Pat Cashman | Call him ‘chief' or call him ‘czar,' he's still pretty funny

The title is spelled variously - Czar, Tsar, and sometimes Tzar. And Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske is in line to become one.

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. So even though there are jobs heading up the state, defense, treasury and justice departments - those people are all mere “secretaries.” Only Kerlikowske will be a Czar.

I don’t know whether or not he’ll be a great drug czar, but 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 the Seattle Police Foundation Awards. I had pitched 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.”

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. He continued speaking.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out several confetti-filled party poppers. They exploded over Kerlikowske’s head in a series of loud bangs. He

continued speaking.

Next, I tossed a set of pots and pans high into the air. They clattered and clanged onto the stage in an ear-splitting crash. The chief continued speaking.

Finally, I stepped off the stage - and returned carrying an electric leaf blower. I turned it on and in a great swirl of noise and wind, all the papers of the chief's 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.