George Carlin's 1972 album, "Class Clown," will be inducted next year into the Grammy Hall of Fame, according to the Los Angeles Times. Grammy Hall of Fame? Is that like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Not exactly. The Grammys reserve their Hall of Fame Awards for recordings at least 25 years old judged by a special committee to have "lasting qualitative or historical significance." Plenty of music giants on that list already, but the comedy pickings are slim. How slim?
When Carlin's "Class Clown" gets inducted in 2010, it'll join these other comedy titles in the Grammy Hall of Fame:
The Los Angeles Times spotlights the folks at Funny or Die today as part of the paper's series on how show business is looking more and more at alternative comedy. Although I'm not sure I'd call the site's celeb-studded model alternative, FoD certainly has helped make more people aware of a number of comedians who you'd normally find in the UCB Theatres instead of the mainstream comedy clubs. The LAT piece also points out that FoD has maintained success by getting celebrities to appear in videos for free, and from companies to promote their projects and products. Coincidentally, today's home page on FoD gives a big push to the late George Carlin's Last Words, with a video from Simon & Schuster promoting some of its other comedians with books (Michael Ian Black, Jeffrey Ross, Richard Belzer, Susie Essman and George Wendt):
If you'd like to read an excerpt of Last Words, Funny or Die has made that possible, too. Here is chapter one from Last Words, by George Carlin. It's co-authored by Tony Hendra. You can also enter a sweepstakes to win a Carlin prize package.
All of the buzz Monday night had comedy fans watching and talking about Conan O'Brien, but over on the CBS television network, David Letterman had Bill Cosby on as a guest, and Cosby -- though he gets sidetracked a lot easier now in his advanced age -- recounted a story of a friendly competition he had with the late George Carlin. But first, a little story about a routine Cosby and Carlin both used onstage about pro athletes hawking products in TV ads. It'll all make sense somehow.
The late George Carlin won a posthumous Grammy Award tonight for Best Comedy Album his final recorded performance, "It's Bad For Ya." His daughter, Kelly, accepted the award on his behalf during today's pre-telecast portion of the 51st annual Grammy Awards. Reuters reported that she recalled that "in a chemically induced, altered state," he had dismantled an earlier Grammy (tonight marked his fifth win).
From the AFP, Kelly Carlin explained backstage: "This was back in 1972 when a lot of chemicals were being used by human beings," she said. "He took it apart. And someone from the academy found out so they sent him a new one." She called the Grammy "the cherry on the top of a great big beautiful cake...He's not here and I'd rather have him. But I'm just so happy people are honoring my dad." Carlin's performance was recorded in March 2008 for HBO. It's a fine tribute if you ask me, and I'm sure the other nominees in his category (Lewis Black, Flight of the Conchords, Kathy Griffin and Harry Shearer) would not complain too much at all about it.
In other comedy-related Grammy news...(I'm on Twitter during the telecast: Follow @thecomicscomic)
The guys from Freestyle Love Supreme can add a Grammy to their Tonys for Best Musical Show Album for "In The Heights."
The trio of celebs reading Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" beat out both Steve Martin and Stephen Colbert for Best Spoken Word Album. That feels like a snub of Martin, to me, because he wrote such a great, insightful memoir.
Also: They Might Be Giants have always used humor in their lyrics, and they won for Best Musical Album For Children for "Here Come the 123s." Weezer and the YouTube stars of 2008 earned a Grammy for the "Pork & Beans" music video. And part-time stand-up comedian, full-time Grammy winner John Mayer already has at least one win tonight before the broadcast portion begins at 8 p.m. Eastern (he had five nominations total). Congrats all around!
You may feel compelled today to sit down and watch some TV marathon, or maybe even resolve to improve your life. Here's a better idea. Remember the late, great George Carlin by sitting down and watching this three-hour interview the comedian gave to the Archive of American Television. In a calm, soothing voice that shows what initially made him perfect for radio, Carlin recounts his own life and career for us. I met interviewer Jenni Matz four years ago when she helped launch the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, and am glad to see she got Carlin to share his life with us one last time. Enjoy this five-minute excerpt, in which Carlin gives sage advice for any young stand-up, and also offers up a way to remember him. "Too hip for the room." Below are links to the complete interview.
