GROSSMAN: Good evening, and thank you for coming to tonights
WritersBloc program with George Carlin and Tony Hendra. I am Andrea
Grossman, founder of WritersBloc, a non-profit author lecture
series dedicated to bringing to Los Angeles my favorite writers
and comic icons. I hope you all realize what a great deal you
have got here tonight. Carlin plays Las Vegas on a regular basis
and tonight, you dont even have to tip the host to get a
like to thank a few people who contributed so much making tonights
program possible. Thanks as always, to my volunteers and to Debra
Frankel. Thanks again to Georges publicist, Breene Wesson
for agreeing to a detour in Georges usually frantic show
schedule so he could talk about his new book, Napalm and Silly
Putty. Also to Cheryl Rhodin and the Board of Directors of
the Writers Guild of America, West for making the theatre
available for us tonight. Of course, thanks to George Carlin,
for writing the stuff he does, and to Tony Hendra, for coming
here from New York to be with us and to talk to George.
for tonight. It says right here on the book jacket . . . George,
could you hold your book up?
. . . that George Carlin has been writing and performing comedy
since 1960. Talk about understatement. It would be more accurate
to say that George Carlin has been aggravating government agencies,
corporate America and religious institutions since 1960, including
everyones favorite cross-dresser, J. Edgar Hoover. Carlin
is a comedian who lives to cross the line, and is a member of
an elite group of subversive comics that have been embraced by
the mainstream: he was just recognized with a Lifetime Achievement
Award from the American Comedy Awards.
at a time in our social history when every comic was satirizing
our values, government and culture, Carlins comedy was different.
His comedy has always been a mix of satire and ridicule without
being gratuitously mean and nasty, and has sort of a cheerful
nihilism. He has a great line, "If you think theres
a solution youre part of the problem." Of course,
everybody remembers "The Seven Dirty Words You Cant
Say on Television" which launched lawsuits against Pacifica
Radio, and which ultimately lead to a change in programming regulations
and communications law in the United States.
even if we put aside George Carlins riffs on politics and
religion, plenty of brilliant material remains. When I was too
young to appreciate his brand of political humor, George was one
of the first performers to make be laugh. Theres his DJ
on his favorite radio station Wonderful Wino and
Al Street, the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman . . . After 40-odd years
of social comment, we still turn to George Carlin, to reflect
the banality and nonsense as we stumble along with our lives.
In his new book, Napalm and Silly Putty, he devotes a few
particularly fabulous pages to what we listen to when we are boarding
not only a wake-up call to listen to the stuff we are fed all
the time, but its also one of the funniest semantic exercises
Ive ever seen or read. What he does with carry-on
luggage, for example and thats c-a-r-r-i-o-n, as
in dead animals "seatback forward" as in weird
erotic acrobatics during the safety lecture hes changed
the way you fly for the rest of your life. You must read it, and
the rest of the book too, of course. Theres a huge amount
of absolutely great stuff, and I especially recommend the parts
about how swimming in sewage ruins your immune system and his
exclusive interview with Jesus he finally got the guy to
to say, just like his carrion, Carlin requires special handling.
Tony Hendra and George Carlin are good friends. George thinks
that Tony is one of the smartest and most influential critics
of culture around. He was one of the original editors of the National
Lampoon, and has written several books, whose titles will
tell you more about him than I possibly could: The 90s, A Look
Back, which doesnt seem like any big deal, except that
it was actually published in 1989. Or, The 80s, A Look Back,
published in 1979.
The Gigawit Dictionary of the English Language, which satirizes
e-talk and the Internet component of our lives. Hendras
definition of the Internet is so obvious: its a female intern
. . . Hes also the author of a book entitled, Going Too
Far: The Rise and Demise of Sick, Gross, Black, Sophomoric, Weirdo,
Pinko, Anarchist, Underground, Anti-Establishment Humor, and
covers what he calls "boomer humor," including Mort
Sahl, Lenny Bruce and the legendary improv group The Committee.
what will happen tonight. George and Tony will talk. The audience
can ask questions when theyre through. Georges latest
book, Napalm and Silly Putty will be for sale in the lobby,
courtesy of Duttons Books. What could possibly be a more
perfect Mothers Day gift than Napalm and Silly Putty?
And while youre at it, pick one up for Dad! Even if
you bought several, youd still be doing better than if you
schlepped to Las Vegas, and at this theatre, theres no two-drink
minimum! Im so delighted to present George Carlin and Tony
HENDRA: Good evening. Id just like to say that Im
appearing tonight even though I am a member of a rival union,
Im a member of WGA, East. But Im here mainly because
Ive known George Carlin for four decades, and even though
we exchange obscene and often abusive e-mails on almost a daily
basis, I still believe him to be Americas Greatest Living
As alive as he ever was.
After 40 years of puking down the nice clean tux of conventional
wisdom, George is uncorrupted, uncompromised, not particularly
wealthy, live, untelevised, raw not pre-cooked his
glorious nihilism is the exact opposite of "comedy about
nothing." Most important of all, unlike all the comics that
Ive loved and learned from, he is not dead. Thank
you for not being dead, George.
actually think that death is always a good place to start, dont
And work our way towards better things.
One of my favorite dead comics, Lenny Bruce, always said that
the best humor was about the things that were not supposed
to laugh about. Death obviously tops that list.
One of may favorite routines, well, I wouldnt call it
a routine actually, it was more like a symphony, was a
thing you did a couple of years ago on HBO, about abortion and
the death penalty.
Abortion, the sanctity of life, which I do not understand
at all, and the death penalty. Im sort of thinking about
this Timothy McVeigh drama, this spectacle of people voting on
whether they should be allowed to watch, or certain people should
be allowed to watch . . . You know, Americans take all the
wrong things seriously. Guys like Timothy McVeigh you dont
kill them, you dont play into his hands. First of all, hes
a Veteran. So that was his inspiration. And lets
not forget: its a first offense!
he ought to be given as in a traffic ticket a warning.
Sometimes with people like this, all they really need is a
good talking to. Same thing is true about Jeffrey Dahmer.
