Carlin observes
the Earth

When comparing the comedy of George Carlin to recent island visitor Jerry Seinfeld, the latter's a hopeless optimist.

You'd think that if the acerbic Carlin ever met a man wearing rose-colored glasses, he'd rip them from the man's face, snap them in half, and then grind the pieces beneath his feet.

Show facts

George Carlin with Dennis Blair

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall

When: 6 and 9 p.m. Wednesday

Tickets: $38 and $45

Call: 591-2211

If you don't know his modus operandi after more than three decades of his stand-up humor, Carlin happily describes himself as a realist and skeptic. Honolulu audiences will get the full Carlin treatment during two shows New Year's Eve at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

Carlin admits that he roots for society to finish destroying itself.

"Our demise has not only begun but is almost complete," Carlin says during a telephone interview from his Las Vegas home.

"Humanity has destroyed its environment, allowed itself to be led astray by traders and high priests (meaning business and religion), mired itself in unworkable governmental and religious structures, and blinded itself with piety and greed and nonsense to the point where its eyes see all but its own enveloping free fall."

The 66-year-old veteran says it's his job to force people to confront themselves and society, saying it's his duty "to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately."

During the 1960s, Carlin was a short-haired, clean-shaven, suit-and-tie-wearing crowd pleaser who appeared regularly on conventional television programs as "The Mike Douglas Show," and "The Merv Griffin Show."

But some blinding revelation hit him upside the head between 1969 and 1971. Dropping his previous onstage schtick, Carlin let his hair and a beard grow out, switched from suits to more-casual hippie attire, took a few drugs, didn't self-censor his language and took on topics of greater importance, including religion and authority. And he became more insightful and way funnier.

One of his most famous routines listed the infamous "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television," which ignited a lawsuit between a radio station and the FCC that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Over his long career, Carlin has won numerous Grammy Awards -- and also suffered three heart attacks.

LONG GONE are the days when he would get laughs with wacky routines like "Hippy Dippy Weatherman" or "Class Clown." George Carlin gleefully goes for the jugular when going through the absurdities of American life and politics.

It all started when Carlin started preparing material for what would be "Jammin' in New York," his 1992 HBO concert special.

"I'm sure I had an inkling, as the process for that show went on, but it wasn't until it was over and I was able to digest it a little that I realized I had raised the stakes with that show," Carlin says.

The special featured Carlin taking on the inherent inanities of airline announcements ("'Get on the plane' -- I'm getting IN the plane, let Evel Knievel get ON the plane"); the then-war in the Persian Gulf ("Now we only bomb brown people, not because they're trying to cut in on our action, but just because they're brown"); the idea that the perfect place to build houses for people who have none are golf courses and cemeteries ("If we're going to recycle, let's get serious!") and the arrogance of people who think they can save the planet ("They just want to make the world safe for their Volvos").

Carlin's third book, "When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops," will be out in the fall. He says his HBO special in 2005 will have 80 percent new material, including something he calls "The Patriotic Suite."

Plus his new film, "Jersey Girl," directed by Kevin Smith (who also directed him in "Dogma") and starring a pre-breakup Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, will come out in the spring.

George Carlin took his comedy to the big screen as well. He played Rufus in 1989's "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure."

IN THE following interview, please realize that laughter (on my part) frequently punctuated our conversation:

Question: Let's start easy. Why don't you do topical humor?

Answer: I don't like spending a lot of time putting something together that I have to throw away a month later. The other thing is you tend to sound like everyone else. It's not the hardest thing in the world to do a Hillary or Newt Gingrich joke or whomever the current punching bag is. I like broader subjects like abortion or civil rights, things that are not going to go away.

Q: What's your take on medical and legal lingo?

A: We have these clichés, like "massive heart attack." Aren't they all massive? I've had three and they all felt massive. Then they call bypasses "open heart surgery." Well, they're not! The arteries are on the outside of the heart, so they don't open the heart. It's really "open SHIRT surgery."

"Flu-like symptoms?" They are not flu-like, they're flu symptoms. You either have the flu or you don't. You can have flu symptoms, but what is flu like?

"Back alley abortions" is troublesome. I doubt if any abortion has ever been done in a back alley.

Q: You're so critical. Where do you see yourself in the human race?

A: I do not consider myself a part of this world, this life, this species, this culture. I think of myself being out somewhere in the Van Allen belt with a lot of asteroids. I watch it all from a distance.

When you're born in this country, you're given a ticket to the freak show. You have a choice: You can be one of the freaks -- and we have a lot of them -- or you can just sit and watch the freaks, and a lot of people just do that. There are other people who want to fix the freaks -- those are the environmentalists, ACLU, people filing lawsuits.

Then there are guys like you and me and we get to review the freak show. It's all here for my entertainment. The world is a big theater in the round ... and God is always introducing new entertainment for me. The fact that it's fun makes it imminently easier for my observations.

Q: So all this humor is really easy for you because it's all out there.

A: Yes and no. You may have the talent for it but you also have to put in the hard work. It's all genetic, gifts I got from my mother and father. Some people have a lazy kid and another kid is industrious. I was on the lucky side of the equation. Yet I got my father's heart disease history but also his work ethic.

Q: When did you get funny?

A: When I was very young, I wanted attention and worked at being funny. I didn't go to your typical Catholic school ... but a very experimental school called Corpus Christi Experimental School. It was nothing like the discipline mills we hear about now. There were no report cards or grades of any kind, no uniforms, boys and girls together, no fixed grid patterns for the desks. Our pastor, Father Ford, was an ecumenist way before it became fashionable. Every day our teachers encouraged free thought and discussion. I was in this fertile garden where my little creative brain could grow.

But it was still a Catholic diocese and Cardinal Francis Spellman didn't like our pastor because he hung out with progressives and was always giving talks that pissed off Spellman, who was good buddies with Sen. Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover -- some axis that was! Some gay guys later told me Spellman was referred to as "Aunt Frannie."

If I had gone to the kind of Catholic schools my brothers attended, with the bad nuns, I would have been the drunk at the end of the bar with his f--in' head on the stool.

Q: Why is observational humor so funny?

A: The pressure is off for the comic and the audience. There's no pressure that they have to like you. You're just being yourself, talking about what's out there. I've been lucky because I was able to turn this s-- into a way of living. My brain at one point said, "This feels real good, so let's do this all the time." I always took the easy path and my mom always threw that back at me like it was stupid -- you know, the whole "path of least resistance" lecture.

Later on I realized, hey, that's what electricity does, and water always goes around the mountain, not through it.

Q: Are you a pessimist?

A: For my species and my culture, I'm not optimistic at all. I'm a skeptic and a realist. I don't buy the dream, the okey-doke. They're always trying to give you the okey-doke, like using deodorant will get you girls, or America is always right.

I love making people uncomfortable -- I crave it, actually. I want to test and challenge them. I tell them how I sorta enjoy it when a lot of people die.

Let's say there's an earthquake in Armenia and they first say there might be 20,000 dead. The next day they say just 6,000. Aren't you a little disappointed? I sure the hell am! I was hoping it would be higher, actually.

For some people, it's easier the farther away the catastrophe is, but not me. Even when it's on my street, I can get excited. Some people will say "Aw, the poor Joneses." I'm thinking, "Hell, I didn't like him anyway and she was a pig."

Q: How do you feel about rituals, like swearing on a Bible?

A: Does it really mean anything? If you used your left hand, would it count?

Q: At what age did you stop believing in religion?

A: Second grade. The first big disappointment was my First Holy Communion when the nuns told us we would feel God's presence. I didn't feel anything, no different. That was a big red flag! I thought maybe they weren't telling us everything.

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