George Carlin — “Still Bringin’ It” Tour
Fri. Oct. 13
N. Charleston Performing Arts Center
5001 Coliseum Dr.
Regarded by many as one of the last great stand-up comedians of his generation, the irascible George Carlin, 69, seems as determined to call out the crap in both the mainstream and the contemporary “counter-culture” as he is to make his audiences laugh. For 40 years, his observational humor has been equal parts sociopolitical commentary, cleverly-worded gripes about “American bullshit,” and twisted renditions and reworkings of traditional comical bits. On the heels of his 13th HBO Comedy special, George Carlin: Life is Worth Losing, and the recent release of the album version (his 25th live album to date), the comedian is currently on a major roll. It’s terrific news for longtime fans, many of whom watched closely in recent years as Carlin bounced back from a trio of heart attacks and the death of his wife in 1999. The rejuvenated Carlin rolls his act into Charleston with a special performance at the Performing Arts center this Friday with supporting act Vance Gilbert.
Born in 1937 in an Irish-American family in the New York City neighborhood of Morningside Heights (or, as he tends to remember it, “East Harlem”), Carlin got his start in comedy at a young age. Fascinated by the quirks of the American-English language, odd phrases, and figures of speech, he began working on comical material while in Catholic High School. After a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force, he got into disc jockey work at a variety of fledgling radio stations.
In the late ’50s, he worked in Louisiana alongside radio colleague Jack Burns on a Shreveport morning show. They began performing in local clubs as the comedy team “Burns & Carlin,” doing impressions and material inspired by Lenny Bruce and other cutting-edge comics. The duo eventually broke up and Carlin struck out on his own as a necktie-wearing stand-up comedian doing pretty clean-cut stuff.
By the late ’60s , however, Carlin became hip to the counter-culture rumblings happening in the big cities and reinvented himself with a new, denim-clad, bearded “hippie” image and saltier, more confrontational repertoire of jokes, musings, and observations.
Through the ’70s and ’80s, Carlin continued to work on television, on stage, and in films, despite an increasingly serious bout with drugs and booze. He’d show up as a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, or as a host on Saturday Night Live or Fridays, but his popularity waned a bit. Fortunately, he cleaned up his act, went sober, and bounced back in 1985 with the release of Carlin on Campus, followed by Playin’ with Your Head in ’86.
By the ’90s, Carlin began writing a published collections of essays, routines, and stories — including Braindroppings, Napalm & Silly Putty, and When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? His unique observations on the ridiculousness of modern life turned almost angry and exasperated on the microphone — as demonstrated on one of his most livid (and hilarious) albums, 1999’s You Are All Diseased.
This year’s album, Life Is Worth Losing, picks right back up with new material that aims at the same hypocrisies and silliness that sparked his career in the first place.