I said at the time, "Listen Tim, Jeff nobody thinks
youre funny, okay? Nobody thinks youre funny, stop
drawing attention to yourself." In the case of Dahmer, you
say, "If you eat one more Cambodian teenager, youll
have to be fined. You wanna find yourself out on the highway,
picking up papers?"
punishment is such an interesting . . . Americans dont
have the courage of their own convictions; to take this thing
to its logical end. To really make something out of this. Go ahead,
put these things on television. Id like to use the book
in a couple of specific occasions. This is one of them. Ill
read, because the ideas took a little while to get in this form,
and I dont want to paraphrase them it spoils it.
people in this country want to expand the death penalty to include
drug dealers. Drug dealers arent afraid to die. Theyre
already killing each other by the hundreds on the streets every
day, in gang wars, turf wars theyre not afraid
to die. It means very little to kill a person whos not
afraid to die. If you want to stop the drug trade, youd
kill these bankers who are laundering the drug money. Lets
execute some of these white, middle-class Republican bankers.
And Im not talking about any of this soft stuff like lethal
injection, I mean crucifixion!
Have you ever noticed that lethal injection is actually a
form of passive crucifixion? They put them on the table and stretch
their arms out . . .
And whats nice is they swab your arm with alcohol
. . . Were afraid of infection! Were so afraid
Jews and Christians can both enjoy crucifixion from a certain
standpoint. I could take it a step further, I would crucify
them upside-down, and I would let them be naked. Naked and upside-down
once a week during halftime of the Monday Night Football
game! This is a marketing country, this is a country of
popular culture lets play into it. Wouldnt
you like to hear Dennis Miller explain why the nails have to
go in at a certain angle?
we start nailing one of these white bankers a week, and the
drug trade is going to start going down. And we could
go further, because I think there are some creative possibilities
Different forms of capital punishment?
Yes, different forms of capital punishment. Some are a little
more sophisticated. You dip a guy in brown gravy, and you lock
him in a small room with a wolverine whos high on angel
dust! Or you could just shoot a guy. You could get a high-speed
catapult, and you just shoot him into a brick wall! Perhaps you
line em up and you do fifteen of em; when one of them
is fired off, then the next one rapid fire capital punishment.
Course, then you have to stop everything to clean off the wall,
since cleanliness is right next to Godliness. Thats one
of my I wont call it a solution but its
one of my suggestions. To get this culture to warm to what
it professes. If were going to kill people, lets be
imaginative; raise a little money to pay down Social Security.
The debt seems to be in fine shape, lets pay down Social
Security, and sell these spots to Budweiser, someone like that.
Something you could gamble on.
are some fine forms of execution that perhaps deserve a second
look. Beheading hasnt been used in a long time. You could
have the head roll down a little hill, where it could land in
one of five numbered holes. Also a favorite is burning people
in oil. Maybe we could French-fry a few.
One of the things that I think that people perhaps dont
know is your background. Its very clear from listening to
you speak, and one of the things that I like about George particularly,
is that you are urban and not suburban. I have a feeling that
a lot of contemporary comedians speak with a rather muted kind
of they speak to people who love their SUVs and basically
think that all the big questions are going to be taken care of.
You dont do that. You speak with an edge that comes from
the street. You grew up in New York, and Ive always been
fascinated to know more about that.
I had an interesting pull in two directions. Both geographically
and from my Mother. My Father was not present in the home. He
had been asked to leave, when I was a kid. He couldnt keep
his ethanol down sufficiently well. So my Mother raised us. My
Father had been a public speaker; he was a very successful advertising
space salesman. He was the National Ad Manager of the New York
Sun, and the New York Post before it, back when it
was "a real newspaper," as my Mother would say.
It was a broadsheet before it was tabloid sized.
lived on 121st Street, adjacent to Columbia University.
Everything in that neighborhood is highly institutional, and sort
of "up the hill" both literally and figuratively as
well. The Julliard School of Music was located there at the time,
The Jewish Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, Grant,
Grants Tomb he and Julia were lying over there .
there was that, Teachers College and Columbia and
then there was Harlem. That was the place that I was attracted
to. There was Spanish and Black and working class Irish, just
to the north, down the hill. My Mother of course, wanted
us to aspire "up" in this direction, and we were, of
course, drawn in this direction . . .
Yes. Its funny, because theyre reversed. "Downtown"
was up the hill, and "Uptown" was down the hill. I quit
school in ninth grade. And that was the conflict that I grew up
with. I had this idea that, "I know Im smart. I cant
prove it to them, the way that they like to see it." So ideas
and speaking became important to me. The ability to communicate
my thoughts, and I wanted to be in show business. I wanted to
be one of them. I hadnt any idea of talking about significant
things, but . . .
But it seems to me that this is where your language comes
from. You, more than anyone I know actually, and this book is
a very good example of that. You have a fascination with language.
Many comedians, when you write their stuff down, it just evaporates.
Its evanescent. But your writing, your fascination with
language, makes it terrific reading.
had always told me that your interest in language came from a
kind of fascination with what happens between people, by listening
to "The Dozens" and listening to the accents of the
neighborhood. You told me that thats where the "Seven
Words" came from.
I had a fascination with exotic cursing, you might say. I
kept a list of interesting filth. The kids in the neighborhood,
we were Irish kids there was a lot of verbal skill on the
stoop. We were heavily influenced by Black street culture. We
lived on the border of Black Harlem, and what we called our neighborhood,
"White Harlem." Ive found that the people in the
center of either of those places can afford to have an insulated
attitude. They feel their whiteness or their blackness strongly.
But people on the border have to find a third way of going, a
third sort of culture, and we had that. We were influenced by
the Black gang called "The Dozens."
you wanna play The Dozens
The Dozens is a game,
the way I fuck your mother,
a Goddamn shame . . .
said "Mama," and that seemed awfully safe. We said,
"Mother." "Your Mother." We would grab our
crotch and say, "Youre Mothers lunch is here,
Billy." Yknow? This passed for wit. And thats
the point I want to make. The gross and the direct sledgehammer
. . . These guys were quick. Very skilled verbally. You had to
be on your toes, you had to be fast. That way of cursing, the
filthy language, was so interesting to me, and I kept a list in
my wallet of things that I heard.
instance, Dickie Phelen referred to the Sergeant he had as a "Burly
Loudmouthed Cocksucker." That had such a ring to it.
