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The world according to Carl

Chicago comedian Carl Kozlowski '93 proves through a new book -- and his own life -- that if at first you don't succeed, get better material

By David Van Meter

It was a tricycle accident 25 years ago that would lead Carl Kozlowski '93 to write a book to help others cope with life.

On the advice of a friend, the then 4-year-old Kozlowski hit a parked car head-on, somehow lodging his nose in the gap between the car's chassis and bumper. Friends retrieved his mother, who took him to the hospital.

"It was the first time I saw Johnny Carson on television," Kozlowski said in a May telephone interview from his home in Chicago. "I had no idea who he was, but I realized that this gray-haired guy had the attention of a lot of people."

No, wait, the book -- called Life: The Final Frontier -- was really begun right after his family moved to Arkansas when Kozlowski was forced to take his sister to prom.

"I was in the eighth grade," he remembered. "My dad ordered me to take her. Then to make things even cooler, he volunteered to chaperone the blessed affair. At least he had the class to step in for the slow dances. And I thank God that we were in Arkansas so we were not the only family in that situation."

The punch line? All sorts of things have shaped the life of the 29-year-old Kozlowski and his view of it. And that's what Life, which he co-wrote with fellow comedian Tim Joyce, is all about, sporting such chapters as "How to Hide Your Complete Unhireability" and "How to Hide the Fact That You're a Miserable Failure."

Want to know how to dress for that job interview? Consider the book's advice to the fresh college grad: ... the ripped jeans and stained tee shirts are no longer the fashion statement they were in your undergrad years. Back then your shoddy attire said, 'I am an iconoclast. I care not for the rules and values of society. I follow my own path and go my own way.' Now they say, 'I am a slob. Do not hire me. I still follow my own path, but when I get sweaty, this shirt makes its own gravy.'

"The book has also given me a wonderful opportunity," Kozlowski adds with perfect timing, "to bare uncomfortable truths like my VISA bill and my string of jobs before the last three years."

Kozlowski, however, is dead serious about making a living at comedy. A TCU Daily Skiff columnist while at TCU, he won the Certs U.S. College Comedy Competition his sophomore year. Graduate study in advertising at the University of Texas ended when his professors said his ads were too funny to be effective.

He moved to Chicago and studied with the Second City improvisational theater -- producing comics such as John Candy and Bill Murray -- which has led to comedy gigs in seven states, including invites to the Catch a Rising Star club in New York City and the Luna Lounge in Los Angeles.

Kozlowski also works as a freelance writer writing off-beat stories (his two weeks as an inflatable dinosaur for Kraft when it launched a new type of macaroni and cheese, for instance) for Chicago's NewCity and Chicago Reader alternative papers. Kozlowski -- busy at the moment organizing a comedy festival that will bring exposure to minority comics usually "ignored by the yuppie part of town" -- said his book, as well as his life, share a common theme.

"Everybody can understand each other better when they're able to share laughter about common things," he said. "Everybody's the same, everybody wants to laugh . . . . It is important for everyone to see everyone else as a human being."

The Final Frontier can be found at most bookstores or through