Considered by many to be the reigning king of comedy, George Carlin's comedic genius and creativity can be disputed by no one. Evolving over the years, these reviews trace his comedy from the late 1960's to the present day. Although he has released many recordings, Dr. Kuhn reviews his favorites here. You will also be interested in Dr. Kuhn's reviews of Carlin's books.
Class Clown is George Carlin's best album. It weaves together fond childhood reminiscences of, and serious questions about, his Catholic upbringing; he combines them with sharp-eyed social commentary about Vietnam, pollution and Lenny Bruce-like observations on American standards.
The Bruce influence comes through strongest, perhaps not surprisingly, when Carlin quotes him in "Values (How Much Is That Dog Crap In The Window?)." He goes off on a very Lenny-like reminiscence about growing up seeing the fake dog poop in the windows of novelty stores (and I just lost everyone under the age of 30 with that sentence); he wonders how one goes about buying it ("I'd like to see something in a dog crap, please!"), and speculates that there might be collectors of different breeds ("Do you have any Saint Bernard?" "Yes, but there's no room in the window for that...")
Strange stuff, to be sure--and that really defines Carlin at this stage in his career. He was willing to be as weird as possible in pursuit of laughter.
He was also more willing to draw on real life (which he astutely recognized as generally being stranger than anything he could think up) than he is today. And both of those attributes--the willingness to find humor in his life, and the willingness to be as goofy as possible while doing it--make
a comedy milestone.
A good example is one of my favorite moments, also one of the biggest laughs. Carlin, riffing on the weird noises class clowns make, talks about "popping the cheek," does it once or twice to illustrate-and then takes the joke to its goofy extreme by inviting the entire audience to do it too. The resulting noise is delightful--doubly so when the audience, hearing it, dissolves into hysterical laughter.
AM & FM
"FM & AM" is another classic George Carlin album from the early 70's. The album is broken up into the FM side that contains his new, hippie side and the AM side is a throw back to his earlier comedy roots. Both sets of routines show that Mr. Carlin could be topical and cutting edge in his humor focusing on counterculture issues of the day like use of vulgar language, drugs and sex or could slide into universal routines like mocking radio station DJ's, newscasts & Ed Sullivan.
His "11 O'Clock News" bit is an absolute scream as he mocks the typical talking heads of local newscasts who take themselves way more seriously than everyone else does. In "Sex In Commercials:, George Carlin skewers the supposed wholesome images of products that use a subliminal message sex to get you buy their stuff.
His Ed Sullivan routine is great.
FM & AM
shows that George Carlin is a comic who can inhabit numerous comedy styles and make us laugh at all of them.
"FM & AM" is a must-have recording if you want to round out your Carlin collection. It is easily classified as "essential George Carlin."
"Occupation Foole," one of Carlin's best albums of the 70s (a tough call between this and "Class Clown"), reveals a very different comedian. His bits on jobs, drugs, and growing up in New York are filled with sharp observations and huge laughs. Carlin's precision and timing are excellent here (as they still are today), but it's Carlin's delight in his fellow human beings that may surprise some listeners.
In "New York voices" and "Hallway Groups" Carlin's pitch-perfect imitations demonstrate his deep appreciation for the ethnic hodgepodge of his native New York. And while it's not as overtly political as Carlin's current material, Occupation Foole doesn't shy away from controversy: "Filthy Words," "Childhood Cliches," and other routines carefully dissect mainstream culture as well any of Carlin's work.
And George Carlin makes all of this appear effortless, disguising his carefully constructed routines as pot-head riffs. For Carlin fans,
is a must-have. For any comedy fan, this is a classic from one of one of comedy's all-time greats.
A Place for My Stuff
This George Carlin album has both studio and live material, which makes for a fun listen. Some great live stand-up routines are here ("A place for my stuff", "Ice box man / Fussy Eater", "Rice Krispies", "Have a nice day"...all of which appeared on the HBO special "Carlin At Carnegie"). But his news announcements, the Interview With Jesus, and game show satire are hilarious with the added music and guest speakers. That's probably why the album hasn't gotten stale.
I would recommend
A Place for My Stuff
to those who especially liked the older HBO specials he did, just want to buy and hear something funny that isn't a simple recording of a stand-up routine, or George Carlin fans who may be partial to his 80's "pre-cynical" material (though as I said, I like that stuff too). Also, maybe those who like the Cheech & Chong albums would also like this particular Carlin album for its studio material.
This album is classic older-Carlin and makes a great companion to his early work. "A Place for My Stuff" will have you laughing to and from work every day!
Back in Town
From the opening rant on abortion into a brilliant shredding of the concept of sanctity of life, George Carlin doesn't miss a single step, slowing only long enough to throw in the occasional one-liner, to make sure he doesn't lose anybody in the process of getting his points across. The third bit, about balancing the budget by televising capital punishment, doesn't move nearly as quickly as the first two pieces of material, but it is concise and poetic in its own way.
The second half of the routine is much lighter fare, focusing on farts, common phrases and annoying people, themes that
skewers expertly. And - aside from his tendency to repeat a punchline over applause - he doesn't miss a step here either. Whereas some reviewers have decried this return to safer turf for the second half of the disc, I couldn't imagine an entire album of the philosophical humor that dominates the first half. His subsequent albums, "You Are All Diseased" and "Grievances", suffer a bit from using a similar type of humor throughout (the majority of "Grievances", in fact, is an absurdly elongated version of `Free-Floating Hostility').
"Back in Town", with its variety of material and - not to overstate it - poetic delivery, is by far the best George Carlin disc of the last 20 years. Highly recommended.
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