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George Carlin, 1957 - 1970.
August 17, 2008 5:17 AM   Subscribe

George Carlins early career is often overlooked, though every veteran comedian worth his salt will tell you that it takes years, sometimes a decade or longer, until you have amassed enough stage time to fully develop your character, act, and jokes.

Comedian and award winning podcaster Jimmy Pardo says that no one will come out of the other side of that initial period of self discovery the same. It takes years to find your rapport with the audience and the niche for your views. George Carlin was no exception to this rule. Before he was the t-shirt and jeans wearing cynical everyman opening your eyes to his world, he was another square in a suit, and had he never moved past that stage the world would likely have forgotten like so many before them. (Act II, specifically)
posted by mediocre (26 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
It seems like Fort Worth would prefer to forget it ever crossed paths with George Carlin (or vice-versa). I grew up here and Carlin was a HUGE influence on me. I'm 38 and it wasn't until very recently that I learned he worked here...albeit for just a short time.
Anyway, didnt mean to derail this excellent post which has made my Sunday! I saw Carlin in Vegas in 2003 and seeing him live was much better than his televised appearances. Much more raw and with great honest banter between bits.Remember it's a big club and you ain't in it.
posted by punkfloyd at 6:14 AM on August 17, 2008


"I began to change in sixty-nine, seventy ... That's when I began to experiment with acid. I had been a pot smoker most of my life ... what the acid did was to spring me past the frontier, to artificially get me to the next step ... [LSD] pushed me over to see that 'Hey, I'm wasting my time with these people, I don't really like them, I'm sort of entertaining the enemy. They're kind of a safe, play it safe, middle-class audience and I'm playing it safe with them - and I feel differently inside, let me get it out of me!"

Metafilter: Entertaining the Enemy
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:37 AM on August 17, 2008


Great link, thank you.

Lenin had a beard. Gabby Hayes had whiskers.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:17 AM on August 17, 2008


Before he was the t-shirt and jeans wearing cynical everyman opening your eyes to his world, he was another square in a suit ...

Actually, I'm pretty sure he jumped between worlds there for a while. He was still the square nerdy white-guy in a suit doing safe-comedy on Flip Wilson as his first 2 or 3 counterculture albums were making the rounds of your finer patchouli-scented headshops and back-room black-lit bong nooks.

Or, so I've heard.
posted by RavinDave at 8:00 AM on August 17, 2008


His early material was far superior to his later work; eventually he stopped doing routines and jokes and just bitched and moaned for an hour and called it a CD.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:58 AM on August 17, 2008


Great post. Thanks!
posted by Roger Dodger at 8:58 AM on August 17, 2008


likely have forgotten like so many before them. (Act II, specifically)

It looks like I either have to buy content or listen for 20 or 30 minutes... can someone summarize?
posted by crapmatic at 9:00 AM on August 17, 2008


I think perhaps you aren't using the player correctly, as you can skip ahead.

However..

It's the story of Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall who were a comedy duo who after years of hard work got their big break with an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. On Feb 9, 1964 they performed their vaudevillian man/woman act for an audience of disinterested teenagers waiting for the act that was to directly follow them.
posted by mediocre at 9:18 AM on August 17, 2008


http://planetwaves.net/pagetwo/2008/06/23/shit-piss-fuck-cunt-cocksucker-mothtits-we-love-you-george-carlerfucker-and-in/
posted by infini at 9:32 AM on August 17, 2008


...eventually he stopped doing routines and jokes and just bitched and moaned for an hour and called it a CD.

My I refer you to his ten commandments bit he did later in life. Far from bitching and moaning. It was intricate and funny.
posted by zzazazz at 10:31 AM on August 17, 2008


His early material was far superior to his later work; eventually he stopped doing routines and jokes and just bitched and moaned for an hour and called it a CD.

In this instance, "early material" refers to his period before "Class Clown," before he really got big.

Please don't turn this into a personal bitch fest about you.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:10 AM on August 17, 2008


Thanks for posting this.

Somehow, I imagined that Carlin had sprung from the womb fully formed -- hair in a pony-tail and fat joint in his mouth. It was fascinating seeing how his persona, and political beliefs were formed...

Not to name-drop, but as a parenthetical side-note, it happens that Jack Burns -- who Carlin credits for converting his political outlook from conservative to liberal -- is an acquaintance of mine, and we've talked politics any number of times...and yet he never brought up his time as Carlin's partner, and so, this came as something of a happy shock.

Jack is still a very funny guy, by the way...and still very much the raging liberal (and ex-marine), God bless his soul.
posted by yakcat01 at 12:01 PM on August 17, 2008


This bothers me to a certain extent, as I dont feel like anyone out there is conspiring for me to forget how early comedians were different from modern comedians. Carlin, like many other comedians of his generation, changed comedy itself and blazed thier own trail. Its not like any of them could have done the toker hippy comedy thing (which is now extremely dated) back in 66.

