On Friday, June 13th, 2008, I had the extraordinary privilege of talking to my hero George Carlin. As far as I know it was the last in-depth interview he gave before he passed away yesterday at age 71. Originally it was slated to run as a 350-word Q&A on the back page of Psychology Today. But I was so excited to talk to him—and he was so generous with his time—that I just kept on going. By the end I had over 14,000 words.
On stage, George Carlin came across as a grouch, often vulgar and sometimes misanthropic. But with me he was patient and warm, happy to talk through the minutiae of his creative process and eager to share stories about his childhood, his evolution as a comic, and his influence. What struck me most was the joy in his voice as he talked about the wonderful feeling he got in his gut while writing. I was also moved by the gratitude he expressed for his mother, who he said “saved” him and his brother—leaving her bullying, alcoholic husband when George was just two months old, getting a job during the worst years of the Depression, and raising two boys on her own.
He spoke about the pride he took in his work. As a ninth-grade dropout, he said, it was gratifying to see his words quoted in textbooks, classrooms, and courtrooms. And he was proud to have inspired other comedy greats, who routinely called him to say, “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be doing this.” As he looked back on his astonishingly prolific 50-year career—which includes 130 Tonight Show appearances, 23 albums, 14 HBO specials, three books, and one Supreme Court case—the interview became a sort of retrospective of his life.
Finally, after two hours, he gently mentioned that his arm was getting tired from holding the phone. “I really appreciate all the thought you’ve put into all these questions. Really, it’s the most complete interview I’ve ever done,” he said. “Is it tomorrow yet? I think it is.”
“It feels like it is,” I said, struggling to keep up with his wit.
“All this is for a quote unquote back page?” he said.
“This is for the back page, but, I don’t know, I just love you and your work so much!” I gushed. “I just had so much I wanted to ask.”
At the time, I was embarrassed by what I’d said. But when I heard the sad news this morning, my feelings changed instantly. I’m honored that I got to speak to him, and I’m grateful that I got to tell him how much I admired him before he died.
It would be impossible to overstate George Carlin’s contribution to standup comedy. Along with Richard Pryor and a few others, he essentially created the genre as we know it today. But he was more than just a comedy pioneer. He was a freethinker who never backed down, and he truly changed the course of American culture. He will be missed. —Jay Dixit
What follows are edited highlights. They represent a little over half of the interview.
How do you think about comedy and self-expression? Expressing what’s within vs. looking at the outside world and making observations?
Self-expression is a hallmark of an artist, of art, to get something off one’s chest, to sing one’s song. So that element is present in all art. And comedy, although it is not one of the fine arts—it’s a vulgar art, it’s one of the people’s arts, it’s the spoken word, the writing that goes into it is an art form—it’s certainly artistry. So self-expression is the key to even standing up and saying, “Hey, listen to me.” 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.
Do you go around observing and trying to collect funny things? Or do you just live your life and then say how you feel about what you happen to have seen?
I’m 71, and I’ve been doing this for a little over 50 years, doing it at a fairly visible level for 40. By this time it’s all second nature. It’s all a machine that works a certain way: the observations, the immediate evaluation of the observation, and then the mental filing of it, or writing it down on a piece of paper. I’ve often described the way a 20-year-old versus, say, a 60- or a 70-year-old, the way it works. 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.
So if I write something down, some observation—I see something on television that reminds me of something I wanted to say already—the first time I write it, the first time I hear it, it makes an impression. The first time I write it down, it makes a second impression, a deeper path. Every time I look at that piece of paper, until I file it in my file, each time, the path gets a little richer and deeper so that these things are all in there.
Now at this age, I have a network of knowledge and data and observations and feelings and values and evaluations I have in me that do things automatically. And then when I sit down to consciously write, that’s when I bring the craftsmanship. That’s when I pull everything together and say, how I can best express that? And then as you write, you find more, ’cause the mind is looking for further connections. And these things just flow into your head and you write them. And the writing is the really wonderful part. A lot of this is discovery. A lot of things are lying around waiting to be discovered and that’s our job is to just notice them and bring them to life.
Do you think that the richness you described comes from just being able to access more experiences, having information on file? Or is it judgment?
Well, that’s true, too. The machine that does all this learns what it is you want—it learns what it is that serves your purpose and it begins to tailor the synthesis. It synthesizes these observations and these comparisons. Comedy’s all about comparisons and contrasts and congruities and incongruities and heightenings and understatement and exaggeration. The mind has all of that stuff built in, and it learns which ones pay off the best for you. It’s probably related to the pleasure center. You get so much pleasure finding good observations and finding which things are the richest things you can say, that probably the brain remembers how that happened and learns to provide the best stuff. Maybe you have a little silent editor in there.
You talked about how comedy’s all about incongruities, contrasts, exaggeration. Do you think about those techniques or those principles of humor consciously?
It happens automatically. Sometimes there’s a conscious heightening, you’ll recognize you’ve just chosen an image to make a point. Then your mind will just suddenly throw something at you that’s stronger—a heightening, to raise the stakes, a stronger word, a more visceral image, something that lights up the imagination, much better than the original thought. So you’re aware that you’re heightening and exaggerating further but you don’t use the word exaggeration or anything like that. All that stuff is just happening. And sometimes, afterward, I’ll look at something and say, “If I were giving a comedy lecture, that would be a good example.” I often think in those terms.
Do you think there are any downsides to having gotten to the point where you are, where all of this is happening automatically? Or are there some advantages a 20-year-old would have?
Well, I would imagine there are some that I can’t put my finger on because I don’t remember what it was like. I was a different man. I don’t know—the advantage that a 20 year old would have would be more longevity to look forward to.
You talked about how wonderful it is, this feeling of writing. So what is your process like?
I take a lot of single-page notes, little memo pad notes. I make a lot of notes on those things. For when I’m not near a little memo pad, I have a digital recorder. Most of the note-taking happens while I’m watching television.
Because the world is undifferentiated on the television set. You may be watching the news channel, but it’s going to cover the breadth of American life and the human experience. It’s gonna go from suicide bombings to frivolous consumer goods. It’s a broad window on the world, and a lot of things are already established in my mind as things I say, things that I’m interested in, things that are fodder for my machine. And when I see something that relates to one of them, I know it instantly and if it’s a further exaggeration and a further addition, or an exception—if it plays into furthering my purpose, I jot it down.
When I harvest the pieces of paper and I go through them and sort them, the one lucky thing I got in my genetic package was a great methodical left brain. I have a very orderly mind that wants to classify and index things and label them and store them according to that. I had a boss in radio when I was 18 years old, and my boss told me to write down every idea I get even if I can’t use it at the time, and then file it away and have a system for filing it away—because a good idea is of no use to you unless you can find it. And that stuck with me.
