Carlin versus the world

George Carlin
Clean, angry and awful at returning calls: George Carlin may have just gotten out of rehab, but couldn’t he at least send us a post-card?

I was just starting to discover what I thought of as “adult humor” when George Carlin began to get national TV exposure on the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas shows in the mid-’60s. Pushing the boundaries of good taste has an innate appeal to eighth-grade boys, and I was no exception. To those of us who participated in the youthful revolution of the Vietnam War era a few years later, Carlin’s antiestablishment humor seemed right on target.

As the war ground on, Carlin let his hair grow out, morphing from the clean-cut Johnny Carson protege into a hippie-dippie weatherman who seemed to pick up where Lenny Bruce left off in his fight for freedom of speech. The seven dirty words routine that made him famous — the dirty words he uttered on television in the guise of a list of words one couldn’t say on television — took him straight to the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision the Robed Ones decided that the seven words were, indeed, dirty — proving Carlin’s initial point even as it banned his speech. Yet, while it all seemed very cool to us very cool twenty-somethings, rereading his riff today reveals that it was, in essence, eighth-grade-level body-function grotesquerie masquerading as highbrow art.

To Carlin, that’s no slight: The comic himself disavows any political intent in anything he has ever done.

Carlin’s Web site informs us, “My interest in ‘issues’ is merely to point out how badly we’re doing, not to suggest a way we might do better.” He goes on to say, “I sincerely believe that if you think there’s a solution, you’re part of the problem. My motto: F— Hope!”

That sunny attitude seems to have infected Carlin’s publicist, who arranged a 20-minute interview for me and then pressed me to promise that Carlin would be our cover story.

“I don’t make that decision,” I replied, “But I can assure you that if we don’t get an interview, there’s no way it will be a cover story.”

A week later and almost an hour after my appointment, there was still no call from Carlin. I called the publicist to find out if the interview was still on.

“Where are you?”


“You don’t have an interview.”

“But you scheduled it with me last week, for today.”

“No one told me about it.”

“Excuse me, but you set up the interview.”

“It’s not on my desk.”

“Can you reschedule it for me?”

She drew herself up to a haughty height (I could hear it over the phone) and talked down at me, “No.”

Well, f— hope. I guess I was warned.

Deprived of an interview, I turned back to, a sort of narcissistic comic diary, which includes a month-by-month biography from his conception in Curley’s Hotel, Rockaway Beach, N.Y., in 1936 forward to 2002 when he apparently lost interest in the Web project. Most of the content is composed in the third person with extended bragging about book sales and awards, starring roles and famous collaborators.

His track record is impressive. Between his numerous recordings, HBO cablecasts, films and books, he comes off as a comic little-engine-that-could, though one suspects that the impressive book sales figures have more to do with media fame than actual readership. His latest effort When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? (Hyperion, 2004) was unreadable for its crudity and unfunny ad hominem attacks on any and everything. It left this reader feeling like Carlin was probably an angry, pill-popping neocon talk show host in another lifetime as an alternative to the angry, pill-popping comic that he has played so successfully in this one. (Note: He’s out of rehab now, and reportedly nastier than ever.)

On the Web site he slams political involvement and voices support for the destruction of the human race. “What may sound to some like anger is really nothing more than sympathetic contempt. I view my species with a combination of wonder and pity, and I root for its destruction.” In the same uplifting spirit he tells readers, “I’m happy to tell you there is very little in this world that I believe in.”

Not so, George. From reading your Web site I have discovered that you believe in money, fame and George Carlin’s brilliance. Also that you have found 2,443 dirty words (as of 2002), but still seem primarily amused by the seven that eighth graders snigger at in the school yard.


George Carlin performs at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 12. 8 p.m. $56. 259-5544.

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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