People would go up to him and say, "How do you like the Marines,
Dickie?" And he would say, "Well, its not bad,
if at four in the morning, some Burly Loudmouthed Cocksucker comes
in waking you up!" I had to write that down! It just
had this wonderful rhythm . . .
Joyceian . . .
Yes. Chris Bittermann. This is the opposite, this is something
thats blunt. Bittermann referred to his landlady
as "That Kraut Cunt." Mikey Flynn of the Fighting Flynn
Brothers they were notorious and they, they were dangerous.
Mikey Flynn was beating up a Julliard student once . . . At that
time, a "longhair" indeed, meant a classical musician,
or someone in the general area of music. He was kicking this person
in the head I remember seeing this in front of the University
Bar and Grill, and as he was kicking this person, he was saying,
"You Longhaired Fucking Music Prick!" It was like poetry
. . .
put it on this list, and my Mother, my Mother always searched
my clothes. She found things I stole, she found this and that,
and I always resented that. Parent shouldnt go searching
their childrens rooms. I dont think its a good
idea. My Mother found this list, and she came to me and her question
was wonderful. I didnt recognize it from the angle I was
at, because it had been folded so many times. She held it out
and asked, "What is this?" It was a horrible
moment, and I said, "Oh, that! Im just collecting a
lot of curse words that I heard, and I . . ." It was later
that night, as I was coming in, when my Uncle John, who was not
living with us, was there. As I opened the door to the apartment,
I could hear them talking and I heard her saying, "I think
he needs a psychiatrist." Somehow I was proud of that.
street gave me a lot of trust in the blunt truth. In reality.
Realism, I guess is a better word for it.
But in the natural evolution of things, the seven words that
you couldnt say to your Mother became "The Seven Words
You Cant Say on Television."
Right. Became "Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker
and tits." The seven you know, that was a carefully
thought out thing. It wasnt just blurted out or hastily
thrown together. I was trying to point out that there were certain
words that could never be said. There were some that could
be said, because they were considered dirty only some of
the time. There was a varying standard. And that "bitch"
and "bastard" were proper in a certain context. You
couldnt say, "You dirty bastard!" on television.
You could say, "The bitch produced this litter," and
another person could say, "William the Conqueror was the
bastard son of . . ." So I was just pointing out that these
words were very fluid. Some of them arent. Shit,
piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits, those
have specific meanings.
all goes back to "Burley Loudmouthed Cocksucker." I
was always proud of the rhythm of the Seven Words. In the follow-up
to it, called "Filthy Language," I pointed out that
it gets faster as it goes along: "Shiiiiiit, piiiiiss, fuuuck,
cuunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits."
All together now . . .
Shiiiiiit, piiiiiss, fuuuck, cuunt, cocksucker, motherfucker,
These words are what they are, theres no saving grace.
Fuck is fuck, and thats that! In my own impervious way,
in my own self-educated manner, I was trying to make a point that
these words are obviously only symbols, and that the thing that
were really afraid of is what they represent. Its
the religious superstition given to us about our bodies. The fear,
the shame, the guilt attached to the body, and its functions.
Sex and the parts that are engaged in it. And additionally, bathroom
just too bad that weve allowed this to happen to ourselves.
That we put an invisible man in the sky to be in charge of our
guilt, to inflict this guilt and shame onto our own selves,
on our own very person.
You know, that routine is now roughly 25 years old, and in
fact, on any episode of The Sopranos, you will find half
of them being used at least, if not all of them.
Had there been cable at that time, I would have qualified
the title, but it would have sounded very weak to say "Seven
Words You Cant Say on Commercial TV." Im happy
that cable came later. People will say this to me: "You said
that there were Seven Words that you couldnt . . . Well,
theyre saying them now!" And I say, "No,
no, no! Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits
when was the last time you heard one of them?"
Now piss is now okay. You can say that you are pissed off
angry. But not pissed on. "Why are you pissed off at me?"
Perfectly allowable. But not, "Because you pissed
on me . . ." The preposition makes it evil.
One of the things about that particular routine, and in fact,
Im sure that you are proud of, was that it has actually
become the basis of a Supreme Court decision.
I think that its the only Supreme Court case based on
a comedians monologue. It was so perverse, that trial. The
little footnote in history that I am. Its taught in many
law classes, and many communications classes. The nice thing is:
I quit school in the ninth grade, but they teach me in college.
But how did the case come about?
The case arose around the sequel, "Filthy Language"
which was on the next album, not the one that had "Seven
Words." WBAI, a listener-supported radio station in New York,
aired it. They played it with a disclaimer, on an afternoon program
called Lunchpail. They said, "This program is about
language and the hypocrisy inherent in some of these regulations
that we have, and if you are not comfortable with that,
we suggest you tune out now.
so this professional "moralist" Ive forgotten
his name, but he worked for something along the lines of Morals
in Media. He was in his car with his teenage son (and by the way,
this was during school hours, and one wonders why the child wasnt
in school). Not only did he hear this disclaimer, he went ahead
and listened to the entire monologue. Apparently, his son was
unaffected. I assume that the boy was not morally corrupted by
hearing this. This man made a complaint.
complaint. One complaint was received by the FCC in New York.
The New York market must have had 25 million radios certainly,
WBAI didnt have that many listeners. There was one complaint;
they were sanctioned by the FCC. They appealed it to the District
Court of New York, where the station won a 2 to 1 District Court
decision, then it went to the Supreme Court where it won 5 to
4. It was a squeaker, a close one. The FCC was told that, yes,
they could sanction stations for the use of what was termed "indecent"
language they had created a whole new category of filth
obscenity didnt come into play for using these
words during certain hours.
One of the things that intrigues me about this era and this
part of your career, was that this was all part of a personal
revolution, which many other comedians, and perhaps, many other
people I certainly did went through. Lily Tomlin
went through a similar kind of transformation, and Richard Pryor.
You and I we came up through this period together.
On such farm teams as The Merv Griffin Show. Perry
Ed Sullivan. My own tango was to go from The Ed Sullivan
Show to the National Lampoon, which is quite a jump.
You also had that changeover. It seems an important part of your
It was critical. I wanted to be like Danny Kaye when I was
a little boy. To be a comedian in the movies. I saw these comedians
in the movies, like Bob Hope and Red Skelton and Danny Kaye, and
I said, "I can do that, I wanna do that. I can do that Danny
Kaye thing that verbal thing that he does, and the funny
voices, and making funny faces. I can do that." And that
was sort of what I had in my mind as a goal. To be Danny Kaye.
