|Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer|
That especially is the case since I recently finished reading You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman, by former Chicago Sun-Times arts and entertainment writer Mike Thomas.
Hartman was the veteran comedic genius who brought the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer to life. If you have been an SNL fan during its extraordinary 40-year run, you probably remember Cirroc's story:
A hundred thousand years ago, he was out hunting on the "frozen wastes" when he slipped and fell into a crevasse. In 1988, he was discovered by some scientists and thawed out. He then went to law school and became . . . Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.
It was a goofy set-up right out of a comic book, and Hartman played it to perfection. He specialized in oily, ethically challenged characters who displayed a peculiar charm, such as B-list actor Troy McClure and ambulance-chasing lawyer Lionel Hutz on The Simpsons. Hartman's portrayal of former President Bill Clinton, stopping in a McDonald's while out on a run with Secret-Service agents, remains one of the great bits in SNL history.
A lot of comedians have done Clinton, but Hartman's will forever be the gold standard. Hartman's impersonation of Frank Sinatra is another that reached classic status.
As for the new biography, Thomas does a top-notch job of telling the bittersweet story of Hartman's life. Thomas takes us along for Hartman's youth in Canada, where he was known to entertain neighbors by walking in with a hearty "Hello, happy people!" We have a front-row seat for Hartman's days as a graphic artist, designing album covers for groups like America; Poco; and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. We learn about Hartman's formative years as a member of LA's renown improv group, The Groundlings.
While Hartman was known as the adult in the chaotic world of SNL--fellow cast member Jan Hooks nicknamed him "The Glue"--he struggled with a number of issues when out of the spotlight. He had a heavy appreciation for weed, a weakness for beautiful but often mercurial women, and a tendency to close himself off emotionally from those closest to him.
One of those beautiful women, his third wife Brynn, was wrestling with drug and alcohol addictions when she shot and killed Hartman in his sleep--and then turned the gun on herself, in a murder-suicide that rocked the entertainment world in 1998 and left Hartman fans in shock and grief.
He also left a string of memorable characters. Why am I so fond of Cirroc, the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer? Well, for one, he always wins his cases, using a combination of faux cluelessness, stealthiness, and prehistoric charm to win over juries in a big way. Heck, Cirroc might even be able to find justice for me after my experience of being the only journalist to be incarcerated in the western hemisphere in 2013--and the only one this century to be thrown in jail over a purely civil matter.
Mrs. Schnauzer: How come you aren't able to make your own oatmeal anymore?
Me: I'm just a caveman. I fell in some ice, and scientists thawed me out. Your modern world confuses and frightens me.
Mr. Schnauzer: You didn't seem frightened before?
Me: Well now, when I hear the beeps and buzzers on your modern conveniences, I want to hop in my BMW and run for the safety of my place at Martha's Vineyard.
Mrs. Schnauzer: You have a place on Martha's Vineyard, and I don't know about it?
Me: Why yes, and even there, microwaves scare me. I think, "Are little bats in there flapping their wings to warm up my oatmeal?" I don't know! My primitive mind can't grasp these concepts.
Mrs. Schnauzer: Well, you had better grasp this concept: If you don't remember how to make your own oatmeal soon, a frying pan is going to start flying by your caveman head.
Me: Oh no, you're frightening me again. Pans that fly? How can that be?
I've managed to pull off this routine for several weeks, ever since I checked out the Hartman book from the library. Mrs. Schnauzer has been a good sport so far, but if I push it too far, I'm liable to be back out on the "frozen wastes" in no time. I'll keep readers posted on how Mrs. Schnauzer's patience is holding out.
Meanwhile, here is Cirroc working his caveman magic on a helpless jury:
This wouldn't be a real tribute to Phil Hartman if we didn't include his bit as President Clinton, wooing the public in a D.C. McDonald's: