Monday, October 8, 2007

George Carlin in L.A. (10/05/07)

The last time I saw George Carlin live, it was in Las Vegas around the turn of the century; he was working his “You Are All Diseased” material.

It was a weird show. I felt he was showing contempt towards the audience. For one thing, he kept looking at his watch. You got someplace to be, George? We paid Vegas prices to come watch your ass.

His last HBO special a couple of years ago was an unbearably misanthropic riff on death, suicide and the worthlessness of human beings. I was like, “Damn... is this what happens when you get sober?”

But Carlin is a living legend of American humor. When I saw he was coming to the Gibson Amphitheatre last Friday night, I was curious. By the time I pulled the trigger on buying a ticket, it was Thursday morning. I was hoping I could still get a seat. Figured I might be up in the rafters. Still wanted to see him.

Turns out I got – literally – the best seat in the house. Front row center. In a 6,000-seat theater. I was crotch-sniffing distance from the guy. Three young fellows sitting right next to me had copped their tickets that day. Just walked up to the box office.

I overheard from a couple of good-time Charlies also seated in the “pit” that the promoter was hustling to fill up the venue. A lot of radio-giveaway tickets, et cetera. Guy behind me said he bought his ticket three months ago, through a broker, for $250... more than four times face value.

I mention all this for a reason.

Mr. Carlin, now 70 years old – (“I’m a little bit like herpes. I keep coming back”) – walked onstage with a red folder. Inside were typewritten pages. Those pages had red-ink markings on them. (Front row center rocks!)

Before he got rolling, Carlin explained that he was polishing the new material for his next HBO special... to be broadcast next March. Carlin told us not to be upset if he consulted his notes; he writes very precisely, he explained, and by him checking his notes, we would be hearing the material “as it was intended.”

Okay. But still, to pay $70 for a comedy concert (let alone $250) and basically watch the guy rehearse... I mean, he did about half the show holding a piece of paper. I was a little put off by that.

Carlin was pretty funny, though. How could he not be? He is serious about jokes, and he knows how to write ’em.

But he’s shooting at the same targets as with “You Are All Diseased.” The self-esteem culture, the “worship of children,” the worship of God. He’s not into the whole God thing. At. All.

I didn’t take notes so I can’t share any jokes. But come March, when George Carlin returns to HBO, don’t expect anything you haven’t heard before. And if he visits your town between now and then, be forewarned about those typewritten notes.

Now, let’s go back 35 years – half a life ago for Carlin – to one of his routines called “Black Consciousness,” from his 1972 album “Occupation: Foole.” Click here to hear it on my Vox blog. It’s still relevant. (I have a kid-memory of Carlin doing this routine on “The Flip Wilson Show.”)

You can purchase “Black Consciousness” for download, or other bits from “Occupation: Foole,” by following this link to


Andrew said...

At this point, Carlin is in Woody Allen territory for me. Both are clearly past their prime, but I still check out every new movie/special with the knowledge that they'll never be worse than mediocre and probably still have one or two moments of brilliance. For example, from his last special, that doomsay scenario he laid out that started with a small power outage and resulted in the complete destruction of the universe was really good. Unfortunately, it was about the only good thing he had for the show, but to me that made it worth it. Just like I'm willing to see the next Woody Allen movie if it has 3 good scenes and is a breezy viewing experience. It's all about personal confort.

memomachine said...


My problem with Carlin has always been that he comes across as a pretentious ass, unwilling to have any grace at all for those who have human failings. Consider his opinions about God. He had a very funny routine about how, instead of praying to God, he prayed to Joe Pesci. While prayers to God may not ever be granted, a prayer to Joe Pesci would get things done.

Funny to a point. But in my personal experience people who have such rigid opinions, and such inflexibility towards others who do have a measure of faith, are often those who have never suffered.

It isn't until you have suffered, emotionally, physically or mentally, that you need something more than yourself. It isn't until you're immured into your own personal torment, as if you had your own personal devil administering to you, that you feel the need to reach towards a higher power.

While I don't wish anything like this on Mr. Carlin at all. I would prefer Mr. Carlin be willing to observe some modicum of grace to those that find they need some bit of irrationality in their lives.

And quite frankly the last time I laughed at a Carlin joke was a decade or more ago. He's much like the guy who used to do Bloom County.

Funny, then not.

Russell said...

I still love Carlin although you make many valid pointts David. He has gotten a bit too dark to be simply enjoyable, but his logic is still sound and I find it hard to argue with many of the uncomfortable points he makes in his humor. I dare say that the breadth of his work has influenced my life view on a regular basis. That last special though ("Life Is Worth Losing") was very rough indeed. But no matter I'm anxiously awaiting he next one.

And memomachine, if you think Carlin has never suffered perhaps you need to do some light research and check out his bio. I'll give you 2 things he's "suffered." His parents split up when he was an infant and he never even met his father. And he lost his wife Brenda to cancer about 10 years ago. Not saying he's had the worst life bnut I believe it's safe to say he's experienced some significatt human suffering in his 70 years.

Dougfp said...

Carlin has become Lenny Bruce in his last days. When Bruce would read the transcripts of his latest obscenity trial to an audience that came to hear him make jokes, not political points. Hopefully, Carlin is sober enough now not to end up dead on the toilet like his hero.

Undercover Black Man said...

A lot of cool people die on the toilet. What's up with that?

susie said...

