George Carlin

Last time I described how my feelings changed about what was once my favorite TV series, NCIS. In this post, I’ll describe how something similar has happened with my feelings about George Carlin (1937-2008), who was once, by far, my favorite standup comedian.

In both cases, I have a sense that my dying affection involves a combination of prolonged exposure magnifying perceived flaws, evolution on my part, and changes on their part. With Carlin, the way he changed in the late 1990s is the lion’s share of my disenchantment. I still revere early George, still rank him among the greatest.

But I never liked “angry George” and his writing from that era is disappointing.

Recently I read a handful of books by comedian Chelsea Handler. I was long intrigued and attracted by her hard-core cynicism, satirical approach, and (let’s be honest) physical attractiveness. Her books, though, made her seem less attractive to me. She’s a piece of work.

[It makes me think that standup comedy is too different from written comedy. Well, duh, of course it is. Think of any really good comedy novelist and try to imagine them doing standup comedy. Very different modes of expression. There is also that a book-length text may offer a bit too much personal insight.]

Reading Handler’s books, which I borrowed from the library, made me think I should see what other books by comedians were available. One of my first posts includes a quote from Carlin’s Brain Droppings, but I’ve never actually read any of his books.

As it turns out, though he made a lot of comedy albums, and appeared in many movies and TV shows, and did 15 HBO specials, he only published a handful of books.

[Which may say something about the difference between performance and written comedy. Handler, who likewise has lots of performances in various venues, including her own TV show, also only has six books (in her case, so far).]

Turned out the library only had one, Three Times Carlin: An Orgy of George (2006). Which I borrowed and am not quite halfway through.

It’s a trilogy of three of his already published books:

  1. Brain Droppings (1997)
  2. Napalm and Silly Putty (2001)
  3. When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? (2004)

It excludes his first book, Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help (1984). I’d like to read that one because it’s early (or at least earlier) George. The guy I really miss. The triple volume doesn’t include his last published book, Last Words (2009).

I got a sinking feeling immediately in the Preface. It starts off okay. He writes about how his standup comedy draws from three sources: word play with the English language (which I’ve always loved; he’s brilliant there), what he calls the “little world” (the everyday things we all experience), and the “big world” (of politics, war, race, death, and so forth).

But then he goes on to say there is “very little in this world that I believe in.” He elaborates on this, saying something I had to highlight so I could mention it here:

I think the human game was up a long time ago (when the high priests and traders took over), and now we’re just playing out the string. And that is, of course, precisely what I find so amusing: the slow circling of the drain by a once promising species, and the sappy ever-more-desperate belief in this country that there is actually some sort of “American Dream,” which has merely been misplaced.

Can’t help but wonder what he’d think of where we are now. The world has gotten a lot stranger, stupider, and more fraught in the last decade-and-a-half.

I fully understand, and to some extent share, his frustrated anger with humanity. But I think he’s over-reacting. He seems not to see any good in anything. We see the world differently here. I’m not prepared to write off humanity (although at times it seems hell-bent on writing itself off).

There is a version of humanity found in literature and art. An aspirational version (which is one reason I so despise the modern writing ethos of wallowing in what we can sink to rather than celebrating what we can rise to). Perhaps it’s overly idealistic on my part, but I still believe in that version of humanity.

I loved and really miss this guy!

I miss the Hippy Dippy Weatherman. [“Weather forecast for tonight: Dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning.”] I loved, and still love, that George Carlin.

I’ve long speculated that Angry George has to do with the death of his first wife, Brenda Hosbrook, who died in 1997. She died of liver cancer in May, the day before Carlin’s 60th birthday. That’ll mess up a person pretty good. Dying of cancer isn’t a sudden process, so it’s easy to assume the seeds of his anger were planted even earlier.

But damn. Turning 60 after having just lost your wife of 36 years? One can see why he might end up hating everything and everyone. I probably would, too.


But Angry George not so much.

It was that blanket hate for everything and everyone that disturbed me. While I share his disappointment, frustration, and anger at the foibles of humanity, while I sometimes even fall into thinking we’ll never amount to anything, I have not lost my sense of what’s possible for us (if we’d only pull our heads out of our collective asses).

It has gotten a lot harder these days with the far-left and far-right demonstrating how stupid and ugly we can be.