To be An Actor. I called it acting. I was already a funny kid.
I was doing routines and monologues among friends, and I was bent
and headed in that direction, but I was very much out of step.
society I was in didnt apply to me. I was kicked
out of three different schools, the altar boys, the choirboys,
Boy Scouts, summer camp, and eventually, the Air Force. In most
cases, I was kicked out. In some, I quit. I didnt do well
with authority and regulations. I had this sort of outlaw, swimming
against the tide identity this true self. But I also had
this Danny Kaye dream, which was to be a mainstream entertainer
(By the way, I discovered all of this retroactively, when I looked
back and I thought, "well, this is what happened to me.").
One side thought, "Im going to be like Danny Kaye,"
while the other side thought, "Aww, fuck all these cocksuckers
. . . Theres an inherent tension there.
did the best I could. I worked for ten years with a suit and a
tie, with a nice, mainstream, easy "Isnt he a nice
boy?" appearance. I did nice, superficial comedy skimming
the surface. Forming behind me, was this counter-culture. When
I reached the age of 30, in 1967 was that the "Summer
When I was 30, the people I was entertaining were 50, lets
say. Their children were 20. They were very much at odds
with each other. I was right in the middle. But I was entertaining
the older group. I didnt like it at all. I was having a
lot of problems in nightclubs about that time. There were personal
changes that I didnt understand at the time.
was this other self, this swimming against the tide. It suddenly
found that there was legitimacy to that. That there was this whole
counter-culture. There were the people whose lives and whose work
that was the important thing. Then there were these songwriters.
I thought, "Gee, theyre using their abilities,
their talents, their skill, to express their feelings, and Im
up there going like, "Hey! Howya doing? You go like this,
you go like that . . .!"
I had this other side. After a while, in 69 and 70,
I was wrenched, partly by events, to be more free with my comedy
with my writing and a little bit of acid doesnt hurt
it can help a lot it facilitated some of this. I
think I jumped ahead two or three years because of it.
I was always struck by the phrase you told me. That you were
a traitor to your generation.
I was at war with these people in my audiences. I was
right in the middle. I am proud to say that I am a member of the
only generation that didnt elect a president of this country.
The only generation, a silent generation. Chaney is one of ours,
and hes obviously if something happens to him, Bush
is next in line . . .
It does seem a cliché that the 60s are being trashed
in a funny kind of way. But none of these issues have gone away.
They are still with us, and what weve gotten from that era
the 70s more than the 60s was that it was a time
of dissent, of resistance to the figures of power. It was a time
of personal transformation. Were all used to people accusing
us of being a self-absorbed generation, but these things are very
vital to democracy.
Magnet, whom many of you many not know, and is Ws intellectual
guru (theres a lot hanging on that phrase), has written
a book, which has been very influential on the President (or Vice-President).
Its called The Dream and the Nightmare. Myron, who
is basically a right wing, conservative professor, concentrates
mostly on the nightmare the 60s and 70s as the dark
ages from whence all our social ills came. Abortion, rap, crack,
these pesky wheelchair ramps, all these kinds of things. But in
fact, all these issues are with us still. I think George Bushs
I dont know if he stole the election exactly
but his ascension to power, is in fact, the triumph of
the other side, isnt it? George Bush is still a traitor
to his generation.
In that sense, these issues have not gone away. I want you
to do something, because it demonstrates this wonderfully. There
was a great routine you did in the early 90s. It was about the
And this happens to be focused, or ultimately focused, on
our beloved President, Dick Cheney, and his kind. Could you give
us a taste of this?
I am prepared for you. Its called "Rockets and
Penises in the Persian Gulf." What Im proudest of,
is that although it was written for a live HBO show in 1992, when
at the time, I was working onstage about 120 nights a year, I
am always at work on material that will ultimately become an HBO
show, and recycle it. I cut away the old show and I build the
new one. And this piece of material was built during the Gulf
War there was an awful lot of resistance. I mean
the kind of resistance you feel when assholes are clanging shut
all over the audience.
was like, "Our brave young men and women in uniform around
the world in places they cant pronounce (which is a wonderful
testimony to the educational system)." There was a sentimentality
about the war, the people we hire for it, the people full
of testosterone, the young men who go and fight the old mens
wars. I told them: "Id like to talk about that big
war we had in the Persian Gulf. That big war. It was the first
war we ever had which was on all the channels. Although there
were no battlefields, there were all these criminals in the Pentagon,
pointing to maps and charts." How did I put it?
not forget George Bushs obligation to protect the oil
interests of his family and friends. There was another, more
important, consideration at work. Heres what really happened.
simple fact was that America was long overdue to drop high explosives
on helpless civilians; people who have no argument with us at
all. After all, it had been awhile, and the hunger gnaws. Thats
our specialty: picking on countries that have marginally effective
air forces. Yugoslavia (this has been updated a little) is another,
more recent, example.
reason that were good at war is that we practice a lot.
Were a 200-year-old democracy, and weve had ten
major wars. Thats a war every twenty years. Were
good at it, because we practice. We cant make a TV anymore,
cant make a cellphone, cant make a VCR, we got no
steel industry, no textile industry, we cant educate our
young people, cant fix our old people and their problems
with health, but we can bomb the shit out of your country.
if your country is full of brown people. We like that.
Thats our hobby. Thats our new job in the world,
bombing brown people. Iraq, Panama, Grenada, Libya. You got
some brown people in your country? Tell them to watch the fuck
were the last white people that you can remember that we bombed?
The Germans. Thats it. Theyre the only ones, because
they were trying to cut in on our action! They wanted
to dominate the world. Fuck you, thats our job!
ancient history. Even those Serbs in Yugoslavia arent
really white, are they? Theyre down there near
the swarthy end of the white scale just brown enough
to bomb! Im just waiting for the day we bomb the English
people. They fuckin deserve it!
you notice that I dont feel about that war the way Ive
been instructed to feel. Theres this real moron
thing I do; its called "thinking." Im
not a good American because I form my own opinions, I wont
roll over when Im told. I look at war a bit differently.
I see it as an exercise in dick-waving, primarily. A bunch of
men standing out in a field waving their dicks at one another.