I like George Carlin but in the past 10 years he has gone from caustic/ironic funny to bitter and angry funny and that's really not that funny after a while.

He and I use the same chiropractor who told me that he's never been the same since his wife died. I think he's seriously pissed about it.

More pissed that usual.

Undercover Black Man said...

He and I use the same chiropractor who told me that he's never been the same since his wife died. I think he's seriously pissed about it.

Wow, Suze and Russell... I didn't know the personal backstory. He did this elaborate riff the other night about the ridiculousness of the idea of dead relatives "smiling down on us" from the afterworld.

susie said...

His wife died the day before his 60th birthday. He got really really depressed.

Dan Coyle said...

Brain Droppings contained a lot of weird cancer jokes, like tumors as a fashion accessory. I later found out his wife succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1997 shortly before its release.

Though I've heard some rumors over the years that while his wife was his best friend, Carlin is actually gay.

In any case, his work does get tiresome- he's approached that do-nothing leftie stage where the lack of instant change in the face of encroaching right wing horror inspires them not to rally the troops and redouble their efforts but sullenly sink back into the chair, dismiss everyone as stupid or lame, and spend the rest of his days snarking people who still give a shit.

See also Dennis Perrin, Alex Cockburn, Aaron MacGruder, Matt Taibbi Trey Parker. They're so disgusted with the common man they so championed- and still lie to themeselves they champion- that they secretly root for society's collapse, because then the Great Unwashed would get what they deserve.

Not tha they'll be throwing a bomb, oh no. They've still got car payments.

Dan Coyle said...

Addendum: Trey Parker isn't a leftie, but a libertarian, and a particularly bullying, psychopathic one at that, but I detect the same sort of insufferable, petulant cynicism from him.

I did like Carlin's last special- the joke about not being able to kill yourself because you're too busy is hilarious.

Dougfp said...

Yeah...Elvis, Lenny, Judy Garland, Frankie Lymon...the toilet seems to be the final stop for a lot of celebrities. Maybe it's the need to take that last dump before hitting the Pearly Gates.

Wanda said...

I gotta agree with Andrew. Love Carlin, but he hasn't done great stuff in years. When HBO had the special honoring him a couple years ago, it was obvious that the guy was just getting old. Not that his jokes sucked, but physically, you could see the change.
@memo: yea he's always had issues with God, but I've always found them quite funny. Didn't change my mind, but still funny. My favorite God bit was when he was praying to the sun, didn't like the joe pesci one so much.

Anonymous said...

It's only the brutalization of whites by black savagery that causes this kind of behavior. It's a reaction to the disparity of interracial rape rates. Only when blacks give whites a representative place in the NBA and on BET will this violence stop.

memomachine said...


@ russell

His parents split up when he was an infant and he never even met his father. And he lost his wife Brenda to cancer about 10 years ago.

Families split up all the time and not knowing your father isn't exactly uncommon. I'm sorry to hear about his wife's cancer.

But IMO I frankly don't believe Carlin has suffered enough because his attitude hasn't changed to any degree. Mind you I don't object to his making jokes about people needing faith. What I find offensive is that he basically calls people, who need faith to live their daily lives, "assholes".

memomachine said...


@ anonymous

Only when blacks give whites a representative place in the NBA and on BET will this violence stop.

Heck with that!

I wanna see a team of 5' Japanese guys playing in the NBA!


Undercover Black Man said...

Wanda wrote: "When HBO had the special honoring him a couple years ago, it was obvious that the guy was just getting old. Not that his jokes sucked, but physically..."

Yes, that struck me too the other night, Wanda. When he came onstage, he looked physically and facially like an old man.

In fact, you reminded me of a mildly amusing bit he did at the start of the set: He defines himself as "an old fuck." Not an "old man"... "I'm an old fuck."

russell said...



Yes, families do split up all the time and people die from cancer all the time. Then lots of people suffer to different degrees in the aftermath. Carlin, in interviews, has always seemed haunted and at times nearly choked up when discussing his father (or lack thereof). I would say a lot of times when people suffer they become more hostile rather than find faith, religion and/or peace. Quite a stretch to try and work backward from someone's world view and guess how much they've suffered. Moreover, Carlin claims to be a very happy guy on a personal level, his whole bit about having a front row ticket to the freak show etc.

Undercover Black Man said...

Re: my last comment... I forgot to say that Carlin picked up a head of steam as he went along. Physically and vocally, he seemed up to par for most of the show.

russell said...

Well he IS old. He's 70 (probably older than any regular visitors to this blog besides the Undercover Blackman's grandparents),did loads of drugs, and has had 3 heart attacks (note to memomachine: more suffering). Anyone still performing standup at a significant level after all that is doing pretty darn well for his age in my book.

Phil E said...

I'm white and I want to say black is beautiful (not just back women with white facial constructs) and the same goes for other colors. There are those of any race that are just unfortunate and Yoko is/was one most would agree upon.

That being said, common liberal white people like to make themselves out to be the saviors of people of color. They bask in their history having people like JFK and such and it probably makes them feel wanted. Sad thing is, they vote for those who actively support Planned Parenthood, an organization founded by Hitler supporter, Margaret Sanger, whose plot was quoted as getting rod of black people. They have more of their places in black neighborhoods and the UN takes this getting rid of others that are deemed unnecessary to have to places with a population of dark people.