And what’s your filing system?
There’s a large segment of it devoted to language, which is a love of mine. And a rich area for my work talking about how we talk. One of the files is called “The Way We Talk.” And it’s about certain voguish words that come into style and remain there. But then there are subfiles. Everything has subfiles. There’s one that says “Crime.” There’s “Crime” and there’s “Law,” there’s “Sex” and there’s “Race.” And there’s “Humans”—that’s obviously a big folder with a lot of smaller folders in it, it’s about the human race and the human species and experiences and observations I have about that, or data that I’ve found about it. You know, 6 million people stepped on land mines this year. Those things interest me.
And there’s “America,” and America is a major category, of course. It breaks down into the culture, and the culture breaks down into further things. It’s like nested boxes, like the Russian dolls—it’s just folders within folders within folders. But I know how to navigate it very well, and I’m a Macintosh a guy and so Spotlight helps me a lot. I just get on Spotlight and say, let’s see, if I say “asshole” and “minister,” I then can find what I want find.
What’s the process of going from something that’s true about the world—observing it—to actually making people laugh?
I begin with the knowledge that my audience knows me thoroughly. I know the things they will trust coming from me, and I know they’ll allow me to do exposition that’s necessary to set the stage for the piece of material. The funny—that’s part of the genetic package. The genetic marker for language came through my family. My grandfather, whom I didn’t know, was a New York City policeman. I did not know him. During his adult life, he wrote out Shakespeare’s tragedies longhand just for the joy it gave him. And he asked questions about language at his dinner table, my mother told me. My mother had a great love of language, and a great gift for language. The Irish have a genetic tradition, it seems, an affinity for language and expression. And so I got that. The Irish say: “You don’t lick it off the rocks, kid.” It comes in the blood. So, I have that and I don’t have to do anything about it.
As Noel Coward said, “All I ever had was a talent to amuse.” 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. One of the voguish terms, which is so repellant to me, “thinking outside the box.” To settle for that kind of language is embarrassing. But that’s a very useful picture. 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?
The jokes come. You don’t look for them. It’s all automatic, and, I think, genetic. My father was an after dinner speaker, was a great raconteur. He was an ad salesman for space in newspapers during the 1930s, when that was the primary medium of advertising, and my mother was in advertising her whole life. They both were very funny, and they both were very gifted verbally. So, those things come to you automatically. It’s like being a child prodigy with the violin or the piano. It’s not something you try for or you have to do too much about except work at it. And that’s what I try to do.
How is it that you find things that are unexpected?
I don’t know. But I want to add an element I overlooked. Psychology. We’re talking about a magazine called Psychology Today.
As a child, my father was gone. I had no grandparents; they were all dead. Had no real cousins to play with, and I didn’t give a shit, frankly. I experienced my life in a very happy way, but, what I want to say to you is, I was alone as a child. My father was dead. My mother left him when I was 2 months old and he died when I was 8 years old. He drank too much and he was a bully and she had the courage to take two boys, one of them two months old and one of them 5 years old and to leave him in 1937 and get back into the business world and get a job and raise us through the end of the Depression and through the Second World War. She did a great job, but she was at work until 7 or 7:30 at night many nights.
So I spent a lot of time on my own. In the house or out around the neighborhood or sneaking in the subway, going down to 42nd street, traveling around Manhattan Island, learning it as a youngster. And I experienced that—because psychologists ask you not if something’s good or bad, but how do you experience it—I experienced that as freedom, independence, autonomy. And I was brought up on that feeling. That’s what made me, I think, able to quit school, and go out and try to start my life and career early, because I had that strength.
And my mother had that strength. I witnessed it. I mean, what she did was she took us away from him and saved us. So, those qualities of being alone like that fostered in me a need for adult approval and attention. Now they say that it’s kind of a common cliché that comedians just want attention. But it’s an element that’s very important. The job is called “look at me.” That’s the name of this job. “Look at me. Ain’t I smart? Ain’t I cute? Ain’t I clever?”
I needed to be—not the center of attention—but I needed to be able to attract attention when I wanted it, through my stunts and my fooling around physically with faces or postures or voices I would do. Then it became funny the things I would say, and I became more of a wit than simply a mimic and a clown. And so, those things were all important in this. The fact that I didn’t finish school left me with a lifelong need to prove that I’m smart, prove it to myself, maybe to the world. “Ain’t I smart, ain’t I cute, ain’t I clever.” “Listen to me, listen to what I got to say.” So, those things are important elements in the drive behind all of this.
You made an analogy to playing the violin. I wanted to ask you about mastery. You’ve been doing this for, as you said, over 50 years, and it seems like you’ve only gotten better with time. So I’m wondering what you think has enabled you to do that. Is it like playing the violin? Is it just practice? Is it getting good feedback? Is it—you know, what is it that allows you to hone your craft?
The feedback that I’ve gotten has been through the success of the career. That’s a reinforcing factor. I say: Oh, that works, oh that’s what I do, I see. I think with anything you do over a long period of time, you should be getting better at it. I’m talking about craft, art, or drive that comes from inside.
What is your philosophy about physical performance? You walk around a lot, you make a lot of gestures.
It’s just second nature, you don’t think about it at all. And I don’t pace as much on stage as I used to, maybe it’s my age, I don’t know. I don’t feel limited physically, in that respect, but it’s just something I’ve grown into.
Were you always making people laugh, sort of automatically, just because of your personality?
Yeah. As I was describing, this is a job for a showoff. In those 8 years of grammar school that I had—the 9th year was kind of a it was a Irish catholic Christian brothers, and it was a much more brutal setting than these lovely nuns we had. So I think of those 8 years as my education. I got the work very easily, I didn’t have any trouble grasping the work, and so I had time to clown, time to signal to my buddy, make a face, make a fart under the arm, I was a bit of a class clown, I was a neighborhood cut-up.
I eventually started doing routines when I was about 14, 15 16. I would do routines on the street corner for my buddies on the stoop. My mother wanted me to finish high school, go to college, be an advertising man, be a businessman like the men at her office whom she admired. But she couldn’t stop this other machine that was revving up.
I had an 8th grade graduation from the grammar school—it was the only graduation I ever had. And in 9th grade, while I was at that school, I had a Brother, one of the brothers who taught, his name was Brother Conrad. My mother had said to me, now George, I didn’t get you a graduation present, and this was June 1951, this was now the fall of 1951, when I’m in first year of high school. She said, “I didn’t get you a graduation present, so you be thinking about what you might want.”
Brother Conrad was telling the class one day that because he had a clergyman’s discount rate, he could get cameras for people. Then he mentioned tape recorders and man, the bell went off in my head! Tape recorders at that time were virtually unknown to the average person. They may have heard about them here or there. They were not consumer items.