Thats what all that moron athlete strutting around stuff
is. Its called "dick fear." Men are insecure
about the size of their penis, and choose to kill one another.
Its called "fucking with people," actually.
far as I am concerned, the whole thing in the Persian Gulf was
one big dick-waving cockfight, and it was because Saddam Hussein
had questioned the size of George Bushs dick. And George
Bush had been called a wimp for so long that apparently, he
felt the need to act out his manhood fantasies by sending Americas
white children in to kill other peoples brown children.
Clearly, the worst kind of wimp.
the name, is related to the genitals, without actually
being the genitals. Bush is just sort of a passive secondary
sex characteristic. Its even used as a slang term for
women: "Hey, pal, hows the bush in this area?"
I cant help thinking, if this presidents name had
been George Boner . . . he might have felt a little better
about himself, and he wouldnt have had to go and kill
all those children."
he got right down to it, he even used teenage slang to describe
his foreign policy, saying that, "This will not be another
Vietnam Were going all the way!" That
is an actual quote of Bushs. Of course, when it came right
down to it he didnt. Faced with going into Bagdad,
he punked out. No balls. Just Bush, okay? He applied sanctions,
so that an extra half a million brown children would
die, so that his oil buddies could continue to fill their pockets.
wanna know what happened in the Persian Gulf, just remember
the first names of the two men who ran that war: Dick Chaney
and Colin Powell. Dick and colon. Someone got fucked in the
wrote that while the war was still going on.
But it does raise an interesting issue which is
what good did it do to them?
Do you think that your routines will change peoples
I? No. I dont change their minds. Its nice to
hear anecdotally, when someone will say, "You know, I look
at X a little differently after hearing that routine."
I hear things like that, but I would sabotage myself if
I ever thought that, or if I ever acted for that reason.
like any artist: you just have a song to sing. Its just
something that you want to get out of you. Whatever your tools
are, whether its paints or a beautiful piano, whatever you
do to express the feelings you have.
feel so out of step with all this. I just like to point out how
badly were doing. Thats the fun I have. I dont
say we all the time, I say you. People are doing
so badly, and I wondered why. Ive finally divorced myself
from the race I love the species but its circling
the drain, the circles are getting smaller, and its going
faster. I just view it as entertainment now. They say that if
you scratch a cynic, you find a disappointed idealist. I know
I have those chords in me. Now and then.
Is it just America, or is it the whole universe?
We are leading the way now. Once we turned it over to the
high priests, and the traders, and that happened a long time ago.
Once we gave our power over to the invisible man in the sky and
the traders, and the people in commerce. You know, theres
this wonderful brain that we have, this objectifying brain that
can say, "I other." And it can do all this abstract
thinking. To be satisfied with microwave hot dogs, salad shooters,
DustBusters we were bought off very cheaply.
the great American cattle drive. They fatten the people up, then
they bring them to market. Not for the usual reason, to sell them.
Now they get them to market for buying. And theyre all branded.
They voluntarily wear the brands themselves. They put the brand
names of the logos they wear, and they proudly go to market. Theyre
being bought and theyre buying. They where bought
and paid for a long time ago. Theyre doing the buying, theyre
being sold, and theyre getting so little. And were
just doing that to the rest of the world. We bombed the Serbians,
and we looked at the sales figures and we said probably, "were
not selling enough refrigerators over there time to bomb
someone down, so we can build them up, so we can sell them the
things they need." Its not done in meetings, but I
know that this is the motive behind this.
You see this cattle drive as being a national movement, a
Oh, they love it. No, theyre not really driven, theyre
just directed. The national anthem should be "Head em
up, move em out." Its done with traffic lights.
I spend part of my work year in Las Vegas, where you see these
clusters of people waiting to be told that its all right
to cross the street. They must be given a signal that its
all right to cross the street. It happens here in Los Angeles
too, I saw it. There arent as many pedestrians here, so
you dont see it as much, but the signal is given, and then
they begin to move. With visors and fanny packs and king-sized
thighs and thongs the kind that go on the feet and
this terrible, terrible people, who once had beauty, who
now have it all covered with fat and logos. Its so corrupted.
They go singing, they go happily, and they travel long distances,
in order to give their money to a big corporation its
just wonderful stuff to write about!
When you stop to actually think about it, they are actually
branded, arent they?
Theyre proud of them! They wear logos all over, from
the hat to the sneakers, they do it, and they do it willingly.
They love it.
You said, "Theres this moronic thing I do called
thinking." This has always been something that
has attracted me to you and indeed, I think its what cuts
you out from what I see as a long-term trend in humor. It seems
to have gone away from things that matter, or things that were
not supposed to be laughing about, to bring us back to the original
Lenny Bruce perception. Do you feel that you are talking about
the news, or do you think that youre doing something at
a more profound level?
I never do topical humor, because I think its easy.
And it makes you sound like everybody else, so I dont do
things that have perishability. I like to talk about the long-term
things that will never be solved. I like talking about those big,
larger human issues that . . .
are three areas I like to draw from. One of them is language.
I love to talk about how we speak to one another, the things we
choose to say, and to try to deconstruct some of that, and have
fun with it.
I like to talk too, about the insignificant. Whats in the
refrigerator, how we drive, pets. I like that because its
universal. You can really touch people its a door
that opens instantly. All you have to do to an audience is say,
"Thats a nice dog" and theyre all yours.
So thats the sense of community that I lack. A perverse
sense of community.
then there are these other things that bothers people for my raising
them. Like hate and rape, and war and genocide, and sex and perversion
and all the things that they would rather avoid. I always try
to have some ideas in it. I dont use the words and
the topics for their own sake, for whatever startling qualities
they have "shock value." I dont like that;
I try to avoid that term. But thats what I mean. I like
throwing big stones at them. In the midst of telling them why
they deserve it. I like describing with logic and with ideas,
the underpinnings of my irritation with them.
now, when I say "cocksucker" or "cunt" or
"shitface" or something, it is for the purpose of something
else. It is a blunt instrument, but it does focus the mind
when it is used properly. Its a well-balanced stew.
One thing that I have noticed about your routines is that
your thoughts, I wouldnt call them a pedagogical tactic,
but you seem to have graduated from being a mere entertainer to
being a teacher. But as you do so, you also seem to be drifting
further away from the planet.
