A documentary on George Carlin reveals much

“I am optimistic, but I would not take any comfort from that.” George Carlin

The above is one of the many quotes from the talented and funny satirical comedian, George Carlin which is highlighted in a HBO two-part documentary. On top of learning about Carlin’s rise to fame, as well as his fall and rise again, we see a glimpse of American culture from the 1960’s forward.

Like most good documentaries, it presents the good, bad and the ugly side of fame and how it impacted both Carlin and his first wife, Brenda, whom he was married for 36 years. Brenda, was his biggest fan and supported and help manage his efforts to go out on his own on two separate occasions, first after having success with Jack Burns in a comedy duo and, second, when he took off the suit and started being who he really was on stage, the bearded, witty and satirical comedian we remember most.

Along the way, both had drinking and drug problems. Ironically, Brenda’s exposure came when he became successful and professional managers and PR people took on her role. Their daughter Kelly noted that this put her mother to the side and she had a lot of trouble with that. They both would recover and have a loving thirty-six year marriage before Brenda passed away. Carlin would later remarry and stay married for the rest of his life.

For those who don’t know Carlin, here is a brief summary from Hollywood Life:

George Carlin is one of the most beloved comedians of all time. After beginning his career in the 1960s, George rose to fame for his often controversial subject matter and use of explicit language, best exemplified in his routine “The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” in 1972. He continued being a popular performer, going through many distinct shifts in style throughout the 80s and 90s, releasing a number of standup specials. His final special It’s Bad For Ya was released months before his death at 71 in June 2008. Other than his standup, George dabbled in comedic acting, appearing in films such as Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure and playing Mr. Conductor on the children’s program Shining Time Station.”

Carlin loved to play with the words and their different meanings under different contexts. One of his more memorable and safer topics is the one on oxymorons. One I vividly recall is “jumbo shrimp.” After metering is voice and eyes as he recounted this, he would say “are they little jumbos, or huge shrimp?” Yet, his most famous diatribe is the one mentioned above called “The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.”

Comedians like Stephen Colbert, Patton Oswalt, Jon Stewart, Steven Wright, et al could easily recite the seven words in order from this routine. They also discussed how provocative Carlin was in his heyday and became again later in his career. There was a time where he got pushed aside and was actually mocked by some newer comedians for his less evocative wordplay. Yet, he would only come back strong being the irreverent Carlin we knew and laughed with.

This special is worth the watch. I actually watched them out of order, but that is more than OK. It was actually fun to see him get started after seeing the later stages of his career first. It is also telling to see the many comedians pay homage to him for influencing their careers.

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18 thoughts on “A documentary on George Carlin reveals much

  1. Note to Readers: Carlin spoke on the topics of the day, especially on Vietnam, maltreatment of African Americans, governmental malfeasance, etc. One of his funniest and impactful references is when he flipped-flopped descriptions saying “war in the streets and crime in Vietnam.”

      • He reminded me in a way of our own (Well Irish Actually) Dave Allen, who observational comedy also bordering on the outrageous was equally wry. Although Allen sat in a studio chair his face and arms were constantly moving.

      • Too funny. I liked him from the outset. Thanks for sharing. It is funny, when Carlin started out, he used to dress in a suit and tie, but that was not him.

  2. Thank you for introducing us to George Carlin. I was not familiar with him. I think such documentaries are very valuable since they show the person behind the role. A man who had his ups and downs like everyone.

    • Thanks Erika. After hearing from a couple of our non-US friends, I am surprised that he was not more known outside of our country. He may be one of the most avant-garde comedians I have seen, at least in my day. Keith

  3. I don’t know when my late hubby and I started paying attention to Carlin. In the late 1960s I believe when he was on Johnny Carson and some other shows- up to SNL sometime. I remember his riff on ” the DRUG STORE.” That was a funny man.

    • Becky, they showed parts of that routine in the documentary. I remember his tamer stuff when he was on prime time – the hippy dippy weatherman, eg. Keith

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