2007 flashback: My interview with George Carlin (1937-2008)

LAS VEGAS, NV -  JUNE 13: Comedian George Carlin pose for cameras at the screening of The Aristrocrats during Cinevegas 2005, at the Palms Casino on June 13, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Bryan Haraway/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS, NV – JUNE 13: Comedian George Carlin pose for cameras at the screening of The Aristrocrats during Cinevegas 2005, at the Palms Casino on June 13, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Bryan Haraway/Getty Images)

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed June 22, 2015

Seven years ago today, legendary comic George Carlin passed away.

I got to talk to one of the most iconic stand-ups in history in the fall of 2007, about eight months before his death, when he made his last appearance at the Fox Theatre. I was honored to converse with him and in retrospectc, he was one of my favorite people to talk to ever.

He was considerate, quotable and just plain fun to interact with. And he sounded content even when he was being Carlinesque cynical.

When he couldn’t think up the name of a particular author, he called me back later to ensure I got it. Not many C-level comics would bother doing that, much less a legend like Carlin.

Here’s the story I wrote at the time:

George Carlin is a cynic. That’s obvious from his comedy routines dating back to the Vietnam era. But he’s an oddly happy cynic.

“I discovered I didn’t care about the outcome on this planet or this country. A lot of comedians and social critics are rooting for a certain outcome or result. I don’t. I just enjoy watching the destruction, ” Carlin said during a recent phone interview to promote his Fox Theatre appearance tonight.

Carlin‘s biting commentaries on culture and language have entertained multiple generations. His rant from the early ’70s about the seven words you can never say on television has become folklore and still resonates as people wrangle over the issue of obscenity decades later.

He has taped 13 HBO specials and is set to do his 14th early next year. He’s working on his fourth book. Despite some heart problems earlier this decade, he said he feels good and, at 70, he keeps on touring with an indefatigable spirit.

“I still like people to know what I’m thinking, ” he said. “I do this for me, not for them. I enjoy getting these thoughts off my chest in my own unique way.”

Then again, Carlin is gratified he still has an audience, including plenty of younger people who weren’t around when he began his career.

“People say I’ve changed their whole outlook on things in more profound ways than comedy normally affects them. Things like, ‘My father and I weren’t getting along, but we watched your show and now we’re buddies again.’ I don’t aim for that sort of thing, but it’s gratifying and makes me feel worthy.”

Carlin said he has no real hobbies, no need to ride motorcycles or cook gourmet meals. (“My hobby is being alive,” he notes.) He doesn’t blog about his thoughts on his Web site, which hasn’t been updated in years. He doesn’t hobnob with other celebrities, much less other stand-up comics.

“I love watching people destroy themselves in public, ” Carlin said. “That’s kind of fun. But I don’t participate in show business. I just do my stuff. I’m a combination artist and entertainer. The artist does the writing. The entertainer performs. They live happily together and have a good time.”

And though Carlin keeps up with the news and mines it for material, his routines don’t play off the headlines a la Jay Leno.

“It’s too easy, ” he said. “I don’t like targets that are easy. I do mention people along the way to make a point.

“I mention George Bush a couple of times in my current show. It’s not about him specifically, but he comes in for a little abuse on the side.”

Take Michael Vick. Carlin sighed and called the star quarterback’s dogfighting travails a “side attraction in the big circus of America. That’s not the kind of thing I generally talk about. But I did write about how I feel about humans vs. animals.

“I agree with the writer Patricia Highsmith. She said a friend told her if she saw a baby human and a baby kitten crying in the street, she’d feed the baby kitten. I agree with that. That’s what I would do: Put animals ahead of human beings.”

In fact, Americans, in his mind, prefer to focus on the sideshows and ignore the big picture.

“People have lost interest in governing themselves, ” he observed, “for the sake of gizmos and toys. They sold out for Jet Skis and cellphones and Salad Shooters and leaf blowers.

“It’s just a shame. It will be the ruin of this country. But it’s fun to watch.”


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