She bought me a tape recorder, a Webcor. And that became a tool for me to put some of these verbal impulses to work. I began to produce little radio shows on it at home by using the phonograph. Playing a record on the phonograph, like playing the Dragnet theme. Dun da dun dun. Dun da dun dun duuun.
Then I would fade the phonograph down and I would come in and I would do my make-believe announcer. I did newscasts, I did sports. A lot of the things that I ventured into professionally in my first stage of comedy I was doing on that tape recorder. I recorded a whole half hour of story—it was like a vignette, like a series of vignettes, a drama, about my neighborhood. And guess what: I made fun of authority figures.
So my mother—in spite what she wanted me to do for her, to be a great reflection on her, go to college and be a businessman—she knew this was something I needed. And she got that for me, and it helped accelerate the beginnings of my putting this dream together that I had. I was 14 when I got that tape recorder. They were the size of a Buick. They were not little handy things. And she was smart enough to get me one. That’s an important part of my development.
Can you remember the first joke you ever told?
No. But I do remember the first time I ever made my mother laugh. And unfortunately, it’s lost on me what it was I said. But I noticed the moment, I knew something had happened, this was when I was very young. My mother laughed fairly frequently. But I knew the difference between her social laugh and her really spontaneous laugh when she was caught off guard—which is the key to laugher, being off guard. And I said something to her, and I saw that in her and it registered with me. And it made the point. I wouldn’t have remembered it as well as I do if it hadn’t meant a lot to me. It was a kind of a little mark along the way, a little badge of honor. It meant I had said something witty. I didn’t clown, I wasn’t making a face or standing in a funny angle. I had said something witty. I had probably turned some situation around, exaggerated one element, and made a joke.
I want to talk about the transformation that you did in the 60s when you went from what you once termed the “middle-American comic” to this different persona—it was much more subversive. How did that happen and why did that happen?
I was always swimming against the tide. I was always out of step. Not only did I quit school, but I got kicked out of three schools along the way. I eventually got asked to leave the air force a year early—it wasn’t dishonorable, but it was a general discharge, which is a step down—because I did not shape up, I didn’t like authority, I had three court-martials. I was kicked off the alter boys, I was kicked off the choirboys, I was kicked out of the boy scouts, I was kicked out of summer camp. I never fit and I didn’t like conforming. And sometimes it just broke through the membrane, and I was out.
By the end of the 60s, all of my friends, the musician friends of mine, had gone through a transition in their dress, and especially in their music, and what I noticed was that all of these great artists—Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, Joan Baez—all of these people were using their art to express themselves politically and socially. And I was not. I was still doing people-pleasing.
I was 30, and I resonated much more truly with the 20-year-olds. I was more in line with them than I was with these people I was entertaining in nightclubs. I began to notice that. I began to be affected by it, and along the way, the judicious use of some mescaline and some LSD managed to accelerate the process. It gave me more of an insight into how false the world was I was settling for, and to see that there was something much richer and better and more authentic. And those changes happened, they just—they happened naturally and organically. It took about 2 years for the total changeover to occur.
My beard got a little longer, the hair got a little longer, the clothing changed, and then I suddenly found myself being as—the best combination of both, this person I really was who was kind of out of step, antiauthoritarian, who also had these skills and talents that he was honing to express himself. And so I started expressing those feelings.
In what way did the mescaline and LSD give you the insight and the confidence to make this transformation? What role did the drugs play?
Well, It was just passive, I don’t know. See, I had always been a marijuana smoker, a pretty heavy user of marijuana, all these years I’m talking about when I was in this other world of mainstream television, nightclubs. So marijuana is a hallucinogen and it is also a value-changing drug, as are acid and mescaline. They are hallucinogens and they are value-changing drugs. They alter, assist in shifting one’s perspective on the world which usually is informed by your values. And so I had already, my body, my mind, and myself—I already had a kind of a thick layer of this out-of-stepness.
And so I was already across that street. And I just hadn’t, you know, bought a house on that side yet. So, the LSD was a much stronger experience, and the mescaline, and I don’t know what they did or how they did it, I just know that going through that gave me the confidence in these changes I was feeling, in this direction, this metamorphosis, I was in the middle of. I gained confidence in it and I took strength from it, feeling that I was right that I was really on the right path, that I was being true to myself. And that was what counted to me, to be true to myself—my mother had always said that. To thine—Shakespeare—“To thine own self be true.” She loved quoting the classics, and she quoted Emerson or Shakespeare or whoever it was she thought was appropriate for her lesson. And to thine own self be true. And I just—I just had to be who I felt like I was, not who I had led them to believe I was.
So after that transformation, to what extent is the persona that you have on stage—to what extent is it your real personality? I know you’re making jokes and some of that involves exaggeration, but do you feel that you’re acting angrier, more bitter, more caustic on stage? Or are you just being yourself as accurately as possible?
I’ve addressed this before when the question is asked more bluntly: Are you an angry man? What are you angry about; what are you so angry about? I don’t live an angry life, not an angry person. I rarely lose my temper, can’t remember the last time, never had a physical fight in my life, don’t carry grudges, don’t carry resentment either. Very very lucky in those respects. But I feel a very strong alienation and dissatisfaction from my groups.
Abraham Maslow said the fully realized man does not identify with the local group. When I saw that, it rang another bell. I thought: bingo! I do not identify with the local group, I do not feel a part of it. 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. So, when he says the “local group,” I take that as meaning a lot of things: the local social clubs or fraternal orders, or lodges or associations or clubs of any kind, things where you sacrifice your individual identity for the sake of a group, for the sake of the group mind. I’ve always felt different and outside. Now, I also extended that, once again in retrospect, as I examined my feelings.
I don’t really identify with America, I don’t really feel like an American or part of the American experience, and I don’t really feel like a member of the human race, to tell you the truth. I know I am, but I really don’t. All the definitions are there, but I don’t really feel a part of it. I think I have found a detached point of view, an ideal emotional detachment from the American experience and culture and the human experience and culture and human choices.
But even if I am a cynic, they say if you scratch a cynic, you find a disappointed idealist—that’s what’s underneath. That’s the little flicker of flame, has a little life in it, the idealist: I would love to be able to entertain that side of me, but it doesn’t work like that. I don’t see what’s in it yet, I mean I just like it out here.
I’m not an angry person, just very disappointed and contemptuous of my fellow humans’ choices—and on stage those feelings sometimes are exaggerated for a theatric stage—you’re on a stage you have an audience of 2500 or 3000 people: you need to project the feelings, the emotions it’s heightened, and people mistake it for a personal anger but it’s more dissatisfaction, disappointment and contempt for these things we’ve settled for.
