I first saw George Carlin perform live when I was 17 and that instance came with it the completely revelatory vision of my life with and in comedy. The introduction came in a happenstance moment as an employee of Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana where Carlin happened to be headlining one Friday night. My job after ushering cars into the parking lot was to “patrol” the aisles of the theatre as sort of a back-up usher. I sat Indian-style on the pathway of the floor as George came out. It wasn’t long after taking the stage that he filled me with a burning inspiration and hope for my own future.
To hear someone of and from around my parent’s generation display a “fuck you” attitude toward an American culture that puzzled, shackled, and lorded over me in the form of its authority figures turned my entire world on its head and let me know by George’s logic that I wasn’t wrong or a bad kid to have these little buds of forming resentment against societal command. The best kind of “fuck you” is forwarded and backed up with logic as to why you’re ultimately waving off a set of standards, mass thought, or popular view.
I’d say George was a master and a continued employer until his death of front-loaded “fuck you’s” backed by the charge behind why he took this nose-thumbing stance. He was a pessimist when it came to what is possibly waiting around the corner for the world and specifically America. I don’t disagree. His assessment of what is likely coming down the pike is dreary, but not oh so likely to be incorrect given the state of our culture. It’s this/his dreariness which gives me hope for the future, though. It helps to have and hear a voice in lockstep and also running counter-current with the ill and backward rhythms of social order with your own internal voice saying, “No. This is bad. Here’s why it’s bad and you’re fucking fooling yourself if you think it doesn’t or isn’t having an adverse effect on our lives. This isn’t progression. It’s regression and it’s absurd in the face of time and how far we’ve come as a species.”
I read and re-read and listen to little quips and quotes and full text or speech by George Carlin minimum twice a week since his passing. Before his death I carried his attitude and resolute contrary way of viewing ourselves and any cultural mantras or leaders people might rally behind, but with his death he became much more special and heralded. To stumble on these interviews makes my week. Even if you’re not down the wormhole of comedy like I am, I still suggest you take your time out to appreciate him and read his personal and forthright opinions and assertions. I think you’d benefit from tearing down the walls you’ve built up around yourself through his work.
Playboy: Back in the early Sixties, when you were still a disc jockey and just beginning to do comedy in small clubs, Lenny Bruce supposedly selected you as his heir—
Carlin: Apparently, Lenny told that to a lot of people. But he never said it to me and I didn’t hear it until years later. Which is probably fortunate. It’s difficult enough for a young person to put his soul on the line in front of a lot of drunken people without having that hanging over his head, too.
Playboy: Because of what Bruce said about you, are you now overly sensitive about being compared to him?
Carlin: Yes, and those comparisons are unfair to both of us. Look, I was a fan of Lenny’s. He made me laugh, sure, but more often he made me say, “Fuckin’ A; why didn’t I think of that?” He opened up channels in my head. His genius was the unique ability to investigate hypocrisy and expose social inequities in a street rap that was really a form of poetry. I believe myself to be a worthwhile and inventive performer in my own right. But I’m not in a league with Lenny, certainly not in terms of social commentary. So when people give me this bullshit, “Well, I guess you’re sort of…uh…imitating Lenny Bruce,” I just say, “Oh, fuck. I don’t want to hear it.” I want to be known for what I do best.