Post-modernism and deconstruction seem to have led us to global cynicism and ugliness. The extreme polarization is harder to explain. To me it amounts to a mental illness. An apparently communicable disease of ignorance, stupidity, and hatred.

It is, indeed, hard to see humanity amounting to anything these days. But if we “abandon all hope” then what remains? I know we’re actually better than this. It often feels like we’re in Hell, but Heaven is still within our grasp if we’d but reach for it.


The first crack in my adoration for Carlin involved a bit he did about voting. He was opposed to it. He said that if you voted you lost the right to complain. You only retained that right by not voting.

I see it exactly the opposite. If you refuse to participate, I think you lose the right to have an opinion, let alone complain. One reason the world has turned so ugly is lack of participation. In the 2020 Presidential election, and in the mid-terms that followed, we saw the power of the electorate to disavow the ugliness growing in our country since the late 2000s with the Tea Party movement.

Back in 2013, in response to what I was seeing on the Right (ironic name; should be the Wrong-wing), I posted Republican Terrorism. What was true then has become more and more true with time. The far-Wrong is grinding away at the core of our democracy.

[Have you heard the latest bit of terrorism? Speaker McCarthy turned over all the security video from the January 6 terrorist attack on the Capitol to Fox News. This video, which was deemed a security risk, exposes the locations of security cameras and procedures intended to protect Congress. Handing it over to the Wrong-Wing panders is giving aid and comfort to the enemies of democracy.]

Can’t help but wonder if George might see things differently now. Might see the importance of voting for sanity, rationality, and intelligence.

§ §

With NCIS I retain a (rather muted) love for what it once was. No longer blinded by my love for the show, I see the stupid in the earlier seasons, but I also am reminded in many episodes why I loved the show so much.

With Carlin the disconnect is different. I still rank early Carlin as one of the greatest standup comedians ever. I’ve long used the term “Carlin Class” to describe comedians I thought were excellent. These days I might have to switch to using the term “Chappelle Class” after Dave Chappelle, who I have long admired and who to this day retains an important sense of perspective. And is still deadly funny!

[On the flip side, I used to rank Sarah Silverman as “Carlin Class” but then her brain became clouded with far-left bullshit, and she stopped being funny.]

As an aside, both Chappelle and Carlin (posthumously) were awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. A good call in both cases, I’d say.

I’ll never stop loving some of Carlin’s older bits. His comparison of baseball and football is a classic. (Up there with the Abbott & Costello routine “Who’s on First?”)

Carlin also pointed out that baseball is the only major sport that looks different if viewed in a mirror. That notion in part inspired my Ball Game Symmetry post.

§ §

I’ll end with some bits that caught my eye as I was reading:

American has no now. We’re reluctant to acknowledge the present. It’s too embarrassing. Instead, we reach into the past. Our culture is composed of sequels, reruns, remakes, revivals, reissues, re-releases, re-creations, re-enactments, adaptations, anniversaries, memorabilia, oldies radio, and nostalgia record collections.

Right on, George! As I have often said, I don’t spend much time in the rear-view mirror. The present is enough to occupy me, and what little energy I have left I point to the future, not the past. I’ve also written a lot about the very things George mentions above. It seems to be a form of comfort food. Our warm blankies from the past.

In a screed about politically correct language (e.g. “differently abled” or “native American” — utterly meaningless terms):

And, by the way, when it comes to these liberal language vandals, I must say I agree with their underlying premise: White Europeans and their descendants are morally unattractive people who are responsible for most of the world’s suffering. That part is easy. You would have to be, uh, visually impaired not to see it. The impulse behind political correctness is a good one. But like every good impulse in American it has been grotesquely distorted beyond usefulness.

Right on, again, George! I might dispute that the Europeans were the only source of suffering. There is plenty of suffering in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East by the inhabitants of those places. Evil is everywhere. But he’s not wrong about our ability to take a good idea too far. To the point it becomes destructive.

And speaking of dumb-ass terminology:

First of all, I say “black.” I say “black” because most black people prefer “black.” I don’t say “people of color.” People of color sounds like something you see when you’re on mushrooms. Besides, the use of people of color is dishonest. It means precisely the same as colored people. If you’re not willing to say “colored people,” you shouldn’t be saying “people of color.”