So it sounds like it is your true personality, but it’s heightened for the stage.
It is my true personality, but it’s not an angry personality. Anger is a handy term and boy words are tricky, as we know. What one man perceives as anger, another person—in my case the deliverer of material—is, “Don’t you see it, don’t you see how badly you’re doing?” It’s like shaking a child—which you’re not supposed to do.
So let me latch onto that feeling. You’re grabbing somebody and you’re saying, “Don’t you see it?” But if you really don’t care about America, then why are you doing it? Why are you on stage? Is it just because you want to express yourself? Do you hope you can influence people in some way?
You’ve hit on the contradiction, and it’s one I don’t understand the resolution to, if there is one. Sometimes people say, do I try to make audiences think? I say: No no no, because that really would be the kiss of death. But what I want them to know is that I’m thinking. It’s part of that showoff and dropout syndrome. I think I need to show them that I have brought myself to a cleverer, smarter spot than they have. In doing so, “Can’t you see this? can’t you see?” And a lot of them do. I get amazing things said to me. And they’re frequent enough that I know these things are multiplied by those who have never encountered you. One person who says, “You really changed my outlook on things or the way I view X Y or Z,” for everyone who says that to you, there are a thousand, ten thousand who’ll never get to tell you that. There are people who take something away form what I do, and I know that and it pleases me and I am proud of that. And it means the student is a bit of a teacher.
But yeah, of course I care. Of course I care. My daughter has pinned me on that. She says of course you care, can’t you hear it? And I say yeah yeah yeah, but they gotta prove it to me first. Show me you care people and then I’ll let some of it out; right now I just want to scold you a little bit.
So how would you say that you feel towards people? You say on the one hand you are sort of contemptuous but on the other hand you want their approval in some way? Is that not a contradiction?
Yeah, it sounds like it has the makings of a contradiction; I guess by definition it does. I am contemptuous of the mass. That’s the thing I need to explain. One on one with people, I have great capacity and great compassion. I don’t like standing around 20 minutes talking to somebody, but when I see individuals, I see their individual beauty. I’m aware of the potential—and I don’t mean this happened every time I meet someone—but when I see people, I sort of see the potential for the whole species. When you look in their eyes, you can see a hologram of the human species and you kind of know what we could have been. It’s the group behavior that I’m talking about on stage.
Let’s switch gears a little bit and let me ask you about religion. I mean you were talking about it decades ago. Now, atheism and religion bashing have gone mainstream: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris. You were way ahead of the curve. What’s it like hearing them saying many of the things you said in the 1970s?
I’ve read some of the books you’ve mentioned and some of the reasons of existence and God and what a bad name religion has given God. I just kind of do this, I just keep moving along. I don’t really judge it… I reserve my evaluations and judgments for the parts that I do, the lines I add. I don’t think about myself in the larger world very much.
Richard Dawkins did use an excerpt of mine for a chapter heading. I noticed that. It’s nice. Not to overdo this thing, but when you’re a dropout and the culture accepts you and begins to quote and they teach some of your stuff in communications class and communications law and I hear this all the time and professors ask to use things in their textbooks, this is kind of my honorary baccalaureate. When these things happen I think good, well, there’s a little thumb on my chest, feather in my cap. I notice those things, and I feel good about what I’ve chosen and how I do it. As Lily Tomlin once said, and I am going to get this wrong so it’s a paraphrase, she said to be considered a success in a mediocre culture doesn’t say a lot for you.
You were central in the Supreme Court case in which justices affirmed the government’s right to regulate your “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” act on the public airwaves. How do you think about the role of vulgarity in your humor?
I used to point out that when I was a little boy in the 40s, I was told to look up to and admire solders and sailors, policemen, firemen, and athletes, were objects of childhood hero worship. We all know how they talk. So apparently these words do not corrupt morally. This was the thing I couldn’t put together.
I use the words because I’m from that ethos. I’m from the street in New York, hung around in a tough neighborhood. It was common to curse, you make your point. It’s a very effective language. I try not to overdo it. It’s never to shock. I know where it fits, it’s never to shock. There’s no shock value left in words. Humor is base on surprise, and surprise is a milder way of saying shock. It’s surprise that makes the joke.
What’s the funniest bit you’ve ever heard?
Sometimes jokes have a wonderful logic to them. I’ll give you one that, even to people that don’t mind mild cursing, bothers some people—especially women. Short joke. The wonderful thing about it is the logic of the joke, the ingenuity.
Father and son, little son are out on the back porch, passing the day, father says to son, “Do you have perhaps any questions for me about sex?” And he says, “Well, yeah Dad, what is that hairy area on Mommy?” And the father says, “Well, that’s her vulva.” And the boy says, “Well then what’s a cunt?” And the father says, “That’s rest of Mommy.”
And that joke strikes a nerve, hits a chord—men who’ve been divorced more than twice really like that. It makes beautiful use of that man’s thought. To arrive at that distinction—to take it from the real to the figurative. From cunt as a sexual part to cunt as a term of derision for women, just as men are called assholes by certain women—and they deserve it. It’s funny how we use words. The fact that a mean woman is called a cunt and a mean man is called a prick. I have a long thing I’d like to write someday about language and the way we address each other.
How has your comedy changed over the years?
You know for a guy who didn’t do homework, the thing that’s happened is this: that 6th grade showoff that kid who had to sing a song at meetings, who won the medal at camp for being funniest guy at amateur night 5 years in a row. He didn’t do his homework then. I didn’t do book reports, but now what’s happened is that showoff has a partner who does his homework and the left/right brain are allied, united, now in a way they weren’t. I’m using my organizational ability, and my writing ability which is careful process, informed by art, but still a craft of putting things together, I’ve somehow become more integrated. I do my homework now but I stand up and show off. So I got both, I got the best of both sixth grade worlds.
You asked me to remind you to tell me about Arthur Koestler.
That was another impact. I was doing nightclub comedy down in the Village. I was down there in ’63, ’64, and my friend told me about Arthur Koestler’s book about the act of creation and it had a section on humor.
He was talking about the creative process. There was an illustration on the panel that showed a triptych. On the left panel, there were these names of artistic pursuits. There were poets, painter, composer. And one of them was jester. I was only interested in the jester. What he said about each of these, he said these individuals on the left hand side can transcend the panels of the triptych by creative growth.
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.
