The comedian stood on the nightclub stage, thanked his producer and press agent, plugged his upcoming appearance on "Dinah" and told an SRO Hollywood crowd that in six months he'd be playing Las Vegas.
The man in the spotlight this week was America's self-proclaimed No. 1 space cadet, Dr. Timothy Leary, launching a show-biz career as a "standup philosopher."
Looking clear-eyed, tanned and fit, the 59-year-old Leary bounded around the stage at the Los Angeles comedy showcase, The Improvisation, plotting the overthrow-through-humor of the Hollywood establishment, explaining his plan for space migration and clearing up some popular misconceptions:
"It's not the San Andreas fault. Nobody made a mistake. Only a fault-finder would call it that. I call it the San Andreas opportunity ."
Leary is calling his series of comedy performances "How to Joyfully and Profitably Survive the Total Collapse of Civilization in the 1980s (or Roasting the Sacred Cows of the Sober 1970s)." On his hit list are "Jane (Shirley Temple Black) Fonda, Jack (Lobotomy) Nicholson, Woody (Son of Sam) Allen, the Rev. Dick Cavett, S.J. and 'Saturday Night (allegedly) Live.'"
Johnny Carson was crossed off the list because Leary's plan for surviving the coming cataclysm, he says, includes getting on "the Tonight Show." Several "Tonight Show" talent scouts sipped free drinks at reserved tables during Leary's opening performance Monday night.
Dressed in black slacks, white tennis shoes and a flowing white shirt, Leary kept the show-biz audience of 225 -- including Robin Williams and Roscoe Lee Brown -- constantly tittering, if not rolling in the aisles. He stopped several times, breathless, to sit on the edge of the stage and hold hands with his wife Barbara. "How are we doing?" he asked her.
When a heckler repeatedly shouted for Leary to do a routine on Baba Ram Dass, Leary peered back quizzically, asking "Who? Who?" until his wife had to shout out, "Richard Alpert."
Aided by a slide show that was appropriately out of synch with his jokes, Leary attempted to explain how Hollywood has come to be the "neurological capital of the planet." His theory of "Neurogeography" goes something like this:
Throughout history, the most civilized and intelligent of peoples always have migrated west along the "genetic runway" from Asia and Africa to Europe and North America (one slide showed this clearly with arrows). From California, specifically that portion of Southern California which contains Hollywood, the next step is space.
"Into this small area (the 'Golden Rectangle'), the nose-cone of the spaceship, have been crammed 10,000 of the smartest, funniest, free-est and handsomest people in the world [show business people]. The next critical decade will be shaped, directed and led by the myths and models we create here along the Sunset Strip."
Leary maintains, no doubt correctly, that this vision of the 1980s will scare the hell out of the heartland, what he calls "Soviet America," bounded on the west by La Brea Avenue, the point at which the San Andreas opportunity will occur, causing California to "succeed from the Uniformed Stated of America." This line drew considerable applause from the crowd.
And so, "If you're on the East Coast, you're a Jew in Germany. Migrate, come on out here, it's the only chance to free yourself. Come on out, Woody [Allen], take your shirt off, get a tan, get a convertible."
At this point, one of the "Tonight Show" talent scouts broke up.
With his slides, Leary explained that the rest of the world ("three billion angry barbarians who ain't funny at all") hasn't got a chance.That it's the "responsibility" of the "Western California elite" to be totally self-indulgent and "savagely outrageous," to be self-confident and to "create positive futures because nobody else is doing it.
"To be the most self-indulgent is to carry the weight of human freedom," he said. "And we're doing it for everybody."
By the end of the 90-minute standup show, Leary's performance with a hand-held mike had obviously turned his audience on. Amid the hearty applause were shouts of "Go, Tim."
It all sounds like a return to those day-glo days of yesteryear. For Leary, the 1960s didn't die, they just went underground. Even now, he warns, "there are deep-cover cadres of psychedelic scientists huddled in the aerospace industry, NASA and even the CIA."
Leary comes to the comedy stage with plenty of raw material to draw on, he said in a recent interview in his Beverly Hills apartment.
The former Harvard instructor with a Ph.D. in psychology began experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs while at Harvard, collaborating with Alpert, and was fired in 1962 for his activities.
He first altered the public consciousness in the early '60s by his drug experiments at his "Castilia Foundation," in a 64-room rented chateau in Millbrook, N.Y.By April of 1966, Leary was telling college audiences to quit using hallucinogenic drugs for a year: "I'm going to stop, and I'm asking you to stop," he told a New York group. But later that year he was arrested in Millbrook and faced a 30-year sentence for transporting marijuana.
As the prime press agent for LSD, he took by his own count 600 acid trips during the 1960s and convinced an estimated 4 million young adults to join in. He was busted again in 1968, was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive 10-year prison terms, escaped in a laundry truck after seven months and spent two years on the lam, part of that time under "house arrest" in Algeria by former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver.
Branded by one federal government official in 1973 as "the most dangerous man alive," Leary was "kidnaped" in Afghanistan by American agents and returned to the U.S. in 1973 to face charges of heading a $76-million dope ring called the Brotherhood of Eternal Love (charges which later were dropped). He then spent three years in a California prison (19 months in solitary confinement) for the original drug bust and subsequent jailbreak. Since his parole release in April 1976 he's been writing self-published books, lecturing (at $2,500 per) and "studying the culture of Hollywood," he said.
"I've always been in show business" he said. "My lectures have always been comedic. I'm part of the oldest and proudest and most important castes in human history -- the person who stands before the Athenian crowd, eyeball to eyeball, and makes jokes, from a philosophical point of view, about what's going on.
"I'm simply one of the funniest people who's ever lived, particularly when making fun of science, professors and terminal adults. If I can get 50 young science students to laugh at Darwin, Einstein and Newton, they're going to go back into their laboratories and be influenced by my thinking -- and in 10 years they're going to come back with the drugs I want," he said, laughing.
But some people are clearly not amusing to Leary, among them the radical leaders of the '60s: "There was nothing funny about Eldridge Cleaver or Bernadette Dohrn. And personally, I would feel more free in a country under Richard Nixon than under Jane Fonda."
Attempting to describe his performing style, Leary uncharacteristically was at a loss for words, "I'm an oral . . . " Barbara Leary, his fourth wife, reached over from her place on the couch, patted his hands and put in, "You're an oral exciter, dear."
In the 1980s, Leary foresees a resurgence of LSD usage (he's writing a book about it). In a recent newspaper article, he was quoted as saying, "Barbara and I are taking more LSD than ever before." Currently on parole, Leary will say publicly only that "we don't take anything illegal, but we do take the strongest possible drugs at all times." These include hitherto unknown combinations -- including one called XDC -- which are provided by "some far our frontier chemists," he said. It's a kind of let's-let-Mikey-try-it program: "I don't ask what's in them because I don't want to know. I say, 'Just keep sending them.'"
Leary now admits, however, that he made a mistake in promoting the use of LSD by the masses. "LSD is a high-octane rocket fuel and it should not be put in Volkswagens, snowmobiles or lawnmowers. Sometimes in history you have to be wrong to end up right.
"I'm totally committed to change, to growth," he said. "I love to be proved wrong. Nothing delights me more than a new theory, point of view or piece of data that shakes everything up."
His game plan for shaking up Hollywood and thereby the world includes hosting his own cable TV show, recording a comedy album and perhaps making an in-performance movie like Richard Pryor's. And he thinks that finally the Carson show is ready for him. "If you've watched Johnny recently you'll have noticed that he does a drug joke nearly every night."
Incidentally, Leary hopes to make millions from all this. "Everyone should be rich in the 1980s," he said.