The Comedy Bit Too Dark For George Carlin
Unafraid to take on any institution or tradition, the late George Carlin established himself as one of the most fearless and incisive wits the comedy world has ever produced. Alongside the likes of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, he created the model of stand-up as a serious art form to speak truth to power. His "Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine has gone down as a masterpiece in comedy history, performed at a time when saying "tits" could still land you in the slammer for obscenity charges in certain places.
Polyester leisure suits with bell-bottoms, sadly, were legal in all 50 states.
That's when he wasn't going after children named Todd because no target was too sacred nor too insignificant to avoid his wrath.
Later-period Carlin had a dark side that devolved into diatribes where he'd simply list off people he wanted to see murdered, in a tongue-in-cheek way, of course. Still, his chill beatnik persona from the '60s and '70s gave way to a marked morbid, cranky phase. But he always seemed to make it work through sheer personality and technique.
Well, almost. In his lengthy repertoire of rants and politically incorrect observations, there exists one bit that was too awkward even for the likes of Carlin. In the summer of 2001, Carlin was honing a nine-minute bit called "I Kinda Like It When A Lotta People Die" in clubs before filming it for a subsequent HBO special. He eventually taped the material in front of an audience in Vegas on September 9th - 10th, 2001. In the completed bit, he joked around about how Bin Laden always gets blamed when planes blow up and that he wouldn't care if a huge disaster killed his entire family because he loved dead bodies and everyone else did too but was too timid to admit the truth but him.
If you happened to slip into the crowd that night and only knew Carlin as the shaggy-haired, mellow guy from his landmark Class Clown album or as the placid, widow-peaked time traveler from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, holy shit, were you in for a big fat dose of apoplectic nihilism from a guy obsessed with the color black. Throw in Shining Time Station, and it wasn't always easy to know which Carlin you'd get.
He knew when a bit was dead in the water. Sensing that flippant quips about loving terrorism and a "high death count" would only draw boos and possibly a few stray punches after a massive terrorist attack, Carlin cut the heart of his upcoming special after it was already filmed. His Bin Laden aside is completely destroyed. The whole detached vibe and creepy voice on the surviving audiotape comes across as an emotionally damaged teenager venting on an Instagram story.
After seeing death up close from an infinite number of camera angles, the joy of witnessing carnage on TV was exposed as a pretty weak premise for a bit. It's an observation that probably resonated in the pre-internet age, where uncensored images of dead bodies were difficult to view and still a novelty. Carlin's point, the presupposition that everyone secretly binged LiveLeak videos was bullshit. 20 years of vividly documented horrors captured in 1080p resolution and surround sound disproves his theory. We get numb rather than stimulated. Incidentally, LiveLeak doesn't exist anymore, and the majority of the world never even noticed. It's easy to joke about mass murder when it isn't happening to people you know, and just down the road from the house you were born in.
Remnants of the routine wound up on his toned-down Complaints & Grievances special, omitting the part pertaining to ogling corpses to get a hardon. The material recorded at the MGM Grand was never included in any aired HBO special, buried and forgotten. Only a work-in-progress copy has ever seen the light of day posthumously, that is, sneaked into the tail end of a collection of unreleased bits in 2016. You can find a rough version of "I Kinda Like It When A Lotta People Die" in the compilation album of the same name if you should want to judge for yourself:
Or just read the comment section on any YouTube video for the same effect.
Aging more like a gallon of milk you forgot in the trunk than a fine wine from a Bordeaux vineyard, the surviving recording of the bit is hard to listen to, segueing from terrorism and plane crashes being cool to pandemics and old people dying from lack of medical care, then ends with a banal comment about consumerism being bad. Tragedy plus time, our ass. Not exactly his most profound material, that's for certain. But then again, the audience did giggle and cheer, so what do we know? Love it or hate it, Carlin censored himself and made the decision he would not go down in the books as the patron saint of edgelords.
Top Image: HBO