For the 51st annual Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy went with a live, primetime announcement/mini-concert. But you want to know who got nominated, don't you? While putting American Idol's star judge Simon Cowell up for Record of the Year (he produced "Bleeding Love" for Leona Lewis along with Clive Davis and Ryan "Alias" Tedder) certainly contains some comedic value because you wonder if he'll show up in a tight black V-neck or a tight black tuxedo, we do have some other actual comedy honors to share with you as well. Although there are some truly outrageous and ridiculous nominations among the dozens of categories, too (but that's for me to analyze in another forum).
Best Comedy Album nominees from 2007-2008
Lewis Black, "Anticipation"
Flight of the Conchords, "Flight of the Conchords"
Kathy Griffin, "For Your Consideration"
George Carlin, "It's Bad For Ya"
Harry Shearer, "Songs of the Bushmen"
Didn't Flight of the Conchords win last year for their EP, which is just a shorter version of this album? If you want to get all technical about it, then, yes. So cross them off the list. And do not be surprised for a posthumous honor to go to Carlin.
In Best Spoken Word Album, Steve Martin's "Born Standing Up" goes up against Stephen Colbert's "I Am America (And So Are You)" and David Sedaris ("When You Are Engulfed in Flames")! Also in this category: Sidney Poitier ("Life Beyond Measure") and the trio of Beau Bridges, Cynthia Nixon and Blair Underwood (reading Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth"). As much as Colbert has been the man of the moment for the past two years, Martin really should get this, wouldn't you agree?
Freestyle Love Supreme can celebrate some more, as Lin-Man and King Sherman's "In The Heights" soundtrack is up for Best Muscial Show Album (against Gypsy, The Little Mermaid, South Pacific and Young Frankenstein).
John C. Reilly singing "Walk Hard" got nominated for Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media (also earning Judd Apatow a nomination as co-writer). They're up against John Mayer, Peter Gabriel, Carrie Underwood, and Amy Adams.
George Carlin, who died in June, posthumously receives the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor tonight from the Kennedy Center, with Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Garry Shandling, Lily Tomlin, Denis Leary, Joan Rivers, Lewis Black, Richard Belzer, and Margaret Cho among those celebrating the late comedian in Washington, D.C. PBS will rebroadcast the ceremony.
According to his wishes, George Carlin wanted to be cremated and have his ashes dispersed by his surviving family "in accordance with their knowledge of my prejudices and philosophies regarding geography and spirituality." The Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire reported today that Carlin's older brother, Patrick, and his daughter, Kelly, first spread some of the late comedian's ashes in front of nightclubs Carlin performed at in his early career in New York City's Greenwich Village, then took the rest to Camp Notre Dame, an all-boys Catholic summer camp in Spofford, N.H., that Carlin attended in his youth.
George Carlin's final HBO performance, It's Bad For Ya, will be released as a CD on July 29 on Eardrum Records, the label started by Carlin in 1986. Carlin recorded this show for HBO in March, and he died June 22 at the age of 71, months before he was set to accept the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The Kennedy Center will now celebrate him posthumously, and this CD also will serve as a tribute to the stand-up legend.
Previously: My review and interview with Carlin about what would become his final stand-up set.
A few weeks ago, the NBC broadcast television network did a remarkable thing to honor the recently deceased and legendary comedian George Carlin: NBC rebroadcast the inaugural episode of Saturday Night Live that Carlin hosted on Oct. 11, 1975, without bells or whistles or any sort of re-editing. In fact, the episode aired in 2008 just as it did in 1975, when the show was called simply NBC's Saturday Night, because there already was a show on the airwaves called Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell that aired on ABC. Yes, really. But the SNL we all have come to know and love, or hate to love, or love to hate, debuted in 1975 without any precedents or traditions, so also without any rules. Lorne Michaels hadn't yet decided to put Weekend Update near the hour mark and air all of the sketchier sketches after Weekend Update, or anything else really. It was so fresh and so new.
So I decided to consult my original review for this show. It's all in crayon and makes absolutely no sense, because, 1) I was four years old, 2) why would I even be up this late, and what kind of parents would let their 4-year-old watch this show?, 3) plus, my parents didn't have a home computer in 1975, 4) the Internet was still run by government agents working for the young Al Gore, and 5) blog was just another word for a really big log by people who couldn't speak correctly. You can look this all up on the Wikipedia of 1975.
