Again, I’m late to the game. I waited until he’d died to get into his stand-up, and it took me years after that to move on to his written work. This is probably for the best, though, as his brand of comedy doesn’t transfer well to the page. Carlin was a unique voice in comedy, owing much of that to his actual voice. While there’s nothing stopping you from reading these books in his voice, which I know I couldn’t help but do myself, there’s that and then there’s the man himself launching into these rants.
Calling them anything else would seem disingenuous to me. Carlin could’ve changed his name to Bruce Banner because his secret was he was always angry. He got away with this by virtue of being funny, as well as deceptively intelligent. He wasn’t your uncle, boozed up and launching on misguided political diatribes. Carlin’s humor might seem crass to those unfamiliar with him, but it comes from a well-meaning and well-thought-out place.
I would be lying , though, if I said it wasn’t easy to lose sight of that after wading through two books worth of the man’s unfiltered rage against the machine and everything else in sight, to start likening him to that drunk uncle of yours when he’s going on what must be the thousandth tangent about this phrase or that. Where political correctness and obscenities are concerned, he and I are firmly in agreement, but he belabors the point.
He gives one the impression that he couldn’t hold a conversation with anyone besides himself without interrupting them every other word to launch into a tirade about his or her word usage. One starts to wonder how he has enough words and phrases left that he does approve of to string together a sentence. A heckler could say one word for him and he could construct an entire set around it. That’s both impressive and sad.
These never-ending nitpicks grow tiresome and distract from the more salient portions of his comedy, the moments when he hit on something much grander and seemed to encapsulate the combined anger of every last audience member or reader and channel it into humor. The “seven words you can never say on television” monologue comes to mind. Too often, Carlin would get too mired in the details to illuminate the bigger picture. He’d stop making a point and start dulling it by trying too hard to bash the darned thing home.
Some of that was successfully glossed over by how spirited he was in relaying it all to his audience, though, and that is lost in these attempts to translate it to the written word. Although he’s been deified in a sense, Carlin wasn’t without his faults, and trying to distill his humor into a book seemed to have only magnified them. I say stick with his stand-up and, like me, feign ignorance of the books.