Its a bit like the early beatles. Something tells me if they didnt have an already large track record of success with their cheery pop-music then no one would have taken a chance on, say, sgt. pepper and their later works. It would have too weird and you would never have heard of them.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:09 PM on August 17, 2008


...eventually he stopped doing routines and jokes and just bitched and moaned for an hour and called it a CD.

Yes to this. Ive seen some of his performances where there's a 20 minute peroid where he stops doing comedy altogether and just gives a laundry list of angry complaints. I think this is a pitfall that most anti-establishment comedians often fall into. Why spend weeks or months testing new material so you can deliver a good set, when you can just slack off and fill needed time with rants about corporate america and religious people?
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:12 PM on August 17, 2008


George Carlin's transformation always kind of reminds me of Willie Nelson's. He started out as this clean-cut country songwriter, then moved to Austin during the hippie days and decided to become an outlaw. I mean, it seems unexpected that this guy would end up becoming the tax-evading, pot-loving Willie we know now.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:19 PM on August 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Charlie Brill & Mitzi McCall bring back memories for me (dammit) of working part-time phones for a talk radio station in L.A. in the late '70s as they tried something new: All Comedy in the daytime hours, and Mitzi & Charlie, with zero radio experience between them, got a three-hour Monday-Friday timeslot and used up ALL the material from both of their careers in about two weeks. It was something incredible to watch from the wings as they transformed from 'trying too hard' to 'total panic'. Disc Jockey Schadenfreude at its best.
posted by wendell at 4:34 PM on August 17, 2008


Ive seen some of his performances where there's a 20 minute peroid where he stops doing comedy altogether and just gives a laundry list of angry complaints. I think this is a pitfall that most anti-establishment comedians often fall into. Why spend weeks or months testing new material so you can deliver a good set, when you can just slack off and fill needed time with rants about corporate america and religious people?

Humour is one of the things about which nobody is ever going to see entirely eye to eye. Like beauty, or love or any of our most human apprehensions of the world. Everyone has a slightly different idea of what is, and what isn't.

That said, I think you're missing a major part of the point, there, in that Carlin's rants in his later career skirted perilously close (and sometimes went over the edge) into pure rage, but they were also uproariously funny to many (myself included, of course) and engaged in the kind of word-play and language-focused riffing that few comics could match. His laundry lists of 'things that are pissing me off' were funny, to many, as much as they were angry. Or, not to put too fine a point on it, that little bit more funny than angry, which made them the basis of a shared cathartic experience that laughter brings. And of course, lest we forget, fart jokes are always hilarious. Carlin wasn't all about the anger.

There is a strong current in our shared -- mostly American, for better or worse -- culture that anger is somehow a weakness, that the only kind of anger there can be is transgressive. Comics like Sam Kinnison or Andrew Dice Clay, to pick two comics whose work I do not much enjoy, played this to the hilt, screaming in apoplectic rage about women and homosexuals and others in the former case, and making deliberately stilted transgressive 'angry' jokes about them in the latter. Even the comedy-canonized Bill Hicks based much of his stage persona on rage, if slightly more sophisticated and, one suspects more heartfelt, anger than either Kinnison or Clay.

But anger isn't a weakness, necessarily, and needn't be turned inward. It can be controlled, channeled into humour or writing or good works or whatever, transformed. Laughter is the one thing that is guaranteed to suck the poison our of anger, and as such, it seems to me like the sanest and smartest way to approach the world we live in: there is much to be angry about and even more to laugh about.

Though it did seem, sometimes, in his later life, that Carlin was perilously close to being consumed by the anger that he felt at the decline of the country he loved, unable to alchemize it all into comedy gold, I think he did an admirable, hilarious and spectacularly sane job of doing so.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:01 PM on August 17, 2008 [7 favorites]


To those bitching that Carlin's later material consisted of a half hour of bitching with no jokes, that was precisely his point. Just doing jokes is passe. Comedians today who get on stage with a stream of oneliners and canned jokes better have something else they're bringing to their game or they'll be laughed out of the club. They're not gonna be remembered. That was old when Henny Youngman was doing it.

Carlin was able to rise above what is expected of a comedian and became a true voice against insanity and hypocrisy in this world. When they posthumously award Carlin the Mark Twain Prize this fall, we will finally see someone get it, who truly and honestly deserves it.

They gave one to Lorne Michaels for Christ's sake. Sid Caesar and Jonathan Winters I can understand, but Neil Simon? WTF?
posted by ZachsMind at 5:32 PM on August 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


"Though it did seem, sometimes, in his later life, that Carlin was perilously close to being consumed by the anger that he felt at the decline of the country he loved..."