Talk about a cold open! John Belushi enters a room to learn English, and is so devoted to learning from Michael O'Donoghue, despite the fact that every phrase he learns includes wolverines, that he mimics his teacher's heart attack. So Chevy Chase ambles onstage and delivers the now-trademark phrase, "Live from New York, it's Saturday night!"
Credits roll, and we see we're going to get music from Janis Ian and Billy Preston, a film by Albert Brooks, Jim Henson's Muppets, and the "Not Ready For Primetime Players." Wow. Would you take a look at this cast, because you thought you knew who started on SNL, but then you look at this list and realize, history glossed over some of the originals, because here was the debut cast, as listed: Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, George Coe, Michael O'Donoghue. And, wait! There's more. Comedians Valri Bromfield and Andy Kaufman are on this show, too!
I already put Carlin's opening monologue, as well as his other debut SNL monologues, on the site, and watching the show, I realize why he got to talk so much. For one thing, he was the best-known person on the show that night. For another, without any viewer loyalty or traditions to cling to, the show needed a real host who could bring us back into the show every so often. So that's what Carlin did. It wasn't yet established that the host also would take part in a majority of the sketches. For his opener, Carlin went with his football and baseball bit. No ending with "we've got a great show for you tonight, so-and-so is the musical guest, please stick around!" Just an applause sign for the audience and we're into the next scene, which is one of several fake ads. Yes, this tradition began from the beginning. The first fake ad suggested a replacement father/husband as an addition to life insurance: "New Dad." Only the audience didn't know this at the time.
We come out of the first commercial break straight into Billy Preston getting back to where he once belonged, which was, naturally, onstage, playing music for the people. In this case, "Nothing From Nothing," which reached #1 on the charts a year earlier in 1974. We go straight from that to a courtroom scene, live, with Chase as the lawyer and Curtin as the witness. Morris is the other lawyer, objecting with a Caribbean accent. It's a fairly simple sketch, as the joke is all in what the witness could not be forced to say out loud, so her remarks are written and passed around to the jury where Belushi and Radner have fun with it.
And now, for something completely different, Andy Kaufman. It's his Mighty Mouse lip-sync. That's it. In a sport coat, white pants, collared shirt, black turtleneck and unease, Kaufman manages to get laughs from the audience without ever uttering a word. His jacket looks a little worse for wear. So odd. So, so odd. Now this is alternative comedy.
Another commercial break, it's 20 minutes in and Carlin's second time to perform stand-up. This time, he goes for a series of one-liners and quick observations. Some you would see and hear later on his HBO specials. The one that always makes me take a step back is how he remarks on how airports are trying out the body-search techniques that everyone else soon will use, but notices that once on the plane, "they give you a knife and fork and all the wine you can drink," so how hard could it be to take over a plane? This is 26 years before the 2001 terrorist attacks, for all of you still wondering how anyone could ever think of how that ever could have been dreamed up. Anyhow. Moving on. Carlin introduces Janis Ian, who performed her biggest hit, "At Seventeen." And then, a sketch called Victims of Shark Bite, hosted by Curtin with Belushi as the alleged victim. Jaws was the big box-office smash that summer, so...topical! Another fake ad, and this one plays with gay marriage, promoting Jamitol, and we're not really sure what the product is. Subtle. Maybe too subtle?
Weekend Update with Chevy Chase, no fancy intro, and it's a quick bit. Only a few minutes. And we're reminded that the first years of SNL included a live fake correspondent out in the streets of New York City. In the 1970s. And you thought The Daily Show was special. And just like that, we're into another fake ad, this time for arthritis. The product: Triopenin. Get it? And back to the news. So it really is a complete fake newscast. This is when it gets weird. It's time for the Muppets. Only these are not any of the Muppets you know. Um, OK.
After more ads, it's time for more stand-up from Carlin. "Jumbo shrimp? It's like military intelligence. The words just don't go together." And with that, a film by Albert Brooks, "The Impossible Truth." Featuring a "temporarily" blind taxi driver, the land trade between Israel and Georgia. The age of consent lowered to 7 in Oregon. Take that, Dateline NBC.
