him.

I turned my back on millions in royalties. Because I valued intellectual stimulation more than collecting coin.

Then, as now, that entrepenurial world was sharp, edgy and wild — like a great street party in a bad part of town.

(While the corporate advertising world is like a mild, boring cocktail party in an overpriced condo where you gotta be careful not to get the white carpeting dirty.)

Changing gigs like that was like taking off a tight-fitting girdle… and breathing deep again.

We could swear like sailors around clients. We were irreverent, on all subjects. We glorified in reading weird literature, and in knowing obscure things.

We built our reputations on being different, and made it pay.

And, through fame, we became magnets for other like-minded writers and marketers.

All my life, I’ve yearned for my own Algonquin Table. (That was the infamous back-room table of a bar in New York back in the Roaring Twenties… where the greatest, wittiest, funniest and most irreverent writers in America hung out and drank and created scenes. Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley — of The New Yorker, the Marx Bros. movies, and early comic novels, respectively — held court there, and every savvy writer of every following generation has lusted for the same kind of opportunity.)

I’ve been lucky to get close over the years.

Hell, it’s one of the main reasons I host and speak at seminars. (Yes, the rumors you’ve heard about the exploits around San Francisco after the recent Hot Seat Seminar there are true. Those photos you’ve seen being Twittered about are real, and untouched.)

(Oh, the shame…)

All of my favorite people are voracious readers, eager to explore scary intellectual alleys and unafraid of self-examination, expanded consciousness, and (gasp!) new ideas.

But here’s the thing: You cannot ever, ever, ever forget…

… that the squares still run the world.

And they are uptight about sex… unamused at sick humor… unforgiving about moral lapses… and pretty much permanent assholes when it comes to what they consider “too much freedom to do just anything you damn well please to do.”

Basically, everything the hep cats consider fun, valuable and worthwhile…

… is taboo to the squares.

And they love to make laws against it.

So you gotta be careful.

It is tempting, when surrounded by your pals (who all think your twisted jokes are hilarious… and who all agree that challenging authority and flaunting rebelliousness and one-upping each other with increasing levels of shocking behavior is just the best way to spend an evening)…

… to be lulled into thinking that what you’re doing is innocent, or even acceptable.

Because, you know, all your buds are “in” on it, and you’re not hurting anybody, and it really IS funny stuff. And the deep thinking really IS profound and intellectually invigorating.

It is a mistake to think there is no danger in embracing and enjoying your “otherness”.

It is, in fact, extremely dangerous.

And I’m not talking about the more obvious stuff, like letting your sexual freak flag fly, or imbibing illegal substances, or even challenging political or religious orthodoxy.

Naw. That’s too easy.

The lesson I learned, early, was this: Most people do not get the joke.

Not “some” people.

MOST people.

A few universities have studied humor, and the results I’ve seen are shocking.

A pitiful minority of folks actually have ANY sense of humor at all… let alone a sophisticated one.

Many learn to laugh on cue when the crowd laughs. They don’t actually “get” what’s so funny, but they want to be part of the fun.

It’s akin to asking someone “You believe in the Bill of Rights, right?”

In America, most will nod enthusiastically. Of course I do. It’s the foundation of our strength as a country.

Of course, if you list out what’s actually IN the Bill of Rights — without telling the average person what you’re quoting — you might get slugged as a commie terrorist.

The disconnect in the brains of most squares is breathtaking.

If you’re smart…

… and you revel in being smart, and educated, and interested in life deeply…

… dude, you’ve got to be careful about how you engage with others.

Halbert and I both had bizarre senses of humor. Our “hobby” during seminars (and we both enjoyed this tremendously) was to try to crack the other one up on stage through passed notes or whispered messages.

Extra points if we did it so well it interupted things. (I almost made Gary wet himself once from laughing so hard. On another occasion, he made me fall off my chair, giggling uncontrollably and snorting snot. On stage. God, I think it’s on film somewhere.)

One of the other ways we entertained ourselves was to insult each other in cruel and vivid terms, publicly.

Oh, we were vicious with each other. It got ugly at times… and I remember those episodes with a smile on my face.

We were good at it. And praised each other’s capacity to absolutely stun ourselves with what seemed to outsiders as hurtful taunting.

Don’t ask me to explain it. I think we shared this trait with a lot of other folks in high-stress positions. It’s the premise of the movie M*A*S*H. (Not the lame-ass TV show, the movie.) (Okay, and the book.)

But here’s the strange part: Frequently, someone from outside our little group would think it was just the greatest idea in the world to join in.

So they would come up to us — as complete strangers — and toss out a crude insult.

And expect us to just laugh, and let him into our confidence as “one of us”.


Totally clueless.

Remember Curly from the original 3 Stooges? Their routine involved fake fights — they poked eyes, pulled out hair, slugged each other with fervor and generally performed constant assault and battery throughout their Hollywood careers.

Outsiders, however, didn’t always understand that it was part of an act.

So they would come up and poke Curly in the eye. Like it was just the funniest thing in the world.

The squares don’t “get” it.

If you’re on the inside, and you enjoy breaking taboos and challenging social hierarchies and questioning authority…

… don’t ever get complacent about it.

You may not get blow-back for years. Maybe not ever, if you’re one of the lucky few.

However, eventually, being too casual about ignoring the power that squares wield in the world…

… can bite you in the ass in ways that will crush your reality.

Don’t fight it.

The rule is simple: Know your friends, and know when the circle has been breached by outsiders.

Most of the world sleep-walks through their day, and they are genuinely insulted by people who are different.

This is why I love America so much. Thanks to the First Amendment, the pursuit of intellectually-stimulating and challenging humor has been a first-rate entrepreneurial adventure for decades here.

Just never forget that ALL of your favorite current comedians wouldn’t exist…

… without the Lenny Bruce’s, the Smothers Bros., the George Carlins, the Cheech & Chongs, the Mort Sahls, and all the others…

… who often went to jail, and suffered ostracism and FBI stalking…

… so that you could laugh at politicians and religious leaders today.

This is not something you should take lightly.

There has never been a situation like this in the history of civilization. Your smart-ass ancestors always had to look over their shoulders.

It’s better now. But you’re not completely in the clear.

Keep your edgy humor and your twisted behavior under wraps amongst the squares.

And cultivate the situations where you truly can create your own Algonquin Table of like-minded people.

For most of the really good writers I know…

… we have to constantly remind ourselves we’re strangers in a strange land.

And I’m okay with that.

You just gotta stay frosty, and not kick the beast unnecessarily.



Comments welcome.

If you guys want to hear it, I’ll get into the whole subject of “cool”… which is completely and stupidly misunderstood in this culture.

But it’s heady stuff. Writers talk about it a lot in our small groups.

Let me know if this subject — or any other subject — is something you’d like to see explored on this blog.

Later, man.

John Carlton