‘This Is the Face of Hell, Lou’

by Tom Swift

November 14, 1985 was a school night, a Thursday, and so I probably was not awake when David Letterman less introduced Sam Kinison as issued a public service warning. Yet a recent viewing of this, Kinison’s network television debut — aroused as I was to find these few minutes following encounters with multiple recent cultural references to the gone-too-soon comedian — feels like a memory. The home video quality of the footage fuels the nostalgia. We didn’t have plasma screens then, of course, but we had moments you could not see the next day and laughter you can still hear decades later. That is, if you listen close and pretend you are in front of a wood-paneled television set, no doubt sprawled next to your brother, waiting to see what could possibly come on next. Will Dave throw a truckload of watermelons off a four-story building? Will some guy stop a dizzy-spinning pinwheel with his tongue? Might a dude’s dog bark every note to “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? Or — or — will a former Pentecostal preacher in an oversized overcoat — a guy who would not get forty years on the planet — strut onto the screen, promptly wander off camera, and scream at the top of his lungs in the face of an unsuspecting man in a football jersey? To me, the bit is funnier today than it would have been then — I actually get the adult-themed lines today. Though when I watched this the other day while sitting at the kitchen table on a summer night — we always stayed up for Letterman on summer nights — I laughed a lot like I did when I was a kid.