George Carlin Saw No Difference Between Fart Jokes and God Jokes

To Carlin, the meaningful and the goofy had equal weight
George Carlin Saw No Difference Between Fart Jokes and God Jokes

Comedians Marc Maron and Dana Gould have at least one thing in common, according to fellow comic Paul Provenza. In his book Satiristas: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians, Provenza complimented both funnymen on their ability to talk about “substantive ideas with real points of view and smart, funny insights and commentary about big, heavy things like abortion, religion” — and then whiplash into jokes that live in the land of the silly, surreal or absurd. 

The best ever to balance both? According to Gould, that was George Carlin. “He’d do this amazing bit about God,” Gould said before paraphrasing the Carlin routine: “Religion has you believing there’s an invisible man in the sky who knows everything you’ve ever done and going to do, and he’s created a place of fire and agony where you’ll suffer forever if you break any of the things on his Top Ten list of Things You Can’t Do — but he loves you, and he needs money!” 

But it was Carlin’s ability to boomerang back to the inane that made it all work. “And then he’d just go, ‘Have you ever farted at a party and had to walk a football pattern?’” Gould marveled. “It’s so great.” 

Maron believed he knew what Carlin was up to. After a heavy piece of material, “you gotta lighten it up, let them off the hook a little.”

But Carlin was doing more than “just letting (the audience) off the hook,” argued Provenza. “I asked him about that and he said, ‘You know what? I think the joke about the fart is just as funny as the joke about God. To me, there’s no difference at all — and that’s what makes a well-rounded person. Not everything is thoughtful or meaningful; sometimes we’re just silly and goofy, and that’s the child in us we all embrace and put forth longer than probably is healthy for anyone else.’” 

That streak of silliness is crucial, “especially with a real thinker like Carlin,” said Provenza. Without the crazy counterpunch, comedy about heavy subjects “can just turn into some free-floating rage at the injustice of mortality. Because lots of the time, we’re really ultimately just up there going, ‘I’m ALIVE! I’m STILL ALIVE!’”

Both Gould and Maron acknowledged that their own material needed those splashes of silly so their routines didn’t completely descend into darkness. “At this point in my career, people leave my show saying either, ‘He’s hilarious!’ or, ‘Ooh, I hope he’s okay,’” admitted Maron.

“Our biggest fans tend to leave our shows staring at the floor and shuffling,” agreed Gould. “I just came from Minneapolis, ‘Land of the Sad-Eyed, Shuffling Dana Gould Fans.’”


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