I didn’t see that and say, “That’s what I am going to do,” but I guess it made an impression on me. I was never afraid to grow and change. I never was afraid of reversing my field on people, and I just think I’ve become a touch of each of those second and third descriptions and I definitely have a gift for language that is rhythmic and attractive to the ear, and I have interesting imagery which I guess is a poetic touch. And I like the fact that most of my things are based on solid ideas, things I’ve thought about in a new way for me, things for which I have said “Well, what about this? Suppose you look at it this way? How about that?” And then you heighten and exaggerate that, because comedy’s all about heightening and exaggerating. And anyways I guess I was impressed that there was another thing from my early life that probably at least influenced me to some level.
It sounds like you think of yourself much more as a writer than a performer—is that true? How do you think about performing?
It’s my primary delivery system. I used to, in my early years, when I would do an interview I was always proud to tell the writer that I wrote my own material, if they asked me or even if they didn’t. I wanted to be distinguished from the ones who didn’t do that, and I was proud of it, so I would say I am a comedian who writes his own material. And then at some point, I discovered what I really had become was a writer who performs his own material.
This was a really important distinction for me to notice—it happened way after the fact. I’m a writer. I think of myself as a writer. First of all, I’m an entertainer; I’m in the vulgar arts. I travel around talking and saying things and entertaining, but it’s in service of my art and it’s informed by that. So I get to write for two destinations. The writing is what gives me the joy, especially editing myself for the page, and getting something ready to show to the editors, and then to have a first draft and get it back and work to fix it, I love reworking, I love editing, love love love revision, revision, revision, revision.
And computers changed my life, the fact that you can move text as easily as you can move text, and say, “Wait a minute, these two things belong together, these two things go together, page 2 and page 5: similar ideas, put ’em together!” But the person who is most a part of me is the performer, is the standup, the guy who says, “Hey look at me, listen to this!” I do that because that’s what I do, I love doing it.
And I love the feeling I get in my gut when I’m watching on the computer screen that is close to being realized the way I would like it to be. the feeling I get in my gut is “Wait’ll they hear this, wait’ll I tell them this, I can’t wait to tell them!” It’s like the guy on the end of the bench: “Put me in coach, put me in!” They call to me, I can tell which ones are pregnant, which ones need to be moved up to a higher level of readiness, and it’s because I can’t wait to say them, I can’t wait to share them with people.
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.
So, sitting in front of a computer, “Wait till they hear this, this is great material.” What’s the difference between that and actually standing on stage hearing the audience roaring with laughter?
The difference is, at the computer you can stop, think back, think forward, look around, turn the page as it were, you can see the whole world all at once. On stage you’re only in a single moment ever—your mind can hear what you just said. This is a funny thing that happens for me: when I’m up there doing something I’ve memorized perfectly, and it has pauses in it—and of course the laughs are all the pauses. As you’re going along, you’re thinking of what you’re saying, you want to give it the proper vocal values, so you are kind of thinking about it, not reaching for the words, but kind of thinking about them. You’re also aware of the echo of what you just said, and whether it worked or not, and what that might mean. It’s all part of the trigonometry, I guess. And then there is the faint anticipation of what comes next.
It’s like the feeling of conducting an orchestra. It’s like conducting an orchestra, this group of people who already like you, predisposed to appreciate you, at your service, at you’re command, and you’re just waving the baton and bringing them in, leading them forward and it’s just a nice kind of feeling.
Let me ask you about your influence—how do you feel that you have influenced other comedians?
I hear that from some of them, who say, “I wouldn’t be doing this were it not for you.” I talked to a very prominent name in comedy today who wanted to pay me some kind compliments about the recent HBO show, he hasn’t been able to catch up with me, I won’t mention him, but everybody would know his name. He said also in passing, “You know, I wouldn’t be doing this without you.” There have been people, who, I don’t know, because I came along at a certain time. Richard Pryor and I went through our changes at the same time, he became prominent at the same time. I had this kind of reemergence. I’m sure Richard Pryor would hear those things. I’m sure Woody Allen hears those things. I don’t take them as singular to me. But I know they’re true when I’m told, I realized I could be myself, could talk about this and that and not be afraid; I’m sure all artists hear similar things, especially ones who have lasted a while.
[Note: Jerry Seinfeld has since identified himself as the prominent comedian who spoke to George Carlin just before I did. “I called him to compliment him on his most recent special on HBO,” writes Seinfeld in a New York Times op-ed. “Seventy years old and he cranks out another hour of great new stuff. He was in a hotel room in Las Vegas getting ready for his show. He was a monster.” —JD]
Do you mentor other comedians?
No. I’m not collegial, I don’t hang out. I’m soloist, I like my solitude, I don’t really hang around with comedians—this person I talked to today, I now have his phone number. 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.
Has your sense of humor helped you in other areas of your life, besides your career as a professional comedian? Meeting people? Making friends? Dealing with loss?
I don’t know about any of those aspects. But I know that the art of not taking things seriously often bleeds over into the self, to not take yourself too seriously. You can tell from my answers that I take what I do very seriously, and I think about it. But I don’t really take myself that seriously.
I know that I’ve accomplished a good deal. I was just nominated for this year’s Mark Twain prize at the Kennedy Center, so these things over the years mean, “Yeah, good job, George.” I don’t take myself very seriously, though, at least I don’t think so. I try to see the reality and not get carried away with the emotion. What’s the reality? What’s going on here? What’s the ground floor? What’s the reality? Let’s look at the situation: “So he’s dead, she’s hurt, and you don’t feel good.” OK, so let’s figure this out.
I like to say two things in life that mean the most: genetics and luck. When you look at it realistically, genetics is luck too. Because you could have been born in some really terrible situation and never had a chance to realize yourself or see who you were. And so the luck of genetics and then after that, circumstances, those are the two guiding things. Knowing what to do about it, taking advantage of it, that’s fine, that’s good, good for you. But still, those two elements mean everything.
My arm is getting tired here. The crook of my arm.
I guess I’m pretty much done. We’ve been talking for a long time and I really appreciate your taking all this time. Was there a good question you thought people should ask that never got asked?
No, because you covered some of the ones, as they came along. As I looked at the list yesterday, I thought the list gave me an opportunity for several places where I want, need to be heard—such as the anger thing, development, and the changes I went through in the late 60s. They were all in there so I feel good.
So the last question is: What are you working on now?
I have a piece of material that I’m doing on stage these days. I’m in Las Vegas now. I do weekends here, I do four nights on weekends as part of my year of touring. I go mostly to concert halls and theaters, around 80 or 90 of ’em a year. But I come down here around three or four. So I’m down here. This piece of material called, “There’s Too Much Fucking Music,” which is my way of looking at… how much music there is, I guess. It’s just my way of looking at the world and saying something that people don’t notice and figuring out a new way. And it’s filled with exaggeration and stuff. I’m doing that on stage a little bit. I’m not giving myself any pressure.
