Boston's Alternative Source!

[TV reviews]

Flaming jokes
George Carlin postĖSeptember 11


Crouched over his notes on a Cincinnati stage, George Carlin raced through a rough version of the routine heíll open with Saturday night on his live HBO special, Complaints and Grievances. One passage in particular would, until recently, have seemed like something out of Bizarro World. " Sometimes you have to make alliances with people . . . you wouldnít let into your house. So for that reason, Iím announcing my decision tonight to cooperate with the United States government. "

The line killed, in part because the audience at the Taft Theatre on November 2 already knew that here was a man with an utter disdain for authority and a distaste for joining any movement. But Carlinís " announcement " also likely got some of the crowd pumped, because it could so easily be interpreted as an affirmation of the public pledges of allegiance many once-skeptical Americans have recently made.

To be sure, the 15 minutes during which Carlin discussed the war (most of his show deals with toenails, enemas, and the like) were not rah-rah America. He referred to George W. Bush as " Governor. " And his spiel mainly concerned the " reptilian " part of our brains that is interested, above all else, in survival. " If some motherfuckerís coming after me, Iím going to kill him. " Yet he also provoked hawkish applause with lines like, " Civilians are already in play. They were put in play on September 11. " Whose survival, I wondered, was Carlin really concerned with ó his countryís or just his own? When we talked last year, he said, " I donít care if the human race survives. Donít care if democracy survives. Really donít give a shit. "

When I talk to him now, over the phone from New York, itís clear that he still doesnít give a shit. Indeed, he seems surprised at the suggestion that people might take away anything patriotic from his routine, and he vows to rework it. " When I say I donít care if the human race and democracy survive, Iím speaking from a kind of remove in time and space, where I take this incredibly long perspective and say, ĎThis ainít shit, this is a drop in the bucket.í The universe is going to do its own number anyway. Weíre a silly little thing for a half a moment.

" Now if you were to pin me as to personal survival and personal comfort, I would rather choose to live in some form of democratic society, such as the one we have, than anything even approaching the Taliban. And if to protect myself from being personally hurt, I have to have a larger perimeter around me of stability, order, and protection, I will root for that amount of stability, order, and protection. When I think my personal capsule is sufficient to keep me protected, I donít give a fuck what happens outside of it. I like to see the adventure. . . . Iím going to be pulling for the people with the most big guns and the longest telescopes, and thatís what we have. "

Given these sentiments, why do audiences still connect with Carlin? Probably because they know his primary concern is getting laughs. His solution to the war, for instance, involves sending over Midwestern football fans to employ the " highest order of chemical warfare " in an operation called F.A.R.T. (Flatulent Airborne Reaction Team).

Carlin also comes across in one-on-one situations as one of the nicest of famous people. The warmth he shows fans at book signings is abundant. " My personal sympathy, friendliness, and concern for individuals as Iím with them, one at a time, is genuine, because I have this social-animal instinct to make friends, to connect, to communicate gently in small circles. As soon as Iím removed from people, I just have less concern for them. Some people are able to say, ĎOh, those poor people over in Kentucky.í I canít get to Kentucky. I can do all the people in my house and my street, but when I get to Kentucky, it just becomes an interesting thing. "

Carlin is filming the HBO special, his 13th, in Manhattan. As he said in his act, he was " born and bred New York Hospital, Manhattan Island, New York City, New York County, New York State. " And he tells me, " I love New York. Itís my one weakness in my theory of not belonging. "

So with all that has happened to his city, does he regret that future readers of his preĖSeptember 11 book Napalm & Silly Putty (Hyperion) will find this passage?

Big chunks of steel, concrete, and fiery wood falling out of the sky, and people running around trying to get out of the way. Exciting shit! Sometimes an announcer comes on television and says, " Six thousand people were killed in an explosion today. " You say, " Where, where? " He says, " In Pakistan. " You say, " Aww, fuck Pakistan. Too far away to be fun. " But if he says it happened in your hometown, you say, " Whooa, hot shit, Dave! Címon! Letís go down and look at the bodies. "

No, he says. " Iím so proud of that. Itís so prescient. "

George Carlinís Complaints and Grievances airs this Saturday, November 17, at 10 p.m. on HBO.

Issue Date: November 15 - 22, 2001

Back to the Arts table of contents.