'George Carlin's American Dream' proves the comic's relevancy
- Written by Martha K. Baker
Comedian George Carlin would not have to appear on stage today to be relevant. He would simply have to rerun his acts from the last 20 years of his career. What he said about politics and political parties, and ranted about religion, and levied against controlling women's bodies still hold fast and true today.
Anyone who has reviewed and rehearsed Facebook postings and YouTube films of Carlin's comedy knows how contemporary he sounds. Still the depth of vintage film in this two-part series proves it over and over as gasps and guffaws echo through the years.
The brilliant documentary, directed by Judd Apatow ("Girls") and Michael Bonfiglio ("May It Last") delights and instructs. Carlin started out dressed in a suit and tie, became Al Sleet, the hippy-dippy weather man, then broke free to be true to himself with long hair and blue jeans. But he was always funny.
Apatow and Bonfiglio spotlight Carlin's family, especially his daughter Kelly as she remembers her mother Brenda on booze and her father on coke. Her parents loved each other so much, she said, that they got clean.
Carlin also found love from audiences. They applauded him when he spoke of needing a place for "stuff." Comedian Jerry Seinfeld calls that classic rant "the elevation of the ordinary." Comedian Jon Stewart says the "stuff" bit holds a "through line for today's lack of empathy." Three decades ago, audiences laughed at Carlin on abortion: "The pre-born are fine, but if you're pre-school, you're finished." He added, "When bishops have raised a couple of kids on minimum wage, I'll listen to their opinion." Of course, the seven dirty words are repeated liturgically.
The four-hour documentary starts with Carlin's boyhood (he described his father as "a street angel and a house devil"). The film speeds through his career from coffee houses to Carnegie Hall to tv shows until his death in 2008 of congestive heart failure. Comedians interviewed include Robert Klein, who calls Carlin an autodidact like George Burns; W. Kamau Bell, Paul Reiser, and Judy Gold. Alex Winter speaks of their work together in "Bill and Ted." Stephen Colbert describes Carlin as the "Beatles of Comedy."
No matter what the professional comedians say, no matter how profound they are or how admiring in their analyses, Carlin has the last laugh.