The lady in my life Sally Wade and I are waiting for our house to be finished remodeling. We’re in temporary quarters. It’s kind of onerous. We’re lucky we found a place right down the street but the price we pay for being right down the street is that it’s not really suitable in terms of space and structure for our needs. So we’re really in combat duty. It’s been a tough time. Not so tough you can’t work it out, you know, but just enough so it’s broken some of my work habits. And I’m enjoying my break from them and I know where I have to go on the next book, I have a book that I’m going to start organizing the files, reorganizing, renaming, reclassifying, putting things together, taking things apart. And there’ll be another HBO show as these pieces on stage begin to take form.
Is there anything else you want to add?
No! And I really appreciate all the thought you’ve put into all these questions. Really, it’s the most complete interview I’ve ever done. Is it tomorrow yet? I think it is.
Submitted by Caryanne on June 28, 2008 – 11:29am.
“I bet he is down there..smiling up at us … ”
How does your grandma’s cookies taste ..being able to bake them without an oveN? crispy i bet… 😉
i bet u are a celestial light being bouncing around the galactic universe not giving a f*ck that we are missing you..
😉 as it should be.
Happy Retirement!! Love love love
Submitted by Ferris on June 23, 2008 – 3:10pm.
I think the best element of the interview is the fact that you can literally hear
Mr. Carlin refining what might be called his “philosophy of comedy” as he answers your questions – he has obviously spent considerable time meditating on his role as a comedian and this interview provides him with a medium in which to develop that meditation. He is a perfect interviewee for ”Psychology Today” because he is naturally inclined towards thinking about the psychological aspects of humor; and he seemed very happy to have an interviewer who permitted him to speak about such aspects at length and who inspired thoughtful response.
Submitted by ASHLEY KENDRICK on June 25, 2008 – 5:43am.
I completely agree with you on this one. I could hear his voice in my head as was reading. I could see his face. Carlin was a genius. He didn’t need formal education. He’s on a higher level.
Submitted by Bernie on June 23, 2008 – 3:20pm.
Superb and enlightening. I linked to your post from my article I have 7 Words for George Carlin who Died at 71
Submitted by Rebecca Skloot on June 23, 2008 – 3:40pm.
Amazing interview, Jay. Thanks for posting it. What he said about art and his process is well put and inspiring. There is much here that makes me sad he’s gone (which has been my constant state today) but also happy we had him as long as we did.
Submitted by JC on June 23, 2008 – 3:57pm.
This interview is a wonderful summation of George Carlin, not just his ‘act’, but George Carlin the person and how he wrote and perceived the world. A real "writer’s writer” type of interview, as it were. It is rare nowadays to be able to read something insightful and comprehensive, that takes the length needed to develop a point and does not cram everything into a pat sound bite. I’m glad we’re left with this fortuitous last memory of him. Thanks Jay, and RIP George.
Submitted by Michael J. Formica, MS, MA, EdM on June 23, 2008 – 5:44pm.
You are much younger than I, but Carlin defined us Boomers as a generation. He said out loud what we feared to say, and gave voice to our silence. In his passing, our voice is less. Thank you for sharing this extraordinary moment.
Submitted by Bud WIlkinson on June 23, 2008 – 6:29pm.
Great interview, Jay… Back in the summer of 1974 when I was doing a newspaper internship for The Register in Torington, CT, George Carlin was booked to play the the Oaksdale Theatre in Wallingford. Being a huge fan, I thought doing an interview with him would be the coolest thing in the world. I was between my junior and senior years of college and, frankly, still very wet behind the ears. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. While some of the details are fuzzy, I remember taking my girl friend to the show and sneaking down front to take a picture as he performed. Carlin stopped the show and mugged a bit for me, which was simultaneously embarrassing and thrilling. After the show, we went backstage and I was introduced to him, only to be told by him that he really didn’t want to do an interview – but that he wanted to hear it directly from his mouth, not from some underling. While disappointed, I was nonetheless pleased to have met him. Here it is decades later, and I’ve since interviewed thousands of celebrities, but he’s the only person to have ever had the class and taken the time to turn me down in person. I realize that this is kind of a self-serving anecdote, but my admiration for him as a person has remained steadfast since that night because of his graciousness and professionalism. And he was damn good at what he did, too.
Submitted by John Mankiewcz on June 25, 2008 – 4:33pm.
I read this very insightful interview all the while thinking of the first time I saw George Carlin perform at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT, back in the early 1970s. I was maybe 14 at the time and I won 2 tickets to see him from a local radio station. Had no idea who he was. Never heard of him. Our neighbors at the time were a couple somewhat younger than my parents. They insisted that I go and that I take my brother with me. We had no idea of his reputation or brand of comedy.
Needless to say, we were blown away, and at that age it was embarassing as hell to pee in your pants, but we both did at least once that evening. Mr. Carlin doesn’t remember the first joke he told but my brother and I both remember to this day the first words we ever heard him speak: "This place is so long you could grow spaghetti in here.” Not a gut-buster, but the way he said it was hysterical. Hard to explain and he will be missed.
Submitted by Tommy Rocksalt on June 23, 2008 – 8:31pm.
I love how he chooses to bring the conversation towards psych on his own.
Submitted by Anonymous on June 23, 2008 – 9:12pm.
Thank you for making the effort to transcribe all of that and give us access to that kind of insight. Selected quotes in a feature story don’t tell you as much about a person as just hearing (reading) them talk.
People in the future will study Carlin, and having such a great final interview is an asset.
Submitted by Joe on June 23, 2008 – 10:20pm.
What a great interview and what a horrendous loss for people who love to laugh. Carlin was rare unadulterated genius. Saw him once live at the Sahara and it was a showroom full of people of all ages and walks of life at his mercy, all howling in unison with gut-aching laughter. I rarely get too broken up about people I didn’t know personally departing this veil but I truly feel I’ve lost a close friend today. Thanks forever George.
Submitted by Anonymous on June 23, 2008 – 11:03pm.
Where is the audio for this interview?
Submitted by jimbo92107 on June 24, 2008 – 12:21am.
I have some of the same feelings of being an observer always on the outside looking in. Carlin was right in so many ways, and his humor was such a nice way of delivering sound philosophy.
And for those who think smoking pot makes you stupid, what better rejoinder than George Carlin, one of the world’s most civilized men.
Submitted by Just another fan of Genious on June 26, 2008 – 8:28pm.
Robert Camus …The Stranger, is a book about alienation syndrome. The feeling of not belonging to a society and feeling more as an observer as opposed to belonging. The Catcher in the Rye, is another book which has a very similar tone, about they hypocracy within a society. However true all this may be, each person has the responsibility to pave his own way in life. Life is never easy for anyone in any given society. It’s all about survival. Life may not always be pretty, but we must draw our strengths from somewhere. In his case, he laughed about it all. Take care. ( from just another fan of genious )
Submitted by jen on June 24, 2008 – 5:54am.
thank you for this wonderful, insightful piece. I have tears in my eyes; the best tribute to a man I consider a prophet of truth that I could ever read. I’m sharing it with everyone!
