Last weekend, I went out to see a live performance in the first time in way too long. The Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly is very nice, I had a sixth-row center seat and I joined a mix of aging hippies and current college students to see George Carlin road-testing material for his next HBO special. So, any jokes I quote in this post should be considered SPOILERS (not to mention… containing language that is usually NSFWendell)

He opened with a crowd-pleasing “Fuck Lance Armstrong! … And fuck Tiger Woods too. I’m tired of being told who to admire in this country, aren’t you? … I’ll choose my own heroes thank you very much, and fuck Dr. Phil too! (BIG CHEERS) Dr. Phil said I should express my emotions, so that’s what I’m doing.”

“What we should do in this country is take all the mentally deficient people and put them in government jobs and watch things improve.”

He warned the audience that he would be referring to written notes from time to time, then revealed his philosophy toward his audience: “I’m here for me, you’re here for me, no one’s here for you.” Which most of us we were quite okay with.

He is now using his advancing age to the advantage of his humor, pointing out that he is not an “Old Man”, not an “Old Fart”, he’d prefer to be known as an “Old Fuck”.

Pointing out that he had turned 70, he said he liked 70, “but liked 69 even more”.

Among his ‘advantages to being an Old Fuck’: “You can get out of anything early just by saying ‘I’m tired’. ‘Aw grandpa’s tired, so we’ll let him go…’ ‘But it’s 7:30 in the Morning!’ Always one asshole in the family…” (I was disappointed that he didn’t revisit that to end the act… “well, I’m getting tired now…”)

Unfortunately, this bit contradicted something he did later when he started by saying “I like being with people… but just for three minutes at a time,” and going into impressions of people who go on and on and on and on… It was funny, but seemed un-Carlin-like to me, especially his professed inability to end the conversation. When it segued into ‘parents showing pictures of their kids’, he got back on track by showing how to respond with ruthless honesty… “I’ve never seen a head quite like that before…”

There were other subtle contrasts in tone or message among his bits that were awkward. Different pieces about kids, one in general, one ridiculing child-obsessed parents and the “every child is special” movement. “Everybody gets a trophy! A kid grows up never knowing what it’s like to lose! ‘Here’s your trophy for being the Last Winner‘ Then he goes out and gets a job and his boss tells him ‘You’re a loser. You’re fired'” Then, since earlier he had recognized businesses as one of America’s major sources of bullshit, he felt he had to explain “One thing Business does right is it doesn’t bullshit itself.” Huh? This part of the show he referred to his notes the most, and when he stood out there pointing out that “studies have shown the Self-Esteem movement is a total failure”, it seemed like a sociology lecture punctuated with ‘fucks’.

And when the audience reacted to it like a sociology lecture (not laughing much), he threw away an excellent closing line: “Big surprise! Sociopaths have high self-esteem!”

But at least 45 minutes of his 75 minutes on stage were definitely ready for HBO. He extracted good laughs out of a bit about good and bad bumper stickers that, if I wrote it down here, would seem rather dated. (The only sticker slogan I hadn’t seen before was one of his favorites: “If you don’t pray in my school, I won’t think in your church”)

On matters of sexual impropriety: “I never thought I’d ever say it, but… what’s wrong with kids these days? A 14-year old boy getting fucked by a fairly attractive teacher… and he tells the police about it?!?” And he gave an enthusiastic mini-seminar on joke construction, using three jokes that ranged from tacky to totally disgusting, making it almost impossible to avoid laughing at the ‘hillbilly incest gag’…

He got into the subject of Death a couple times, first on reaching the age where he’s crossing out the names of dead friends in his address book… then deciding to give them a six-week ‘buffer’ period. “But six weeks after you’re dead, I’m crossing you off!!!” Leading to the more modern non-paper-based address books where he argued that “hitting DELETE” was even more fun… “or, if you think Deleting is too harsh, you can Create a New Folder to put ’em in.” What he called the “purgatory folder”. Then, later on, he got into the expectations we place on dead people: “‘He’s looking down on us and smiling’… okay, I’ll let you have your belief in the ‘up there’, but wouldn’t he have more interesting things to do than look at us and smile? Andwhat if he’s in hell, ‘He’s looking up at us and smiling?’ No, he’s probably looking up at us and screaming in pain.”

Hardly any political content; just two references to the illegitimacy of George W. Bush’s first ‘election’. Nothing on immediately current events… I suspect if he’s going to write any of that, it’ll be a couple weeks before he does the HBO show, not five months.

In general terms, he did characterize America as the land where everybody ‘strokes’ (using a physical jerking-off gesture to clarify what he means) each other… “The United Strokes of America”. And finished up with another ‘fucking sociology lecture’, touching on things Americans were brought up to believe that aren’t always so (I’d expected more on this theme… it had potential for some serious zingers), and got into comparisons of the number of items on various different countries’ “Bills of Rights” (10 is rather low, apparently there are European countries with more than 20) ending with a more hostile than funny comment (I can’t quote it well, so I don’t want to misquote it) about his belief that we have all the rights in the world, until your rights start getting in his way – when that happens, it ain’t pretty.

There was enough funny for me to feel I got my money’s worth. And enough to think about for me to play critic here in the blog. And he had an uncredited opening act, Vance Gilbert, who mixed jazz, folk, skilled acoustic guitar playing, an excellent voice (occasionally doing impressive vocal gymnastics), serious and sometimes oblique lyrics and funny between-song chatter into a something-for-everybody one-man-band 20-minute entertainment workout that was a pleasant surprise where it could’ve been unpleasant. He warmed up an audience that didn’t really need it, and did it skillfully. Or as he himself put it: “See? Not all opening acts suck!”

My next scheduled appointment as a live audience will be in a couple weeks when “Weird Al” Yankovic makes his fourth or fifth triumphant return to Cal Poly, where he recorded his first Dr. Demento hits. Yeah, I’ll have something to say about that.

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