The path according to George Carlin: Jester to Philospher to Poet

Everyone's remembering George Carlin these days. What I'll recall:

1) What a craftsman he was. A master at using words. Subtract the beef of his act and you still have all his little asides and clever wordplay stuff which are pretty amazing on their own. (Btw, here's what Seinfeld said about the way Carlin attacked a topic: "He was like a train hobo with a chicken bone. When he was done there was nothing left for anybody.")

2) The evolutionary leap he made when he transformed from nightclub act to freaky hippy guy, which was more truthful to himself. His audience abandoned him. It was a real risk. Ballsy move that.

3) How eloquent he was when he discussed comedy. You don't hear too many people talk about comedy as a real art form so it's nice when someone does. For example, here's Carlin on Charlie Rose (which somehow I missed on my collection of Charlie Rose comedian interviews).

And The Comic's Comic linked up his last interview which is really fascinating too. Below are some excerpts:

Carlin on inner-facing vs. outer-facing comedy (something discussed here recently):

Self-expression can be based on looking at the world and making observations about it or not. Comedy can also be based on describing one’s inner self—doing anecdotes, talking about your own fears. Woody Allen taps into a lot of self-analysis in his comedy. But I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive. I think self-expression is present at all times, and whether or not you’re talking about the outside world or your responses to it depends on the moment and the subject.


On being an older standup:

A 20-year-old has a limited amount of data they’ve experienced, either seeing or listening to the world. At 70 it’s a much richer storage area, the matrix inside is more textured, and has more contours to it. So, observations made by a 20-year-old are compared against a data set that is incomplete. Observations made by a 60-year-old are compared against a much richer data set. And the observations have more resonance, they’re richer.


On coming at things from a different angle:

I have a talent to amuse and I have a way of finding the joke, a way of expressing things through exaggeration, interesting images, whatever goes in, whatever the parts are that go into making these things work...I try to come in through the side door, the side window, to come in from a direction they’re not expecting, to see something in a different way. That's the job that I give myself. So, how can I talk about something eminently familiar to them, on my terms, in a new way, that engages their imagination?


On being an outsider:

I really have never felt like a participant, I’ve always felt like an observer. Always. I only identified this in retrospect, way after the fact, that I have been on the outside, and I don’t like being on the inside. I don’t like being in their world. I’ve never felt comfortable there; I don’t belong to that.


On jesters becoming poets/philosophers:

The jester makes jokes, he’s funny, he makes fun, he ridicules. But if his ridicules are based on sound ideas and thinking, then he can proceed to the second panel, which is the thinker—he called it the philosopher. The jester becomes the philosopher, and if he does these things with dazzling language that we marvel at, then he becomes a poet too. Then the jester can be a thinking jester who thinks poetically.


On the audience as a single organism:

You know, you get 2500 people, acting as a single organism: the audience is a single organism and it’s you and it. And to have that feeling of mastery up there—it’s an assertion of power: here I am, I have the microphone, you came here for this express purpose. You’re sitting not in tables at nightclubs with waiters and glasses, you’re seated all facing forward in order to enjoy this and here I am, and wait till you hear this! There’s nothing like it in my experience that I could aspire to. It has as much a payoff as writing, which has a big payoff.


On choosing not to belong:

I have maybe five phone numbers. I’m not in show business because I don’t have to go to the meetings, I’m just not a part of it, I don’t belong to it. When you “belong” to something. You want to think about that word, “belong.” People should think about that: it means they own you. If you belong to something it owns you, and I just don’t care for that. I like spinning out here like one of those subatomic particles that they can’t quite pin down.


Good stuff. Also worth checking out: Todd Jackson posted this awesome voicemail that Carlin left him after a young Todd mailed George a package. Pretty fucking cool that he would do that. Reminds me of that phrase "Character is what we do when no one is watching."

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