Submitted by Mary on June 24, 2008 – 8:13am.
Our oldest daughter is named after George Carlin (Carlin, not George!). She has the same uncanny ability to figure out where the line of acceptability is then proceed to cross it!
Submitted by Charles Z on June 24, 2008 – 8:22am.
Something I’ve noticed about people who drop out of school early and later become famous and quoted by academics: they are always thinking about that, they never stop talking about how great they feel about being respected by the academic world. But they dropped out because they despised that world. And their comedy or art or whatever is often a searing indictment of that world. But they crave the respect from it. An ironic situation.
Submitted by Gloria on June 24, 2008 – 9:09am.
It think it takes more faith NOT to believe in God than to believe in God.
I think it’s sad he never had any experience with God.
Submitted by Keyser on June 25, 2008 – 7:27am.
That’s just pathetic. Here George works his whole fucking life to rid the world of weeds like you – and look! You’re still around! So won’t you please GO AWAY?
Submitted by Amber Culbertson-Faegre on June 28, 2008 – 11:55am.
Hey, there are plenty of sites where you can debate Jesus.
Heck, send me an email, and I will do a blogalogue with you over God.
But the last interview with a great man isn’t really the place. It doesn’t achieve anything.
Submitted by Eugene on July 23, 2008 – 6:03pm.
Gloria – this reply is for your eyes and ears, not those of petty toads who never even bothered to think into Carlin’s views but felt obligated to gang up on you.
G. Carlin rose up against, he said it clearly, ‘organized religion‘, which is not God.
You phrased your point very elegantly (appr.) It is sad he did not have a chance to experience the presence of God’.
And that is exactly right, but that was his path in life.
And there is nothing derogative or inappropriate to mention this fact, because it is a fact and also a word of compassion, even at the fresh edge of his passing.
Submitted by Shaun on June 24, 2008 – 10:39am.
Gloria, then you ought to commend George for the even greater faith you feel he had. It’s a lot more courageous to live the way Mr. Carlin did (and as I like to believe I’m living) then to ask some deity that probably doesn’t exist to do the heavy lifting of life for you.
Anyhow I want to thank you, Jay, for this outstanding interview with one of my heroes. I’m sure you’ll treasure this forever!
Submitted by Alexis on June 24, 2008 – 12:14pm.
It’s very impressive how Jay gets Carlin to open up. He really seems willing to share a lot that I wouldn’t have expected and that’s very personal – like the bits about how drugs altered his perspective and influenced his comedy, or about his childhood and making his mother laugh. He clearly appreciated being interviewed by someone who knew so much about him and was so interested to learn more. And how lucky for us that we get something which really reads like "a retrospective of his life” before his untimely (at any age) passing.
Submitted by objective on June 24, 2008 – 3:11pm.
Maybe the reported did a great job, but we don’t know how much of this material Carlin would have told any interviewer who did some research and kept asking questions for two hours.
Submitted by Mister Zero on June 24, 2008 – 2:45pm.
Thanks for the great interview. It’s revealing how much thoughtful preparation was behind Carlin’s apparent spontaneity.
Submitted by George Trakakis on June 24, 2008 – 3:02pm.
I haven’t been this sad since my father passed away. I listened to George Carlin since I was 18. I’m 50 now. I knew he was that special from the moment I heard his routine on my LP. He had the gift to apply his thoughts in a way that made you really think and whether it was funny or not, it made sense. What a great loss for all. A true giant of comedy/psychology. I see Bill Maher as the next hope.
Submitted by Anonymous on June 24, 2008 – 3:03pm.
this brought a tear to my eye and I’m not one to cry when famous people die. Thank you for posting this.
Submitted by anon II on June 26, 2008 – 7:45pm.
Isn’t that something? The same thing has happened to me a few times this week. Not a cry, but a few tears. GC was one of my BIG HEROES.
Submitted by B on June 24, 2008 – 3:43pm.
George Carlin’s last interview
Submitted by Leila on June 24, 2008 – 3:50pm.
Submitted by Louis Perry on June 26, 2008 – 3:41pm.
I just want to say that I love George Carlin.
He reverenced and celebrated being fully human.
Submitted by MyrnaCabrera on June 26, 2008 – 6:32pm.
Apart from the loss of an incredible artist, I have to say, that honesty, and being brutally sincere about the hypocracy in our culture, is the most brilliant piece of work any human being can accomplish. Life itself, our society as it is and has been, the “Working Class Heroe” theme which so many of us whom have been betrayed by an innocense lost thanks to this “American Dream of the white picket fence syndrome,” as he so explicitly depicted upon how we grew up honoring and worshiping our “heroes” the police and all authority figures in our culture, which in the final analysis, have only served to judge and destroy us. He used to humor to fight back without fighting. My profound respect and human affection for an artist whom reminds me of the late John Lennon more than anybody ..once again, the “lone heroe” whom tells it as he sees it. Nobody can beat that… for my son has been the object of redicule thanks to an abusive father, and the “legal” system that loves him to the point of creating in my son a “fictious” character, a conformist without a way out. Who knows, maybe my own boy will grwo up to be another “Carlin” in his manner of thinking, for he’s already a loner, a heroe, with a heart filled with love, and very much his own person, along with many opinions against the “status quo”just as I have. As I read this interview, I felt such a strong identification with this man, which is amazing. I’m so sorry that he passed away just one day before my 50th birthday. He had so much more to give..to teach.. yes, that NYC boy, from my island Manhattan…and yes, I remember those days from around the block….they weren’t pretty, but they live forever in our hearts, for they represented us not as members of any groups, but as individuals, daring to dream of bigger dreams. “To thy own self be true.” Ironically, I too, taught my son this philosophy. However, today he’s the captive of his father, until the system lets him come back home. Yet another working class heroe, waiting..for a better tomorrow. God bless and rest in peace George Carlin, thank you for influencing my life too. I hope to someday meet you.@}->-
Submitted by MyrnaCabrera on June 26, 2008 – 6:53pm.
I’ll be waiting by the side door, looking from the outside in…always ..from the outside in..
Submitted by Smash on June 26, 2008 – 7:55pm.
This interview is a real gift. Thanks for making it available.
Submitted by Anonymous on June 27, 2008 – 2:11am.
“The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first; get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating…
…and you finish off as an orgasm.”
Submitted by Anonymous on June 29, 2008 – 12:07pm.
