As consistently profane, right-on-the-edge provocative, and sometimes offensive as he has been over his four-decades-plus career, it still wouldn’t be paradoxical to call George Carlin a class act.
Why? Like Richard Pryor, Chris Rock and Robin Williams, underneath the barrage of four-letter words runs a current of humanity: Even as he skewers our collective behavior, he’s on our side.
When Carlin speaks, you can actually feel him caring.
Well, sort of ...
“I got a dual problem here,” the comedian says on the phone from Santa Monica, Calif. “First of all, I like people. One by one, I think they’re great—for about a minute. You look in their eyes and you can see the universe. We’re all the same thing—we’re all stardust, and it’s all the same atoms floating around.”
Aw, that’s nice. But, remember, this is Carlin.
He continues: “I like people one at a time—I don’t like the (expletive) grouping. It’s when they group that bothers me—the clotting. People-clotting is what causes the trouble. As soon as it’s about eight or 12 guys, they start having a fight song or a (expletive) slogan, or they give themselves a name and buy baseball hats, or they get jackets with their name on it and they wear little arm bands, and pretty soon they got a list of people they don’t like, and pretty soon they’re marching over in the park—and it’s a (expletive) danger. Groups are a danger.
“They sacrifice their individual beauty for the sake of the group. And the loss of the individual is tragic.”
Here’s a quick look at Carlin’s opinions on some of today’s hot-button topics:
On whether he considers himself a champion of free speech: “No, not really. I’m involved in that issue because of the nature and the content of it and what happened with the Supreme Court with my album (his foul-mouthed “Seven Words” routine was broadcast on a radio station in the early `70s, which led to the FCC formally establishing indecency regulations in American broadcasting)... . But I just do my thing. I don’t have any torch to bear or ax to grind—except I don’t think I believe in very much.
“All I wanna do is sing my song. All I wanna do is be heard. I’m not trying to make people think—I just want them to know that I’m thinking. This is a show-off’s job—this job is called Look At Me—Look At Me, Ain’t I Cute, Ain’t I Clever, Ain’t I Smart.
“I dropped out of school in ninth grade—so you have a kind of hidden agenda in your life to show people how smart you are—you sort of owe it back to yourself to kind of account for that, what I’ll call a perceived deficit, what the world thinks is an education on paper, by measuring grades and many years of schooling and all that. But there are an awful lot of dummies who get through high college degrees.”
On who he’d like to see as our next president: “It seems to hardly matter, but ... I would like to see a smart, compassionate person. But a lot of things went wrong here—the political system is really broken. First of all, money plays way too big a part, and nothing is voted on the merits anymore. And nobody will ever fix any of that (stuff).”
So why not run and fix it yourself?: “I would rather take the office with a lightning-swift coup-d’etat with my posse and assume power as a benign dictator. The running is the wrong part: You have to raise money and you have to make believe you actually like these (expletive)s, and promise (stuff). And you gotta shake people’s hands and listen to all this bull ... . It’s bad enough some (expletive) is gonna stop you for 10 minutes and tell you about his new lawn mower, with the horn on it—you know?”
On ex-Seinfeld star Michael Richards’ recent racist rant against an African-American heckler: “He had a table full of people ordering drinks—first of all, I don’t like (expletive) clubs; I don’t like places where there’s tables. Tables are a social arrangement, and theaters are not. Theaters are just a mass of people who become kind of one organism. Tables imply social hierarchies and pressures and divisions.
“But there he is in a club anyway—he’s gotta be, for now—and they’re ordering. And that’s really insulting, and I understand the rage threshold, especially back when I had a little more anger near the top of me—that seems to have abated.
`I know Michael a little bit, and I like him. But apparently, those words didn’t come from nowhere in him. And the first one wasn’t the familiar (n-word) epithet: The very first part was, `Fifty years ago we would have hung you upside down with a fork in you’re a—,’ which is a very different kind of an anti-black reference. It comes from a thought process that has to have thought of that before.
“So that was the disturbing part to me, and I haven’t read anybody point that out yet. But I sympathize with him because he dug a deep hole for himself.
“I don’t think the word should be banned ... I agree with (comedian and civil rights activist) Dick Gregory: If you start with that word, where do you (expletive) stop?”