Bee Hospital? Even on the very first episode, they loved them some bees. Consider this an intro to what they'd later accomplish in bee costumes. Wait. What's this? Another ad? Yes, it sure seems like it. A woman answers the phone and gets a prolonged pitch for new careers in telephones. Or something like that. "And now, comedian Valri Bromfield." Wha? Really? Watching this makes me wonder what ever happened to network television taking chances...sure, in 1975, viewers only had a few options for channels to watch, so networks could take chances. But, I mean, really. Oh, OK, Internets, school us on Ms. Bromfield. She began her career in a duo with none other than Dan Aykroyd. And they joined Second City together. OK. Making sense now. She later became a writer-performer on SCTV. So there. The audience, in the meantime, has moved on to see what types of people carry guns. As they cross the nation, notice in the background of a gas station they pass where gas costs 67 cents a gallon? Ah, memories. See how many people are packing heat? Ha. Packing heat. They didn't know that phrase in 1975, did they?
Time for the fourth and final Carlin monologue, and here he takes on God and religion. Afterward, another song from Billy Preston.
Belushi and Radner open another sketch at home, with Aykroyd as a burglar simulating a home burglary! Because they're selling home security. And you should buy it. Would you believe another fake ad? Believe it. In 1975, a razor with three blades seemed somehow humorous. In fact, in 2008, it does, doesn't it? As a matter of fact, in fact, I think this fake ad became an an actual real ad in the 1980s. Weird. Or as they say in the business, it's funny because it's true.
Carlin comes on once more to introduce Janis Ian again. She sings. We show some ads. Carlin comes back to thank us all for watching. And Carlin remembers he has a brand-new album to plug. So even in 1975, TV knew to book people with an agenda. All in all, an interesting show. The credits list everyone as "Bud." Including all of the debut writers: Anne Beatts, Chevy Chase, Al Franken, Tom Davis, Lorne Michaels, Rosie Michaels, Garrett Morris, Michael O'Donoghue, Herb Sargent, Tom Schiller and Alan Zweibel. Penelope Spheeris took part in filmed segments, and later directed Wayne's World (among other projects).
Just like any current episode of SNL, not the funniest show ever, but certainly worth watching. And in this case, especially worth watching because it gave birth to a franchise and a comedy tradition that continues with us today.
This Saturday night offers us all a special look-back to a very special night, as NBC announced it would rebroadcast the very first episode of Saturday Night Live to honor the late George Carlin, who served as the show's debut host in 1975 and performed three -- three! -- monologues. Of course, the debut also introduced us to Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Larraine Newman and Gilda Radner. What's more...Andy Kaufman also performed on the debut episode. The musical guests were Janis Ian and Billy Preston.
Here's a quote from Lorne Michaels about this week's special rebroadcast: "You never forget the people who were there at the beginning. George Carlin helped give 'Saturday Night Live' its start as our first host. He was gracious, fearless, and most important of all, funny."
So, this is how it all began...with a little bit of "football and baseball"
After the jump, Carlin's other monologues that night...
In today's newspapers, Jerry Seinfeld wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times appreciating the late George Carlin, who had just joked about evading death to Seinfeld mere days ago. The quote most will focus on:
You could certainly say that George downright invented modern American stand-up comedy in many ways. Every comedian does a little George. I couldn’t even count the number of times I’ve been standing around with some comedians and someone talks about some idea for a joke and another comedian would say, “Carlin does it.” I’ve heard it my whole career: “Carlin does it,” “Carlin already did it,” “Carlin did it eight years ago.”
And he didn’t just “do” it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian. He was like a train hobo with a chicken bone. When he was done there was nothing left for anybody.
And in today's New York Post, Joan Rivers wrote a column also in praise of Carlin, who met him in 1961 when they both looked up to Lenny Bruce, and how even Bruce knew that Carlin "was the next one."
Some final thoughts from George Carlin himself, via interviews. "Gee, he was just here a minute ago." That's how Carlin wanted to be remembered. More from the vaults:
Perhaps his final interview? He spoke with Psychology Today 10 days before his death, and because of the nature of the magazine, Carlin reflected on a lot about his own life, from his ancestors, his upbringing, his drug use, and here is a quite wonderful passage in which he invokes an idea from Arthur Koestler that reminds us all of the power of humor:
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.
And there is so much more in that interview to discover the insight of Carlin.
George Carlin was such a big part of HBO with his 14 specials over the years, so it's no wonder that the cable network giant would reconfigure its schedule to salute the legendary comedian, who died last night at the age of 71. Here are the details...
HBO: Re-airing Carlin's final special, "It's Bad For Ya," at 9 p.m. Friday, June 27 (it will also be available for the month thereafter at HBO ON DEMAND)
HBO2: Re-airing 11 of Carlin's specials over two nights (June 25-26)
8 PM ON LOCATION: GEORGE CARLIN AT USC
9:30 PM GEORGE CARLIN AGAIN!