Once again, I discovered in retrospect, around 1990, 1992,
that I had separated myself from this romance that is called the
human race, this democracy, this consumer culture. Besides being
an entertainer, and a stand-up comedian, which is something that
Im proud of, that theres an artist at work in here
too. An artist, generally, is on a journey and you dont
know where its going to take you. I had divorced myself
emotionally from any sort of potential solutions.
think a lot of comedians who appear topical or issue-oriented,
underneath it, they are rooting for an outcome. "Gee, if
we all vote and sign petitions and hold hands and hum things,
and save our cans and sort our garbage, everything would get to
be a whole lot better. Its there! Its underneath the
criticism I make."
criticism isnt based on that that theres a
way out. There is no way out! I really felt that. I thought,
"This is really good, I can divorce myself from the cheerleader
role. I can point and say how badly were doing. I think
of myself as out there somewhere beyond the Ort Cloud, where the
comets form, beyond the solar system. I hope, by the way, that
theres one forming right now, and that its turning
slightly toward Mississippi . . .
enjoy criticizing on the basis of "Its you folks."
Because I never felt a part of this, I never identified with a
local group. I never belonged to any club, organization, or state.
I love New York City, but thats a chauvinist thing.
I suppose its a belonging thing. Im not proud of this
country, I dont care what happens to it, I honestly dont
give a shit if it all goes up in flames. Having that freedom
just made the writing so much more fun. On specific
beliefs, not just this general, "You know, you put the
aluminum over here, and the glass over there, and everything will
come out wonderful!"
As you drift further away, from your viewpoint, what state
is the planet in?
The planet is fine. The people are fucked. This planet has
been here for four and a half million years, weve been here
for maybe, 150,000. The industrial revolution for what,
2-300 years. And we have the colossal arrogance to assume that
we are going to have an effect on this planet thats negative?
Global warming included. The planet will take care of itself,
its a self-correcting in fact, Ive a piece
in my book about that too. I want to read it, because I want to
tell it to you accurately.
planet has put up with much worse than us. Its been through
earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, solar flares, sunspots,
magnetic storms, pole reversals, planetary floods, worldwide
fires, tidal waves, wind and water erosion, ice ages and hundreds
of thousands of years of bombardment by comets, asteroids, and
meteors. You think a few plastic bags and aluminum cans are
going to make a difference?
planet isnt going anywhere, folks, we are! Were
going away. Pack your shit we wont leave much of
a trace. Thank God for that. Nothing left. Maybe just a little
Styrofoam. The planet will be here, and well be gone.
Another failed mutation; another closed-end biological mistake.
planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas. And it will
heal itself, because that what it does; its a self-correcting
system. The air and water and earth will recover and be renewed.
And if plastic isnt really degradable, most likely the
planet will incorporate it into a new paradigm: The Earth
Earth doesnt have a particular prejudice against plastic.
Plastic came out of the earth. Perhaps she sees it as
one of her many children. It could be the reason the Earth allowed
us to be spawned here in the first place. She wanted plastic,
but didnt know how to get it!
say, "Why are we here?" The planet says, "Plastic,
Weve just about come to our hour, but I have one more
thing Id like to get in. One of the fathers of 20th
Century relativism, was Bertrand Russell, who was no relativist
in his personal life at all. He was a pacifist, and he was conscious
of the abuses of power. He had a great saying. He said, "Dissent
is life, conformity, death." And as far as Im concerned,
you are one of the few voices of true dissent left in our
society. Its been an honor to be here with you.
George, I just bought a dog, and Im concerned about
the way the dog thinks around the house, and I know that youve
done some material about that. Could you tell me a little of your
insights about dogs?
Well, they love it when you get home. They hate to see you
leave. You know, they could do without you if you could just teach
them how to use the can opener. They know where the dog food is
they cant open the cans. I cant generalize,
but there have been at least four or five generations of material
on dogs and cats, theyre wonderful extensions of . . .
Didnt you have a dog who committed suicide?
Yes, I did. He ran out in front of a truck. And the sad thing
is, you dont see it coming. He doesnt suddenly show
up in an AC/DC t-shirt, has a friend who cant make eye contact
. . . And never a note! They just run out there in traffic, and
no note. And thats what they want to do. They want to pay
George, when you were asked to be the first host on Saturday
Night Live, did you consider that an honor at that point in
There was no such show as Saturday Night Live when
I hosted the first one. There was to be a rotating host, Richard
Pryor, Lily Tomlin and I. That was the projected idea, and as
they got close to the first broadcast that idea was scrapped.
They couldnt get the people they wanted regularly enough,
so they decided to go with a guest host each week. I was lined
up to be one of the rotating hosts, so they slotted me in. But
no one knew anything obviously, about the lasting power of that
function I served on that set was as a mediator. On one side,
there was this younger group. Younger than I, of course, with
the same voice perhaps, vocabulary and so forth the Belushi
troupe. They were dissenting, brash it was 1975. They were
the voices of this angry generation that was rebelling. Then there
were the stagehands. "Yeeah, dees guys ovah heeah, dees guys
were runnin da show. Dees guys, Jeesuz Christ, theyve
got em on TV now." I was the mediator. I was reassuring
the old guys that these people were all right, and to the younger
folks, that these guys were not the complete enemy. They know
how to turn the dials and make the show happen. I dont remember
the specifics, but I remember playing that role for a week. Trying
to keep these two parties from what would have happened without
my being there.
You did actually run into some censor problems, didnt
Oh, we had the Cardinal! The Cardinal was on the phone
before we were off the air! I was so proud of that. Would it have
been OConnor at that time?
Spellman still? They were frantic! I did a routine about God.
I did a thing where I said that God, obviously, was not perfect.
Look, the mountain ranges are all crooked, he cant make
two snowflakes alike whats all this reverence?
And he never made a dime.
And he never made a dime, thats right. So as we were
finishing the broadcast, somebody, I guess it was Warren, said,
"The Chancery, the Chancery!" I just like the hammering
and the pressing. Yknow, making em react. Its
part of the kid thing.
Things have changed so much in comedy on television. Reports
now show that 80 percent of the material on sitcoms is about sex
and dating I wondered what you thought about that.