Observations like these are why I love Carlin. (And, incidentally, maybe it’s time the NAACP changed their name? How about NAADP? Disenfranchised?)

I mentioned above that I wonder what George would think of things today. I especially wondered when I read this bit:

I can’t wait until we get a really evil president. Not devious and cunning like Nixon or Johnson, but really, really evil. God, it would be so refreshing.

Would it really, George? Would it really? I certainly didn’t find it so.

Here’s a cute and harmless observation:

The difference between the blues and the blahs is that you can’t sing the blahs.

Good one! Along with:

Santa is Satan spelled inside out.

I wouldn’t say “inside out” — more that the “n” got pushed to the rear of the bus.

I remember this bit of his every time I find myself doing exactly this:

Have you ever noticed that when you’re drivin’, anyone goin’ slower than you is an idiot? And anyone goin’ faster than you is a maniac?

Oh, so true! Because I’m the only driver on the damn road that knows how to drive right. One of his many gems that I’ve cherished and carried in my heart for years.

Last one:

Every time you’re exposed to advertising in American you’re reminded that this country’s most profitable business is still the manufacture, packaging, distribution, and marketing of bullshit. High-quality, grade-A, prime-cut, pure American bullshit.

Which is why I hate advertising so much. We are, indeed, a country, if not a civilization, of bullshit. [See Our BS Culture and Our Fertile Imagination for my posts on this.]

Stay funny, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

4 responses to “George Carlin

  • Wyrd Smythe

    This is post #1300 (on this blog)!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    One thing I noticed reading Carlin is that, while he came to attack everything and everyone, he was always a bit unrelenting when it came to religion and conservative (rather than liberal) values. I can see the seeds of polarization in that. The reflexive disdain for religion and conservatives is a huge part of what led to the counter-reaction by conservatives. “You think we suck? Well, we’ll show you something that really sucks!”

    By voting for an inhumane monster many of them knew was an inhumane monster, but they ignored that because supporting him drove the Left crazy. I’ve always thought it was shooting off your nose to spite your face, but I’ve also always understood where the first seeds were planted. It’s very obvious in Later George.

    [FWIW, Dave Chappelle is far more balanced on these matters. After all, he lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio! He’s part of rural America.]

    I’ll add that, as seems the case with many hard-core atheists, his attacks on “the man in the sky” reveal a profound ignorance of religion and spirituality. (There is another breed of atheist. Those who were religious but never really understood their own religion and ended up rejecting it in favor of the easier to support and understand religion of atheism. And make no mistake. As a metaphysical position, gnostic atheism is just as much a “religion” as gnostic theism. [See my Decisive Agnostic post for more on this.]

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I decided to blow off the last book of three in the collection. I got about 100 pages into it (with 428 remaining) and decided I wasn’t having any fun, so the hell with it.

    I continue to think there is a huge difference between a stand-up performance and the written word. Even so, when I imagine (or in many cases recall) Carlin doing these bits, I still don’t like the anger and hate that exudes from them. A lot of it is more rant than humor, anyway.

    And I’m surprised at how dumb some of the jokes are. I thought Carlin was a better researcher about facts, and it’s possible he does know better but is trading on common perceptions, but still. For instance:

    The say only 10 percent of the brain’s function is known. Apparently, the function of the remaining 90 percent is to keep us from discovering its function.

    It’s been known for a long time that the “10% of the brain” thing is nonsense. And it was never what was known, but what was supposedly used. So, the joke falls doubly flat for me.

    Another aspect I dislike intensely is the hateful condemnation of harmless things others do. For example:

    Don’t you hate when a rock band comes onstage and apparently the drummer has decided that somehow it’s cool to wear a funny hat?

    No, I do not. Would never occur to me to hate something like that.

    I watched the latest comedy special by Sommore on Netflix last night, and a lot of her routine was about shading stuff like that. I just don’t respond to a stand-up comedian dictating the fashion choices of others. And, unfortunately, I don’t understand a lot of her references (I have the same problem with rap; I just don’t get what they’re saying), so I didn’t get much from the show. But she’s not really for me, anyway.

    I followed that with the latest Netflix special by Jim Jeffries and enjoyed that a lot. I’ve enjoyed all his Netflix shows. Funny guy!

  • NCIS: Over and Out | Logos con carne

    […] But that’s another blog post. […]

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