11 PM CARLIN AT CARNEGIE
midnight CARLIN ON CAMPUS
1 AM GEORGE CARLIN - PLAYIN WITH YOUR HEAD
8 PM GEORGE CARLIN "WHAT AM I DOING IN NEW JERSEY?"
9:00 PM HBO COMEDY HOUR: GEORGE CARLIN -- DOIN' IT AGAIN
10:00 PM HBO COMEDY HOUR: GEORGE CARLIN: JAMMIN' IN NEW YORK
11:00 PM HBO COMEDY HOUR: GEORGE CARLIN: BACK IN TOWN
12:05 AM HBO COMEDY HOUR: GEORGE CARLIN: YOU ARE ALL DISEASED
1:10 AM GEORGE CARLIN: IT'S BAD FOR YA
HBO Comedy: Will air a George Carlin marathon on June 28.
4 PM ON LOCATION: GEORGE CARLIN AT USC
5:30 PM GEORGE CARLIN AGAIN!
7:00 PM CARLIN AT CARNEGIE
8:00 PM CARLIN ON CAMPUS
9:00 PM GEORGE CARLIN - PLAYIN WITH YOUR HEAD
10:00 PM GEORGE CARLIN "WHAT AM I DOING IN NEW JERSEY?"
11:00 PM HBO COMEDY HOUR: GEORGE CARLIN -- DOIN' IT AGAIN
12:00 AM HBO COMEDY HOUR: GEORGE CARLIN: JAMMIN' IN NEW YORK
1:00 AM HBO COMEDY HOUR: GEORGE CARLIN: BACK IN TOWN
2:05 AM HBO COMEDY HOUR: GEORGE CARLIN: YOU ARE ALL DISEASED
3:10 AM GEORGE CARLIN: IT'S BAD FOR YA
George Carlin died last night of heart failure, 30 years after his first of several heart attacks. He was 71.
Carlin's first HBO special aired in 1977. His last HBO special, "It's Bad For Ya," his 14th, aired in March. In recent years, Carlin had talked onstage about death and suicide. In an increasingly online world, you can find that Facebook groups pop up within hours for you to mourn together over his death. Carlin, you'd suspect, would mock you for that somehow, going on a computer to share emotions with other humans. Here someone already has gone on YouTube posting clips of Carlin talking about death...
Born May 12, 1937, George Carlin grew up at 519 W. 121st St., in New York City. He joined the Air Force, but by 19, he had begun an entertainment career as a radio DJ. With radio partner Jack Burns, Burns and Carlin headed to Hollywood in 1960, quit radio and hit the nightclub circuit. By October of that year, they had made their TV debut on The Tonight Show (with Jack Paar). Carlin married first wife Brenda Wesbrook in 1961 (she preced him in death in 1997) and launched his solo comedy career in 1962. The couple moved back to New York in 1964, where Carlin worked hootenannies in Greenwich Village and had a steady gig at Cafe Au Go Go on Bleecker Street. He'd make his TV debuts with Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas the following year, and in 1966, moved back to Los Angeles. His first album, "Take Offs and Put Ons," came out in 1967.
And the evolution/revolution would begin. In 1969, just saying the word "ass" got Carlin fired from the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. He'd win his first Grammy, though, for 1972's "AM & FM" and began pumping out new comedy albums -- later that year, "Class Clown" contained his "Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV" bit, and a year later, his fans had "Occupation: Foole" and its "Filthy Words" to consider. When a radio station played that track on the air, a listener complaint made its way to the FCC and the courts and eventually the Supreme Court, where a 5-4 decision ruled that seven words really could not be said on TV, at least not when the kids were awake.
As Carlin readily acknowledged, this period also saw him hooked on cocaine, up through his first appearance at Carnegie Hall and his slot as the first-ever host of Saturday Night Live.
But that didn't stop him getting us all to recognize our obsession with "stuff" and his own feelings on baseball, football, golf and things that are definitely not sports.
A new generation of fans discovered Carlin in entirely different guises, whether he appeared in a time-traveling phone booth in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure or on PBS as a conductor in Shining Time Station. He'd utter no inherently dirty words there. Carlin also became a best-selling author with the publication of "Braindroppings" in 1997. Throughout the 1990s and this current decade, he had regular 12-week contracts in Las Vegas and spent a majority of the year on the road working theaters, always developing new material for another HBO special.