The thing that people always seem to miss when they talk about
television and radio and "censorship," is that these
arent anything more than advertising media. These mediums
are for messages about commerce. They hang the messages onto some
form of "entertainment." I say "entertainment"
with a certain kind of reluctance. Very little art of course,
but "entertainment." "Heres the soap, and
heres the Brillo, and heres the tires" and so
forth. What does one expect?
fact, thats what I say about this country all the time when
they say, "Well, can you imagine what will happen if "
And I say, "What the fuck were you expecting? Havent
you been noticing? This has been going on for a long time!"
They say, "Did you hear what happened?" I say, "No."
Then they say, "Sum-sum." I say, "SO?!!"
what they do they sell goods. They dont want to potentially
drive off customers. So with sex now, theyve found to be
in the culture, so sex is now okay, because its marketable
it will help you sell a few things. I mean, it always has,
but now the subject matter can be in the story line too. So I
dont wonder about it, I just see it and think, "Good
the circles are getting smaller."
You mentioned earlier that one of your areas of concentration
is the study of language. With all the talk about the dumbing
down of America, do you have any observations about the change,
in the last 25 to 40 years, of language and the way that we communicate
with each other?
The poor Boomers, who come into such deserved abuse. Ill
be oblique here for a minute, because I have a few recent examples
that just make me shake my head. The Boomers are so reluctant
to age. So reluctant to go down the path toward extinction, that
theyve created this category for themselves called, "The
of the problems of our current language is this completely correct
mantle that hangs over so much of it. Not just the codes on the
campuses, but the effect of it overall. The attempt to soften
everything and to put a nice finish on tough reality. These are
minor examples, but I have so many of them that ultimately, their
sheer volume is what gives this point validity. But just as examples:
smoking." It was very direct, very simple. "No smoking."
Not hard to misunderstand that. "No smoking." To the
point. "Thank you for not smoking." Thank you for not
giving me a sidestream cancer. Its a softening of everything.
No more "Do not disturb." Thats an imperative
sentence: "Do not disturb." Now, its "Privacy,
Please." Its "Thank You" for everything.
I swear to you, I was in a hotel, and I picked up the phone and
they said, "Thank you for calling the Operator."
not just the politically correct. Its this attempt by white,
liberal, elitists from the academic circles in the eastern universities.
Its like, "Big White Daddy Knows Best Well
tell you what you want to be called, you African Americans."
say, African American. How about a white South African who comes
here, comes to America. Is he not an African American? Can we
use that term for him? Is an Egyptian an African American? Is
a Jamaican who comes here, isnt he a Jamaican American?
Or is he a Jamaican African American? Its just absurd. Native
American was a term given to us by the Interior Department as
a way of keeping track of people. It includes Aleuts, and Hawaiians,
and Polynesians, etc.
way off on this one, but theres one more example that I
want to get in here. Theres a woman on a plane with her
son. Theyre in a seat ahead of me, and we were all settling
in boarding time. This womans son apparently did
something that the woman didnt care for, and she said, "STAY
ON TASK, JASON!" I told this to someone recently as an
example, and a woman said that she had brought her daughter to
a Girl Scout meeting. It was going to be a long session. For some
reason, it was going to be about four hours. So she said to another
mother as they were going in, she said, "Gee, this is going
to be about four hours. I hope theyll have some snacks."
And the other woman said to her, to the mother, "Youll
have to learn to better manage your expectations."
And its not just liberals either. I was just looking
at the L.A. Times just yesterday. There was a quote, clearly
from an NRA member, in which he referred to gun control as "victim
George, besides what you read for the sake of your work, what
do you read for enjoyment?
I wish I understood how people find the time to read. I really
do. Im very obsessed with my work, the details of pursuing
my work, being on the road. Im in a wonderful relationship
my wife died in 1997 and since that time, Ive met
Sally Wade. Were in a relationship that joyfully requires
every second I can bring to it. We spend a lot of time talking
and being together and becoming the pair that we are. Then theres
the work and the travel, and the reading . . .
know, I love Gore Vidal. Hes the one who introduced me to
the "Sky God" concept. I read a little Gore to get away.
But reading its a way of researching my work
its not really for enjoyment. I am trying to learn to quiet
the monkey mind. My daughter Kelly, who has a greater comfort
with Eastern thought and the practices thereof, she I want
that too. I would like to quiet this thing down. If I could just
shut up for half an hour I would love that.
like reading about large-scale astrophysics, and the smaller,
quantum physics. Scale, interests me. That, and the passage of
What do you watch on TV?
I dont watch anything on TV as an appointment. I dont
say, "Oh, gotta see that." Maybe The Sopranos. I
understand that show, and I love the mob mythology. But I have
television on as wallpaper, as background music. Mostly on MSNBC
and CNN. Just hearing, just listening to the cavalcade.
The things that interest me, some of them are about language,
some of them are about values. They call out from this
steady stream of data. They call out, and I write them down.
comedians, I like people like Louis Black, I like Mitch Headberg.
I like people who have a little dark quality, who have an odd,
left-field angle. Louie Anderson has that quality, and I dont
think a lot of people really recognize that. That interests me.
I dont see enough comedians to give it a fair analysis.
How old were you when you began making jokes with your friends?
I was always being funny before school began not preschool.
They should have preteachers for preschool. But my Mother would
get me to imitate people for company, when they would come over.
My Mother was very smart. There came a time in our home when I
made a joke. It wasnt mimicry for a change, or some silly
physical thing. I said something that was apparently witty. I
said something that was a joke, I surprised her intellectually
with a piece of logic or thought.
knew her fake laugh. I knew my Mothers phony social laugh.
And I knew her genuine laugh. She laughed a lot. And I heard the
genuine laugh I think I must have been 8 or 9 years
old. It was just a moment that Ill never forget.
I wish I knew the line. I wish I knew that, but I thought, "Oh!
Oh, yeah! Yeah, yeah you can do that too!"
was the class clown, the neighborhood wiseguy. The kids on the
corner, all said, "Georgie! Ya fuckin crazy! Georgies
fuckin crazy Georgie tellm dat thing . . ."
I didnt like to fight. I was a fast runner a nervy
guy. I would steal anything, and I could climb! If there were
bad guys, yknow, bad, meaning tough, I would go and do my
goofy shit with my eyeballs and everything, and they would say,
"Dont hit him its bad luck."
