Rage against the (corporate-political-religious) machine

March 03, 2005|by CHRIS COPLEY

George Carlin's words are blunt. He rails against the self-righteous. He derides the complacent. He ridicules the politically correct.

"We have no higher principles. We've become a nation selling cheeseburgers and sneakers to each other. It's all acquisition - money, goods and power," he said. "People covet and crave objects."

Carlin is a comedian, not a pastor. With his penchant for profanity, few listeners would find him religious. But, like a pastor, Carlin tells his listeners about people's sins - stupidity, foibles, narrow-mindedness.

And he has little hope people will change.

"I gave up on my species a long time ago," he said in a phone interview last week. "They have squandered their great gift in the interest of unenlightened, narrow self-interest."


This unforgiving view of humanity has led to a long career for Carlin, who for nearly 40 years has entertained audiences with his gritty, expletive-littered, cynical comedy. He has appeared in dozens of TV specials and movies, delivered standup comedy on stages across the world and written four books.

On Friday, March 4, Carlin brings his standup comedy routine to Hagerstown for two shows.

Words, big topics and the trivial world

Although he still tours, Carlin's main gig is his occasional cable TV special.

"I'm always working toward the next HBO broadcast show," he said. "I take two years, sometimes more, and work on the new show. I take my routine and drop things one by one. I drop one thing and develop another to replace it.

"I continue that until I'm ready to tape another HBO show. It's worked well for 27 years."

Carlin also packages his comedy in other forms, such as his books. His most recent, "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?", was released just before Christmas. It's been on best-seller lists almost since it appeared.

A shrewd observer of people, individually and in groups, Carlin said he has plenty of material to draw from. The stupidity and shallowness of people and their institutions has no limits.

"My shows draw from three categories of potential material. The first is language - it's always been a strength of mine. The new book is full of language things - 60 pages just on euphemisms," he said.

"Another thing is the trivial world we all inhabit - cars, walking the dog, things that are universal.

"Then there are larger topics: business, government, race, religion, love, hate, war. In recent years, there's been a very heavy emphasis (in my routines) on this third one - things that qualify as social commentary."

Big Brother doesn't play nice

Carlin said he does not do topical humor - comedy based on the events of the day - because it is too easy, too obvious. He looks for larger issues.

Like the death of American democracy. Carlin's Hagerstown show will likely include his view of the way U.S. elected officials have stomped on the foundations of American democracy.

"Our country's gift is democracy, but the Bill of Rights is being shredded," he said. "I call it the trifecta, starting with (Richard) Nixon."

Carlin pointed out that President Nixon launched a war on crime; President Reagan led a war on drugs; and President Bush is waging a war on terror. To wage their "wars," Carlin said presidents and their political cronies removed or watered down guarantees in the Constitution. The result, he said, is less protection for American citizens from greedy, self-serving politicians.

"It's a slippery slope," he said. "They've got people used to the idea that they can do that. 'This is for your protection.' The people got (taken advantage of) and they're too ... stupid to know it."

Americans are led astray not only by their leaders, Carlin said, but by corporations.

"Americans' industriousness and enterprise - the energy of the people - is the other thing that has been squandered," he said. "(Corporations) give them snowboards and ... hats with pinwheels to keep them happy and amused and distracted while corporations go about stealing people's lives: more hours of work, lower pay, less good jobs, less health benefits.

"The great intellectual potential of the people has been spoiled."

Americans' religion is wholy commerce

Another institution that is a favorite target is organized religion, especially Christianity. While on the phone, Carlin turned to his computer.

"I have a few statistics here in an e-mail from (public-affairs talk show host) Bill Moyers," Carlin said. "One of the things he cites are that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the book of Revelations will come true. More than a quarter believe the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks. These (statistics) are the tip of the iceberg."

Carlin isn't bothered by religion itself but by religious people who don't live up to their self-righteous morality.

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