HBO and the comedy industry honored Carlin in Aspen for his 40th anniversary in comedy, then again in 2002 gave him a "Free Speech" award in Aspen. I saw him then, and also last year at the final Aspen comedy festival, where had he had just written down on paper the earliest version of what he would workshop into his 14th and final HBO special. Read about my encounter with Carlin here. Or my review of his final HBO special.
Comedy Central, when it compiled its crazy list of the 100 greatest stand-ups of all time, placed Carlin at #2. The list may have inspired crazy debate for many on that list, but everyone agreed Carlin deserved a spot near the top. Just a week ago, The Kennedy Center announced it was honoring Carlin with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Richard Zoglin, who just wrote a book on the comedy of the 1970s, had this to say today on how Carlin changed comedy. This from Entertainment Weekly. And this from the New York Times. Harry Shearer posted his admiration this morning, too.
UPDATE: Louis CK also wrote about how much he owes to Carlin: "His courage inspires me forever. It was from him that I learned to just say what is on my mind on stage and to stop worrying about who might not like it. As long as it's true and it comes from a real place, you have to say it and not mince words. I got that from him." Carlin also inspired CK in many other ways. Just click and read it already.
"The Kennedy Center is pleased to present George Carlin with The Mark Twain Prize," said Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman. "In his lengthy career as a comedian, writer, and actor, George Carlin has not only made us laugh, but he makes us think. His influence on the next generation of comics has been far-reaching."
Tickets go on sale Aug. 11, for the event to be held Nov. 10 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. It'll air on PBS next February. Related press: Washington Post.
George Carlin's latest HBO special, "It's Bad For Ya," debuted live Saturday night on HBO. For repeat viewings, it's On Demand and also airing multiple times, including 12:10 a.m. Monday on HBO2 (consult the HBO master schedule here).
If your DVR acted like mine, it cut out early. Ah, the beauty of live TV and its incompatibility with DVR technology. Here are Carlin's closing minutes, in case you missed them the first time around, as I did this morning. Note: Obviously NSFW due to language.
The hourplus essentially is the finished product of material I'd seen brand-new a year ago in Aspen at the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Carlin refined the best parts and cut out the filler, going after the BS that we buy into as a culture and a nation, and how we've forgotten to question the BS or teach our children to, either. Religion and child-worship really come into his crosshairs. There's a section in the middle about boring people and their boring conversations that doesn't really fit, at least thematically, but it's a stronger and certainly more accessible set than his previous special about death. And that's even with Carlin talking at length about being old and his friends dying off in the first 10 minutes! Here, though, he turns it into a discussion about what to do with your dead friends and their contact info in your cell phone and email lists.
As I noted above, I had the chance to see Carlin workshop this material at its very beginning, when he read his thoughts from papers on the stage in Aspen. I also got a few minutes to talk with him after that initial set.
Was it a conscious decision to workshop instead of delivering prepared material, as you did when I saw you in Aspen for a free speech panel and award in 2002? "That had a single purpose and a focus and that was the topic," Carlin told me. "It wasn't George Carlin's show. It was me talking about having some freedom of speech and expression. This, obviously, is different. They asked me to do quote-unquote 'My show.' At whatever stage it was in, they didnt know when they asked me to be here. So it turns out they called me at the beginning of the cycle. It could as easily have been six months short of an HBO telecast and it would've been a more finished product. So it wasn't a conscious decision to do anything except show up. And that's what Woody Allen said is 90 percent of success, showing up."
Steven Wright had said the night before on national TV that he considered you the reason he got into stand-up comedy. How does it feel to be an influence on someone who has become a peculiar legend himself in comedy? "That's one I'm proud of. The more frequent thing I hear is, when I came along and started having these HBO shows and I had these albums in the 70s, Richard Pryor and I were in, of a given age group. And then a lot of people came along because of cable and comedy clubs, so they were of a different generation. But occasionally I'll hear someone say that they were, the last little bit of push they gave themselves to go ahead and do this, perhaps because they were, you know, 90 percent there in their minds, was they had seen my career, or they had seen Richard. They say this probably to more than one of us, so you can't really wear it as a badge, but it's true that some people have said that, 'You were an inspiration for me to go into this field,' and I always appreciate it. It's an honor."
