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George Carlin's American Dream

A huge fan of George Carlin for most of my adult life, I loved the new, two-part HBO documentary GEORGE CARLIN’S AMERICAN DREAM. Over the four-hour running time, I learned a lot about Carlin’s early days, of which I knew very little.

In 1984, I was able to see him at the Sahara in Las Vegas and he was excellent, throwing out intelligent verbal wordplay at a pace that startled me. But what really separated him from the pack in that appearance was his uncanny ability to make you think while you laughed.

I rarely missed any of his HBO comedy specials that spanned decades and found some of the later entrees to be bitter, negative, and combative, pushing me away as a fan.

After seeing this detailed narrative on his legacy, I feel differently about those appearances.

It turns out Carlin was prophetic on just how self-centered and stupid Americans could get.

I stand corrected George.

Carlin’s family and long-time friends like Steve Martin, Kevin Smith and Bill Burr provide insight on what drove him as a comedian.

It’s enjoyable watching Carlin go from mainstream comedian to passionate counter-culture rebel and every hour of the doc is rich in clips of TV appearances and stand-up routines.

His Hippy Dippy Weatherman is hilarious, weaving drug culture into prime-time TV in ways the censors never even caught. Exploding those boundaries and getting arrested on stage, Carlin tested the limits of free speech with his Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.

That bit was a litmus test for every teenager in the seventies. It certainly was for me at the time.

Director Judd Apatow creates a fascinating dive into Carlin’s groundbreaking take on everyday life and politics, while weaving in plenty of personal input from Carlin’s daughter Kelly and first wife Brenda.

Like Bill Maher does today, Carlin always challenged what I thought, making me consider what I believe and the foundations of my opinions, while I laughed. Carlin is harsh, blunt, profane, and brilliant.

Watching Carlin leave TV behind and find his true voice in front of college audiences in the 70’s made me realize how far backward we’ve fallen today. Most college students today would run horrified from Carlin’s challenging wordplay, triggered, shocked and crying from being exposed to different ideas beyond their fragile bubble.

Most modern comedians have stopped performing to college audiences becuase of their inability to recognize satire or sarcasm as a verbal tool. Pretty sad.

Fifty years has not been kind to critical thinking in America, a fact that makes many of Carlin’s points within even more prophetic.

If you’re a fan of Carlin, comedy, or documentaries, check out GEORGE CARLIN’S AMERICAN DREAM, it gets an appreciative A.

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