For the last decade stand-up comedy has been constantly inundated with new talent. Yet, new faces rarely become familiar faces and disappear as quickly as they come. In fact, comedians are lucky if they’re remembered for a particular routine or performance. In short, longevity is rare in this business.
One comedian who has achieved longevity and whose appeal has never waned throughout his 35-year career is George Carlin, who returns to the Opera House tonight. Carlin’s still shaking up throngs of fans at more than 100 concerts a year with his ever-funny, stinging wit.
“I’m very proud of that,” said Carlin in a recent phone interview. “There are people who have their own TV series, famous people who go out these days and can’t draw. And I’m just out there pumping away.
“It’s a kind of relationship with my section of the public that has just lasted partly because I continue to write things, to grow and have new stuff. … But it also has something to do with some intangible thing about my being like their crazy uncle, a nonthreatening person who they’ll let get away with things.”
To say Carlin gets away with things is a vast understatement. The comedian continually pushes the First Amendment reference to free speech to the limit. He holds nothing sacred and often startles audiences with his shocking banter. To many, that’s his charm, but it’s also the reason he doesn’t attract the same fans as Jell-O man Bill Cosby.
“I could say, ‘Christians are a bunch of (expletive),’ and they’ll sit there and they’ll say, ‘He doesn’t mean us honey; he’s talking about the people in the next row.’ They don’t really take it personally,” he said.
Take the first half of his 90-minute show, for example. Titles of the different routines are “Abortion,” “Sanctity Of Life,” “Capital Punishment,” “State Prison Farms” and “Legal Murder Once A Month.”
“This is my vision for America and I lay out what I think we ought to be doing,” said Carlin “And, of course, they’re somewhat facetious.”
Though the veteran’s stand-up career was originally intended to launch his acting career, stand-up has remained Carlin’s priority.
He has, however, appeared in several films, most recently “The Prince Of Tides” and “Streets Of Laredo.” He starred in his own sitcom on Fox, “The George Carlin Show.” It was canceled by the network after only a couple of seasons.
“They (Fox) wanted a certain percentage of viewers from ‘Married With Children’ retained. They still have not had a show that has retained as much as we did, and they did not have one before. I don’t know all the ins and outs and I don’t really care about it because it’s not where I belong anyway. I’m glad I found that out for sure.”
Indeed, TV wasn’t for Carlin. FCC regulations restrained the comedian from engaging in any strong content. And Carlin believes he was meant to perform his own material before a live audience.
“It’s a corporate world. It’s commercial television, which is all they’re there for - to deliver audiences to advertising. So everything else suffers.”
But his experience with “The George Carlin Show” wasn’t altogether a disaster.
“It was a lot of fun to do the acting, do the rehearsing and be with the actors all the time,” he said. “We had a great time. I’m happy to be back doing my own personal art.”
Carlin’s next TV appearance will be in March, for his ninth HBO special. His last one, 1992’s “Jammin’ In New York,” earned him an Emmy nomination.
Comedian Dennis Blair opens tonight’s Spokane show.
Blair is known for melding stand-up with impressions and parodies during his routines.
xxxx GEORGE CARLIN Location and time: Opera House, tonight, 8 Tickets: $20