“I’m a Fucking Visionary”
George Carlin Stays Hungry (and Angry)
This isn’t my father’s George Carlin, to pervert a phrase, something Carlin himself has loved to do for years on end. The old Carlin liked to talk about things that connected us, like “fussy eaters” and phrases that needed to be legitimately phased out of the popular parlance, such as “Have a nice day”, “Down the tubes”, or “Walking papers”.
22 Jun 2001: Comedy Store Los Angeles
But the world has become an awfully cold, sterile and strange place since the timeless comic put on his “Hippy Dippy Weatherman” schtick and made Johnny Carson laugh so hard he had to hide beneath his desk. And Carlin has always been one of our wise if ornery cultural critics, so it seemed fair to assume that his subject matter would only get more graphic and more, well, raw.
Witness: Carlin recently spent the majority of June at the Comedy Store—on the surreal Sunset Strip, a place that deserves its own review, if not a book—prepping for his upcoming gig on HBO called, I Kinda Like It When a Lotta People Die. And that catchy but offensive title is just the beginning of the rant—forget Dennis Miller, especially now that he’s taken his smarmy witticisms to his shotgun seat next to Al Michaels and Monday Night Football—that has become Carlin’s heat signature. And, trust me, he might be small and gray, but the old man is still generating a lotta heat.
Carlin turned in an hour and change on the small Comedy Store stage to an adoring if somewhat shocked audience, some of whom seemed ill-equipped for his latest brusque stylings. The woman to my left didn’t laugh the entire night, although she might’ve been grousing about the two-drink minimum and the $10 parking tab. But it was probably hard to find fault with her, since Carlin started the night off with this curious take:
“Here’s something you don’t much about these days. Pussy farts.”
Not exactly the right foot forward, if you’re looking to impress a crowd unfamiliar with your work. But that is what was admirable about Carlin in his last HBO special, You Are All Diseased, and this next one on the way, as well: he simply doesn’t care. Even though he ripped on everything from guys named Todd and Scott—c’mon George! What did I do?—guys who wear visors, parents who trumpet the scholastic achievements of their children on bumper stickers, people who walk around with their cell phones plugged into their ears, to something as innocent as the amount of songs(!) in the world, he still takes time to champion the plight of victims of female genital mutilation, minorities under the thumb of corrupt cops, and those so-called casual drug users in the world who aren’t drowning their kids in bathtubs or running over pedestrians with their SUVs.
This is a guy who spent at least 20 minutes onstage cataloguing the inefficiencies of something as holy yet retrograde as the Ten Commandments. And he made complete sense. That is because Carlin doesn’t take the bizarre inconsistencies that float through popular life for granted, as most of us do: he puts them beneath the scope and lets the linguistic and theoretical vivisection unfurl with glee.
The criticism that he has become harsher—one of his extended rants at the Comedy Store was titled something like, “People That Need to be Killed”, and he listed several grisly ways to kill them—passes conveniently over his stress on the extreme that is shared in its methodological prowess everywhere from 10 o’clock newscasts to Capitol Hill. It is an uncomfortable but pointed irony that some of Carlin’s fans—like those I found bitching about the “offensive” nature of his routine outside after the show—could find fault with the amplified hatred of his jokes before they trotted home to catch the latest installment of “Fear Factor” or “Jackass”, shows that exhibit the brutal streak of self-absorption found in America’s post-millenial cultural landscape.
They should be ecstatic that Carlin’s show—which with painstaking detail examined enemas, scabs, and things found within ass-cracks—brought them face to face with their own bodies, their own perverse sexual desires, and, ultimately, their own self-immersion, whether he did it on purpose or by accident. Carlin’s tough-as-a-diamond brain has, for the last four decades, turned the other side of humanity’s mirror forward, so that we could all get a close look at what we look like from the other side, where things aren’t so bright, so clear-cut, and so fair.
So who are we to chafe when the man calls himself a “visionary” because he spends time within his own mind contemplating “the first enema”, or worse? “If you think I’m crazy in person, you oughta hear the shit I think about when I’m by myself,” he said to a crowd of Los Angelenos armed with applause and guffaws, who were about to thrust themselves back out into the disorientation of the Sunset Strip, where high-priced hookers drape the insides of posh nightclubs like the Skybar, where image-conscious cruisers roll around in their BMWs hooting at all the cleavage, where money and power interchange freely and sexually only minutes away from Hustler’s official store.
Besides the fact that my face was hurting from laughing so hard, my mind was also racing once the man who still effects vaudeville bows after tearing a hole in facades left the stage, thanking everyone earnestly for their applause. I wonder what George would think when he gets out here on the Sunset Strip, I thought, where everyone in the world was on a cell phone, making a deal or just looking connected?
And the connections between enemas and technology hit me like an SUV going full speed. Visionary, indeed.
// Notes from the Road
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