What about your Danny Kaye dream? Have you ever done any routines
No, but I will say one thing about the Danny Kaye thing, and
I dont know why I want to tell you this, but I must.
collected autographs as a kid not in any sort of hardcore
way, but just by hanging around the stage doors. My Mother didnt
come home until seven at night, and until then, I got autographs.
And I loved Danny Kaye. And I waited for him once at Radio City
Music Hall. There was a movie and a stage show; movie, stage show.
The Paramount had that, the Capitol, the Strand, the Roxy had
that, and Radio City. He was in the stage show at Radio City,
and I went and I stood at that door for over an hour. It was a
rainy, cold day I wasnt in the direct rain, but it
was very cold and it was getting dark.
knew his schedule, because you could lean into the doorman and
say, "Is he out? What times he come back? Theres
a show at 6?" or whatever. And I stood there and waited for
Danny Kaye, and he came and I was the only kid there. And he walked
right past me. He wouldnt even say anything. And I did my
little rap, "Oh please, please, please . . ." And then
later I see him with these UNICEF kids, with 30 of them sitting
on his lap, and I knew he was full of shit. Sorry, but I had to
tell you about that.
When I first got married, I said to my husband, "We have
to get rid of this shit, so I can bring my stuff in." He
had no idea of what I was talking about. Could you please explain
it to him?
How long ago was this?
Twenty years ago!
Theres more of it now, Ill bet! The key line in
the routine that you are referring to there, is: "Have you
ever noticed, that your shit is stuff, but that their
stuff is shit?" Theres another category. Crap.
Crap is what your Ex left at the house. "Where are comin
over here to pick up your crap?"
routine it was one of those things that struck a chord.
I hear about it more than any other routine, except for maybe
the "Seven Dirty Words." It was one of those things
that gave me a sense of belonging. Theres gotta be balance.
And even though I felt like and outsider and acted like an outsider
and thought like an outsider, what I was missing was a sense of
belonging. An outsider wants nothing more than to belong on
some level on his terms, preferably. And so, when people
talk about that, I know that I struck that universal note. That
gives me great joy. Its a part of my work that doesnt
come in for as much attention as some of the more spectacular
and exotic subjects that I like to choose. Im proud of that
piece, and "Baseball and Football." I feel the same
about that one.
Hemingway said, "A long life deprives a man of his optimism,
a short life is better." How do you maintain a sense of optimism
when you deal with the dark side of things as you do?
Some mechanism in me has produced a comfortable dichotomy.
I have a personal experience of positivism, friendliness toward
people, openness, and optimism about people. I dont have
that optimism about the species as a whole. Maybe thats
the balance. Maybe the one is only allowed by the presence of
the other. Maybe if I was so eaten up with that thing I do thats
so external, my dislike and distaste I dont
think that I would be able to do this with any skill of with any
flair. But I personally shine inside, and I kind of shine
some of that light on people I know that sounds rather
self-serving, but thats exactly what it feels like.
Youre shining inside?
Im a shiny guy.
I know pretty much every one of your routines, and all my
friends do too, and I must confess that I cant get enough
of you. Im 16 and growing up in America, and obviously,
according to you, Im pretty fucked up. Could you comment
Theres nothing like self-examination! Asking someone
how fucked up you are is the first step toward getting well!
What do you think of the current crop of comedians, like Chris
Rock and Adam Sandler? They started in stand-up, just like you
did, and now theyve gone into movies and are making 20 million
a picture . . .
Well then, the Danny Kaye gene lives in the general population.
I am less in touch with the generation that they represent. Chris
Rock is not the same to me as Adam Sandler. But there arent
enough people and Chris Rock is one of them, hes
professed this who honor the art of stand-up and wish to
refine it in themselves, and their craft. Most of us see it as
a stepping stone. As a way to get somewhere else. Very few people
say, "Boy, Im gonna be a stand-up comic when Im
50." Thats just not that way we think.
was forced by tax trouble, and certain circumstances, to stay
on the road. But I hit that line where I did become a better
comic, and I actually became an artist, and I came to think
that, "Oh yeah, this is it." Acting on the side
was fine and wonderful, but that this, I didnt know
about this. If I had had the career I had wanted in the
60s, if I had gotten that Under the Yum-Yum Tree audition
that I wanted those auditions that I was so horrible
at if the girl I was auditioning with hadnt sucked,
I might have gotten some dumb-assed acting career that would have
been mediocre, moderate, lasted awhile, and then where
would I have been? I never would have discovered these other parts
of myself. So I got lucky! I applaud anyone whose dream
takes them anywhere they wish, and I especially like when you
dont know where you are going, when it surprises you. Thats
What material did you have the most fun writing?
The writing is the real joy. Ive sometimes said that
there are two parts that get exercised in me. The Show Off, thats
my instincts to go onstage. And the Good Homework Boy, gets to
stay home and refine the work.
more joy now for me in the writing, to see the sentences and movin
that text around! Boy, I love movin text! "What?
This belongs down here! Whats the same document, and I got
nine other things . . . and rimp! wrank!" Boy that feels
great! But getting out there onstage involves a different set
of muscles, and that feels wonderful too.
of the pieces I enjoyed writing was something called "Love
and Regards" Its in this book. Its about how
we say to one another, "Give my regards, give my love to,
give my best to." And I tried to take it to its furthest
possible extreme. I was very happy with the piece. It has a mathematical
progression to it that surprised me. It has a wonderful logic.
I want to ask a question now. Where does Napalm and Silly
Putty come from?
The title? There are two explanations. One is in the introduction
of the book. Its a way of crystallizing the idea that Man
large capital "M" the way weve always used
it (I honor women in different ways, by altering my language).
Man has been able to come up with such disparate things as a jellied
gasoline that mains and kills and scars, and a putty-like thing
that can be broken in pieces and stretched out. And when you press
it onto a comic strip, you can see a backward picture of Popeye.
That were capable of these two extremes. And it seems like
its the stuff in the middle that were not very good
at. Thats one of the reasons for the title.
other reason is that it describes the two parts of my nature.
I think I have a so-called angry, strident, restless and discontented
side. Then, therell be this childlike wonderer who asks
these questions like, "Why dont we have desert at breakfast?
Why only with food?" Thats it! Theres
the inevitable dualism!
and edited by Kurt Wahlner