But that's what made him so great! I loved watching him not spontaneously combust on stage. I thought for sure he was going to a few times there. You could almost smell the smoke and see the ignition spark in his eyes but he just fell short of exploding.

The man was a living powder keg. I love him and miss him and urge anyone who hasn't to watch Jersey Girl, cuz he did a good job.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:39 PM on August 17, 2008


This is an awesome post.
posted by JHarris at 7:43 PM on August 17, 2008


Carlin was able to rise above what is expected of a comedian and became a true voice against insanity and hypocrisy in this world.

That's great, but it's not comedy, and it's not funny. There's thousands of people trying desperately to be George Carlin and Bill Hicks who have gone down that exact bunny trail, and without Carlin's past stardom, you've never heard of them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:55 PM on August 17, 2008


"That's great, but it's not comedy, and it's not funny."

I was still laughing, even at his last HBO special. Maybe he just cut too close to your particular bone. To quote Mel Brooks, "Tragedy is i stub my toe. Comedy is you fall in a manhole and die." Maybe the reason why you stopped laughing, was cuz he was talking about you, or people you know?

There've been times when he described behavior that I recognized as my own, or that I'd aspire to be like, and I'd be like y'know he's right that is kinda stupid, and I could still laugh at it.

His insight on aging became more acute as he got older, and I always found that entertaining, and also kinda empowering as I find myself moving slower than I did twenty years ago, and see those lines on my face forming and the hair turning grey. It's like he went first and found the water to be fine. Same with death. If Carlin can do it, it don't seem as scary anymore.

Carlin once said, "if they laugh you're a comic. If they don't laugh, you're a performance artist." I think as he grew older, he became less afraid of veering into territory of the latter. He was still entertaining, even when he was being informative. Few other comics can do that.

Bill Cosby is more what you're describing, Pope Guilty. Cosby has tried in more recent years to be more of a teacher (or even a preacher) than a joke teller, and he's not quite as good at it. His more recent performances seem to have a bit of bitterness, especially after the death of his son. Carlin could do bitter. On Cosby, he veers out of the stand up completely. In fact I don't think he's wanting to be a comic anymore. He's long since left that behind. He's making appearances now for charities and churches and benefits and that's great, but he's not trying to be funny anymore. If he happens to amuse while he enlightens, that's just icing on his cake.

You're right that sometimes Carlin wasn't funny, but he never stopped being a standup comic. He transcended the stereotypical stand up comic formula, but just because he didn't make you laugh every ten seconds, that doesn't mean he failed. In some ways he rebuilt the standup comic formula - made it more than it was when he arrived on the proverbial scene. Expanded the horizons of his peers and his audience.

You say people are "trying desperately to be George Carlin and Bill Hicks" but I submit that even Hicks was trying to be Carlin.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:43 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


...however, Dane Cook has been trying to be everybody else.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:17 AM on August 18, 2008


I only got to see Carlin's routines for the first time earlier this year when he died and as a total bystander I have to second that "it's not comedy, and it's not funny".

Carlin was a political propagandist and whilst I wholly agree with him on most points, I'm deeply saddened by the futility of his effort. It's like telling someone "you talk stupid, you should read up a bit and think more" whilst being faced with a "bua-ha-ha, hilarious, you're right, lemme get that beer and remote now".

Carlin was raging against the hypocrisy of the modern man, against the thin veneer of civilization which only works if all else works. When things get bad and we don't feel safe and warm we are still the hoarding, usurping, killing, self-interested, small-pack animals we've always been.

To those who say this needn't be so, I'm sure Carlin would say that there is a big difference between "I should", "I want" and "I do", and the only one that matters in reality is the last one. I believe that to be the main point of all of Carlin's later work.
posted by Laotic at 4:06 AM on August 18, 2008


I was still laughing, even at his last HBO special. Maybe he just cut too close to your particular bone.

No. I'm fairly liberal and another "yuk, yuk, GW sure is stupid" isnt original, insightful, nor funny. Perhaps I'm just jaded because I've heard some much Bush administration criticism but I feel Carlin was one of the worst of the bunch. Look at how well Jon Stewart does it 5 nights a week.

Not to mention, Carlin's message is a bit odd when you realize that is audience are mostly Americans, who voted Bush in in the first place. Interesting how that works. Who exactly is the guilty party here? Just the "big corporatations" and "washington fatcats?" How convenient for someone selling comedy records!

Who said "There's a vanity to candor?" I think its fitting.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:01 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually DamnDirtyApe, on more than one occasion, Carlin laid the blame firmly in the hands of his own audience, for cowtowing to the fat cats and for voting people like Bush into office. About halfway through his career he'd sorta give exception to his audience and infer he was meaning all those Americans who aren't listening to him, but towards the end there he was not apologetic to his own audience. I urge you to listen again for the context and the subtext.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:04 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


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