I miss George Carlin

Image from Salon.

George Carlin has a new special out, eight years after he died.

It’s an formerly unreleased live show he did on September 10, 2001. The capstone routine was titled “I Kinda Like It When a Lot of People Die.” The next day was 9/11, a lot of people did die, and Carlin decided to shelve the work. It’s out on CD and vinyl Friday.

It would be tough stuff under any circumstances — but then again, Carlin was not one to pull punches.

“You the best thing I can hear on television? ‘We interrupt this program.’ You know the worst thing I can hear? ‘No one was hurt,’ ” he says in the show.

He rattles off natural disasters — tornadoes, hurricanes (“weather-wise, it’s a good value,” he says, noting that hurricanes sometimes weaken, return to open water, and strengthen anew to blast a second coastal city), earthquakes, tidal waves, famines — and praises them on his way to the ultimate, the asteroid. And then he combines them all into the ultimate disaster, which includes wild dogs and blown-up meth labs.

As long as it happens to somebody else, he’s OK with it.

Carlin wasn’t afraid of the most brutal mockery, and yet in his hands, it was hilarious — even when you were the butt of the joke. (Which I, as “a guy named Todd,” was.) And I think the reason was simple: at bottom, he was actually a humanist. He hated stupidity, hated conformity, hated the corruption of language, but came to his beliefs from a place of (dare I say?) caring. He was a “disappointed idealist,” he told me in 2004.

I think that side of Carlin is on display in this interview with Jon Stewart from 1997.

Listen to him thoughtfully discuss drugs:

“Drugs and these things are wonderful — they’re wonderful when you try them first. They’re not around for all these millennia for no reason,” he says. “First time, mostly pleasure, very little pain, maybe a hangover. And as you increase and keep using whatever it is, the pleasure part decreases and the pain part, the price you pay, increases, until the balance is completely the other way.” At that point, he observes, you hope the intellect kicks in, but adds that “you need people around you who can help you, and you need something to live for.”

There is no shortage of brilliant comedians working these days, but I can’t help but wonder what Carlin would make of life in 2016: addicted to our smartphones, coping with an absurd presidential campaign, more divided than we were even eight years ago — while devoting our time to Kardashians and Pokemon.

Of course, he had a line for that, too.

“If you’re born in this world you’re given a ticket to the freak show,” he often said. “If you’re born in America you’re given a front-row seat.”

Hope you’re enjoying the popcorn, George.


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