Did Wright say what it was specifically about your comedy that he admired? "No, not at the very first moment. What he liked ultimately was the continued output of material. Because I have kind of a comedic diarrhea, I've been able to really produce a lot of material. I've been very lucky to be able to do that."
George Carlin's evolution from family-friendly comedian to maverick to renegade to cantankerous hoot continues this Saturday, March 1, when his 14th HBO special airs live at 10 p.m. Eastern, broadcast from Santa Rosa, Calif. (at the same time, Louis CK is taping his upcoming special in Boston...discuss). Here's the HBO ad:
Related: Carlin gave a recent interview to the AP chronicling his mood shift.
Wednesday in Aspen: The 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
Twenty-four hours after I boarded a Silver Line bus in Boston for the airport, I’m sitting in a condo on the side of the mountain in Aspen, coasting on my fourth wind into what already is shaping up to be one of the craziest weekends of my life.
Notwithstanding marriage and prison.
And those are two entirely different stories, mind you.
Focus, readers. Focus.
But first, an examination of how we (meaning I) got here.
Listed departure time for my United Airlines flight from Boston’s Logan airport: 7:49 a.m Eastern
Actual departure time: 9 a.m.
Why? After getting out onto the runway, the pilot announced we might have a delay in Denver, so we need to fuel up. Don’t we have enough fuel? Regardless. Or perhaps not without some regard, we taxi back to the gate, put some more petrol into the plane, and finally take off.
Listed arrival time in Denver: 10:30 a.m. Mountain
Actual arrival time: 11:30 a.m. Mountain
Why? See above.
Still plenty of time to catch the 12:43 p.m. flight to Aspen, only the flights are canceled. They’ve all been canceled. Wednesday and Tuesday. What to do, what to do. United Airlines books us on buses, which board and leave Denver from the airport tarmac. Yes, really. Our bus pulled away from gate B73 at 3:15 p.m., arriving at the Aspen airport five hours later, just in time to see the lights of an actual airplane landing there. What? Not that it could’ve helped us. That flight had arrived from Chicago. Apparently, not all planes are created equal, and the new planes from Denver somehow lack the wherewithal to land in Aspen unless the weather conditions are idyllic. Not that this should surprise anyone who has flown into Aspen before. The airport isn’t merely tucked or nestled among the mountains. From the air, you don’t even know Aspen or its airport runway exists until you’re on top of it.
Anyhow, my roommate for the week, comedian Shane Mauss, endured an even more arduous journey on Tuesday. He and other performers, including fellow Bostonian Dan Boulger, had attempted the flight from Denver, only to turn around just before landing in Aspen -- they then had to wait hours for a bus, which took six hours to reach Aspen since the mountain passes, were, um, not quite passable. They missed their official unofficial “warm-up” industry showcase. And they didn’t get their luggage until Wednesday afternoon. So who was I to complain? Exactly.
Anyhow. The luggage arrived with me, and we both made it to base camp, aka the festival and the condo, by 9 p.m., or a half-hour before George Carlin’s scheduled performance.
A brief high-altitude sprint and a well-placed phone call led me to the Wheeler Opera House with minutes to spare. The p.a. announcer noted that Carlin is celebrating 50 years in comedy (as is Don Rickles, subject of a special ceremony and panel later in the week), and film clips displayed Carlin’s transformation from goofball to social critic to what he is now, ultimately a little of both. A critical goofball.
He came right out and announced he planned to deliver 77 minutes of all new material. If the audience didn’t like it, well, please consult any of the seven dirty words.
“The audience doesn’t really figure into my plans,” Carlin declared. “The way I see it, you’re here for me. I’m here for me. And no one is here for you.”
So what about him?
Well, Carlin delivered closer to 80 minutes. He did acknowledge that the altitude might make the gaps seem longer as he caught his breath, and he noted more than once that he would rely on his notes and that this was a workshop. Not a show. But almost a show.
The strongest sections appeared to include a 15-minute riff on the b.s. we accept without questioning it, followed by a 10-minute discussion on people who won’t shut up, and ways to perhaps induce them into silence.
Among the less-successful, completely throwaway lines were a few disgusting street jokes and a joke that literally and figuratively felt ripped from a scene in There’s Something About Mary, as well as an oft-told bit about how all athletes shouldn’t be praising God for their success.
