The title is spelled variously – sometimes czar, sometimes tsar and sometimes tzar. But always pronounced “zar.” And Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske is in line to become one.
Lots of moms dream that their kid might someday become president, or pope or a judge on American Idol. But Mrs. Kerlikowske could have never imagined that her son might someday become a czar.
The Russian title originally meant “emperor” or “supreme ruler” – sort of the equivalent of “king” or “monarch.” Any of those titles would look mighty good on a business card.
Even though Kerlikowske’s new position isn’t precisely a cabinet level job, it is supposedly the equivalent of one. So even though there are bigger administration jobs – such as heading up the state, defense, treasury and justice departments – those people are all mere “secretaries.” Only Kerlikowske will be a czar.
He’s going to head up the Office of National Drug Control Policy and word is that while Kerlikowske may not have a particularly fancy office, he will have a designated parking spot marked “czar car.”
I don’t know whether or not he’ll be a great drug czar and people may disagree about whether he was a great police chief.
But, in my opinion, he has no peer as a guy who can pull off a comedy bit. Let me explain.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to emcee an annual event called the Seattle Police Foundation Awards. It was a big gala at a downtown Seattle hotel ballroom and featured a sit-down dinner and the presentation of awards for outstanding local police work in the year gone by. There were so many police in the grand ballroom that a person either felt very safe – or very nervous – depending on the person.
I had pitched Chief Kerlikowske the idea of doing a little comedy bit, one that no one would have advance knowledge of except him and me. To my amazement, he agreed.
The evening began with an honor guard marching in with the U.S. flag, followed by the singing of the national anthem. Next, I made some opening remarks and then introduced a chaplain who did an invocation.
So far, it was a very sober affair.
Then, I returned to the podium and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, your Seattle Police Chief, Gil Kerlikowske, would like to make some special remarks.” The chief came to the podium as I exited the room behind him.
The chief began speaking. “I would like to take a few minutes tonight to talk about the long history of police work,” he said. With that, he began droning on with a dry, written speech.
After about 30 seconds, my voice could suddenly be heard over the same sound system as the chief – even though I wasn’t in the room. It was as if I wasn’t aware that my microphone was open. “For crying out loud!” I could be heard saying. “This is the most boring speech I’ve ever heard! That guy is gonna put this audience to sleep! I’ve got to get him to shut up.”
Even during my remarks, the chief continued on with his speech – as if unaware. By then, the audience was starting to giggle.
“I think I’ll go stand next to the podium,” I said next. “When he sees me standing there, he’ll figure out that it’s time to wrap it up.”
As the chief continued his tedious speech, completely straight-faced, I walked out and stood next to him. He looked over at me – and continued speaking.
Next, I stepped in front of the podium and starting doing jumping jacks in front of him. He continued speaking.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out several confetti-filled party poppers – the kind you see at New Year’s celebrations. They exploded over Kerlikowske’s head in a series of loud bangs. He continued speaking, unflinching and nonchalant, even as the confetti settled onto his head.
Next, I produced a set of pots and pans – which I tossed high into the air. They clattered and clanged onto the stage in an ear-splitting crash. The chief continued speaking, unaffected.
Finally, in a last resort, I stepped off the stage and returned carrying an electric leaf blower. I turned it on and aimed it straight at the chief. In a great swirl of noise and wind, all the papers of his speech blew irretrievably across the stage.
I turned the blower off and waited as the audience laughter crescendoed.
Then after waiting for the laughter to subside a bit, Kerlikowske – now quiet and bewildered-looking – paused in masterful comic timing, staring at his scattered speech upon the floor.
Finally, he turned back to the audience and said, “Thank you. And good night.”
The crowd exploded as he walked away and took his seat.
It’s not likely that a drug czar would ever be called upon to do shtick. But just in case, we’ve now got one that could pull it off.