For George Carlin, disillusionment is a way of life

And if you don't like it, he has another blunt suggestion

Scene: Clubs, Bars, Nightlife

August 12, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Way back when, the fool, the court jester, occupied a prime spot on the political landscape. He alone could mock authority with immunity, could walk up to a nobleman and say whatever, could be both brutally honest and fearless, saved by his ability to mix truth with laughter.

How appropriate that George Carlin, in town today for a 7:30 p.m. show at the Cavalier Pavilion at Pier Six, titled his third album Occupation: Fool. For the better part of four decades, he's been telling all of us - not just the leaders, but us followers as well - how stupid we all are, how hollow, how ignorant. And we've loved him for it.

"The trouble is, I don't get to do it right to them," the comedian says over the phone from his home in Southern California, pondering for a moment the ability those latter-day fools had to speak directly to the powerful. "The people with the power and everything, they ain't listening to me, so it doesn't matter what I'm saying."

Ah, but of course it does; no one who sells a quarter-million concert tickets a year is without influence. As far back as the late '60s, when Carlin had audiences in stitches with routines about hippie-dippy weathermen and hair that went all the way down to there, he's been among America's most scathing social critics. As well as the funniest.

And he's attained that status pretty much on his own terms, without kowtowing to anyone's opinion, popular, critical or otherwise. On stage, on TV (he's had 12 HBO specials, with a 13th scheduled for next year), on albums (25 so far) and on video, he tells the people what he wants them to hear. He can be acerbic, he's pretty darn cynical (although he might prefer the adjective skeptical). He's certainly blunt.

"I'm like a songwriter or painter," Carlin says. "You do what you want, and if people like it, great. If they don't, [the heck with] them, let 'em go away. ... If I get [expletive] from them, or if I get low reaction, people don't understand things during the show, I tell them who they are, and I say, `Listen, you've got to remember one thing, folks, I'm here for me, you're here for me, and no one's here for you.' And they love it, they laugh and they like it, because it's true."

Thankfully, the years - he's 67 now, no longer the angry young man - haven't mellowed him noticeably. He still takes anyone on and isn't exactly shy about offering his opinion on things. Like the power elite, the American ruling class, a group for which he has little but contempt.

"What people don't understand in this country is that the owners, the 800 or 900 people who own this country ... they have no interest in having an educated, informed population," Carlin says, with conviction. "It's not in their best interest that people are capable of critical thinking and analyzing the [stuff] that's being done to them. They like people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork, and just dumb enough to take the low pay, bad benefits - which disappear quickly - and the pensions, which are taken away from them. People who are smart enough to work, dumb enough to work for what they're being offered."

His language is raw - quoting Carlin in this newspaper requires a lot of bracketed euphemisms - but his words are always carefully chosen. Few comics have a better command of the English language, or use it more brutally. Count on at least one monologue tonight on how casually Americans misuse their language.

"I understand that usage and, over time, changing usage, dictates what the language will be," he says. "But I'm a purist at heart, too, because I think, as with most things Americans do, they take the lazy way, and they don't have much imagination. People start using these ... they say `bottom line,' `happy camper,' all this stupid [stuff] that reveals the bankruptcy of intelligence in this country. Those are the things I try to argue against."

What you won't hear tonight, Carlin promises, is topical humor, no Bush or Kerry jokes. "I don't like it, it's dumb, it's too easy," he says. "It's like shooting fish in a barrel. I don't believe in it.

"If you want to say I like to do social commentary, yeah. But political, nah. Politics don't mean nothing, it's just a game, it's a diversion they give you to make you think you really have a choice. There's no choices in this country."

Not, Carlin insists, that he's an angry guy. "What I have that's often mistaken for anger is a disappointment and a disillusionment, a severe disillusionment with my species and with my culture, this promising democratic culture that sold itself out."

And so George Carlin goes on playing the fool, and playing by his own rules. A classic subversive, he flaunts power and authority by disregarding it. "I don't play their game," he announces. "I don't vote, I don't believe in America, I don't believe in God, I don't play their game in any way. But what I do is, I use them the way they would like to be using me, and that's fine."

Pier Six Concert Pavilion is at 731 Eastern Ave. Tickets for tonight's show are $25 to $46.50 through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting

For more club events, see Page 32.

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