Carlin did share some insight by recasting the nuclear proliferation into religion and class issues, and ended with a different take on human rights.
The workshop should prove useful as Carlin develops his new act.
After a brief break, Carlin re-emerged for a few photographs and a few questions for the press -- the only other media reps there were a woman from the AP and a guy representing Sirius radio. Holding down the anchor slot, Carlin immediately noted my Irish name and Boston reference, asking me what county my family hails from. Carlin also comes from Irish stock. At any rate. Got in a couple of good questions and received some solid answers which will resurface soon enough.
But onto the next show.
Arrived at the night’s last stand-up showcase too late to see Mauss, but saw TJ Miller and Erik Charles Nielsen. Former local Jon Fisch hosted this group. I’d seen Miller and Nielsen before, but only on tape. I want to hold off on saying more until I see that group as a whole in one show.
Boulger spotted me when the lights came up, and we were off to the VH1 party at Bar Aspen. Plenty of comics and industry types milling about, taking advantage of the limited (two-hour) open bar. So Boulger and I didn’t stay long, instead heading back to the St. Regis, where I spotted two civilians talking to Steven Wright in the lobby. Without too much coaxing, I got Boulger to join me in engaging Wright in about a half-hour of comedy talk in the lobby. I won’t tell you exactly what Boulger offered Wright, 1) because I don’t want to spoil the surprise if he accepts, and 2) because I could barely contain myself from laughing at Boulger’s offer.
Everything went quite swimmingly. So much so, in fact, that I implored Wright not to say too much until I could break out the official recorder and notepad for a later date. Even at 1:30 a.m., you have to know when business and pleasure are getting awfully close to one another. Especially in a place like this comedy festival, where everyone feels so comfortable so quickly.
Another area of the St. Regis main floor has become the Sierra Mist Lounge. Ah, the commercialization of comedy. Searching for the appropriate cliché here: Perhaps, the more things change…
The lounge had specialty drinks, foosball and ping pong. Mauss and I teamed up for a friendly pong exhibition against Hari Kondabolu and Chris Fleming. We won. Not that you can win an exhibition. But we won.
Kondabolu also happens to be staying in our condo (or, should I say, I’m staying in his), and he quickly earned good vibes from me when Google notified me that he has New England connections -- having studied at Bowdoin and performed before at the Comedy Studio -- and that he moved from New York to Seattle last year (which, for anyone who knows anything about my own personal comedy history, translates into major bonus points). He and I already have played the name game quite well. More to come on that front, as he gets his first showcase on Thursday.
But the Sierra Mist lounge -- pretzels, mini corndogs and all -- closed all too soon, though, and after more than a bit of banter, we arrived at the UCB house after-party. More comedians, more amusing incidents. Met Seth Morris, artistic director for the UCB’s Los Angeles branch, who informed me that they’re going to launch some sort of “Wicked Pissah Funny” series this spring highlighting all of the Boston comics who’ve migrated to the Left Coast’s La La Land.
But that’s for another day and another post.
It’s now time for the first installment in the Shane Spotlight, in which I ask stand-up Shane Mauss about his day in Aspen -- at the very end of the day. Tonight’s installment occurred at, oh, somewhere past 4 a.m.
First, a news bulletin.
Mauss went up first tonight in his showcase -- biting the bullet, as they say -- only he chewed up the bullet and spit it out, letting everyone know that he would be bringing the funny this week.
So, Shane, how was your Wednesday?
“I woke up in dirty clothes with fuzzy teeth. My teeth were fuzzy,” he said. “I refused to buy a new toothbrush for three dollars because they said my bags were going to be here any minute now. Next thing I know, it’s been two days and I haven’t brushed my teeth or changed my clothes. And then I got all my stuff.”
How about your first show?
“I was the first comedian up after the host, Jon Fisch,” he said.
Had you met him before?
“I’d worked with him in New York a little bit.”
Did that make you more comfortable about starting the show?
“Going up first, I knew that might not mean the right number of people in the audience. I was more worried about people not showing up until after my set. But I almost preferred going up first tonight. I had a good time.”
Did it feel different at this festival compared to other gigs?
“I don’t know if I was nervous or my throat was really dry from the altitude. But I felt different. I felt nerves from time to time. Not that often.”
Whom did you meet today?
Mauss consults the program guide. “I went to Stand-Up A, I liked the bottom three the most,” he said. “But my group won.”