It’s wonderful that his last interview was so comprehensive, and done in such a reverent light. I love that it was for Psychology Today, because he deserved his last major interview to punctuate him as the independant scholar he was. There was such clarity and respect in the way that he rememberd and credited pivotal influences in his life. He truly was not just a jestor, but also a poet and a philosopher. I’m glad he was aware that for everyone who actually got the chance to meet, thank, and comliment him, there were 10,000 more who would have like to. (And he actually managed to say that with humility!) He may have been “crude”, but he also posessed more tact and poise than most people would know what to do with. He’s one man who I would have loved to meet.
Submitted by Lee will miss George on June 30, 2008 – 6:52am.
I mean, why deprive the world of a great man. Why not take Wanda Sykes or, for God’s sake, Kathie Griffin.
George, I hope you got a litte closer to Joe Pesci…
Submitted by Miss Maverick on June 30, 2008 – 8:08pm.
Great interview. I am grateful I had the opportunity to meet him three years ago on his book tour. I told him I loved him and thanked him for making me laugh and think for so many years. Instinctively as a way to say goodbye, I said, “God bless you,” and he gave me a quizzical look, furrowing his brow. “If He exists,” I quickly added. “It’s a very kind thought,” he responded. “I appreciate the good intention.”
Submitted by Susan on July 1, 2008 – 11:28am.
Thank you for posting your great interview. Mr Carlin was and is the best!
Submitted by astrea on July 4, 2008 – 7:56am.
I didn’t know him until he died. I admire him, his courage to break the “establishment”. He is so funny, also. I watched many youtube videos. I miss him. Is that possible!? I do. THE WORLD NEED PEOPLE LIKE HIM.
Submitted by B.L on July 12, 2008 – 11:37am.
This interview was enlightening and comforting. This gave me so much more insight as to who Carlin was as a person rather than just the on-stage persona that we all knew so well. It made me so happy to be able to learn such in depth and personal things about him, and I love that although the person he is off-stage and much more toned down, he’s still the same bitter non-conformist, only… warmer. Great, great job. And what a life-changing opportunity it must have been to conduct this interview. The only thing about it that made me sad was when he mentioned how much material he had in store that we will now never see/hear 🙁
He was an icon, a friend to all, a philosopher, a multi-generational hero, and so much more. He may be gone but he can still make us laugh. His bits have been looping on my ipod for about a week now.
RIP GEORGE CARLIN, you were greatly loved.
Submitted by Renee on July 13, 2008 – 12:46am.
George was a man of unparalleled wit with an uncanny knack for pointing out the herd mentality and behavior of most people, in a manner that made those same people laugh, and then, perhaps, think. He is a true comedic icon, and will be sorely missed.
As for me, I am so grateful to you, Jay, for taking the time to write out and post as much of this final interview as you did; I felt as if I were listening to George speak as I read his words – it literally gave me chills at one point. I teared up when I heard he’d died (not “passed away” or “expired” – he’d have hated that!), and this interview brought tears to my eyes once again. I will miss this brilliant, dear, man and his unique take on life. RIP, George – in my book, no one’s ever been better.
Submitted by TFixx on July 14, 2008 – 4:41pm.
He’ll be missed
Submitted by beelzeboris on September 15, 2008 – 11:13pm.
Ten days ago, on Friday, June 13th, 2008, I had the extraordinary privilege of talking to George Carlin…
I wonder what he would have made of that?
Submitted by Alex on October 7, 2008 – 9:40pm.
I think it is ironic that he did “the greatest interview of his life” the day before he died. He was taken by God, as we all will be. I was hoping that somewhere in this last interview he would say that he had changed and given himself to God. He did admit that when he was younger was less informed, but in this last interview he attributed life to Genetics and Luck. Then he said Genetics “was” luck. Maybe God is the one who determines everything that happens to us? It is sad to see that George was , at least in this interview, still defiant as far as not attributing “the importance of life” to God. I hope George had a relationship with God or was forgiven, but from what I’ve seen I find that highly unlikely. If you die in defiance towards God, you are most likely going to hell. Scripture says people like this will burn for sure, but I like to think that some just may still have a small chance at salvation because only God knows what a person really has in their heart. Time will tell, and we are all going to die =)
Submitted by TJ on November 13, 2008 – 8:37pm.
Nice. Lucky you. Lucky us.
To me George was like the brother I never knew. Alike in so many ways. Only he got the great sense of humor, and I got the great enjoyment of it. I’ll always remember seeing him live.
Submitted by EW on June 8, 2009 – 7:43pm.
I started out just doing a Google search, using the words ‘george carlin+glass half empty’.
The next thing I know, it’s two hours later and I just read this entire interview and three pages of comments.
This was a fortunate turn down a path I didn’t expect to travel.
Submitted by PhillDoc on October 26, 2009 – 12:15am.
Nice blog as for me. I’d like to read a bit more about this topic.
Submitted by Doorlellick on November 3, 2009 – 9:01am.
Узнал много. Спасибо
Submitted by carlos marrero on April 3, 2010 – 11:08am.
His golden touch with such turbulent, verbal fisticuff,
This man’s last blast our last chance glass to fill us up,
He stirs up Kool-Aid syrup,
Much appreciated, Jayson. It was luck, thoroughly enough.
Dispensing his last sense in his, his last sentences ‘n’ such in 6 just Dixit Cups.
“Kool-Aid? Cool, thanks!”
Submitted by Mary Sojourner on April 9, 2010 – 11:52am.
I’ve ever seen. It was in the late Seventies, maybe early Eighties. He was part of a glitzy Vegas-ish t.v. review. There’d been a lot of sequins and legs and mellifluous ballads. Carlin came out. He stood in front of a mic. And he stood. And stood. He never said a word. The audence was silent. Then there was nervous laughter. Carlin barely moved – maybe shifted from one foot to the other. The laughter died away. He said nothing. Finally – it was the longest 10 minutes I’d experienced – he turned and walked off the state.
I learned more about What Is in those ten minutes than in any workshop, seminar or meditation retreat I’ve ever gone to.
I suspect there are resonances from that experience in my blog, She Bets Her Life. It figures. I’ve told people for years that my higher power is a cross between Tina Turner and George Carlin.
Submitted by Prellanda on July 18, 2011 – 6:59pm.
F*ckin’ tremendous things here. I am very glad to see your article. Thanks a lot and i am looking forward to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?
biuro rachunkowe łódź
Submitted by john simon on July 21, 2013 – 12:07am.
thank you for this. I’ve loved George all my life, but nobody has expressed his virtues as well as you. I try to get everybody I know to watch “Life is Worth Losing”. Thanks again, and I express jealousy in the fact you were able to speak with him before he passed.