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 Amazon.com.