George Carlin was a legendary standup, an underrated actor and a prognosticator of sorts.
A few months before the contemporary Mark Twain passed away in June 2008, the legendary humorist made like Nostradamus and predicted that the American empire was nearing its end.
“We’re circling the drain right now,” Carlin said during the last of our 12 interviews. “Nero is playing his violin. It’s all over for America. I can see an out-of-control pandemic wreaking havoc in this country and around the world.”
Carlin, who died in an untimely manner – that sounds like a Carlin joke … you can almost hear him saying, “What death is timely? Bob checked out at the perfect time!” – at 71, was dark as a moonless night in the woods toward the end. If it wasn’t a pandemic, it was warfare that would end life the way we know it.
“There are these nasty bombs out there,” Carlin said. “Pakistan has nuclear weapons, India, France. … Someday somebody is going to push a button because he’s ticked off.”
During uncertain times, celebrities have made some unusual predictions that have been way off the mark.
“I know what al-Qaida is going to do next,” Joan Rivers informed me weeks after the devastation of 9/11. “They’re going to attack the Oscars. They want to kill Tom Cruise.”
Not quite. Only one entertainer had made an outrageous statement and actually nailed it. When Pat DiNizio was running for a New Jersey Senate seat in June 2000, the late leader of the Smithereens suggested that New York should beware of terrorism and tighten up security. DiNizio detailed his concern during a chat for a Village Voice feature.
My features editor at V.V., Chuck Eddy, laughed hysterically at DiNizio’s hysteria. Fifteen months later, the World Trade Center was demolished.
“We’re at the beginning of a really interesting chapter,” Carlin said when asked about what was up next. “It’s time to sit back and watch.”
Could Carlin be the next entertainer to see the future? Probably and hopefully not. However, it was interesting looking back at the notes from a dozen chats with Carlin, who grew more negative with each passing year.
Carlin, a staunch atheist, was certain about the great beyond. “We’re just a bag of garbage,” Carlin said. “We’re not going on to anything else.”
But after a few minutes of chatter, Carlin would lighten up and deliver his philosophy.
“The whole world is a freak show,” Carlin said. “When you’re born, you get a ticket. It’s a circus, a cavalcade of entertainment. You should have fun with it.”
Carlin loved bizarre events. Just before the Beltway Sniper case was solved in Montgomery County, Maryland, in 2002, Carlin riffed off the cuff about the surreal murder, which petrified the D.C. Beltway area.
“Fun, interesting, good news story, great to watch,” Carlin said as he pondered the grave situation from the safe confines of his Los Angeles home. Funny to watch these cowardly Americans.
“I’m telling you, more children get killed in minivans going to soccer every day than there are going to be killed by this thing. The people in Washington, D.C., are (a part of the female anatomy). The sniper’s an interesting dude or they are. I hope he stops suddenly.
“I wish that he hadn’t written them (the police). I was hoping he would stop suddenly and then show up in San Francisco in about six months and then just show up somewhere else six months later and just keep messing with them. Interesting stuff.”
It was a great rant that Carlin never used onstage. But the ace provocateur bothered me. I was living three hours from the inexplicable slaughter, and I had the willies. If those in D.C. were wimps for running serpentine after leaving the grocery story, what did that make me?
I played a little “Twilight Zone” with Carlin. He was no longer a famous entertainer but an average, everyday citizen living at the epicenter of the twisted murders. “Alright, I would buy a Stairmaster and stay indoors until they catch the bleep,” Carlin admitted.
It was evident then that what Carlin delivered onstage was heightened oratory, and he would do the same during interviews. It was all for dramatic effect. He used words like no other entertainer. Rappers don’t hold a candle to the monologist. Carlin wielded speech as a hilarious and insightful weapon.
Carlin’s forecast for the future was dour, but it bothered him about as much as the Beltway Sniper. “I don’t get disturbed by anything,” Carlin said. “To me it’s a big circus. It’s all a big game. This country is in its decline. You look at the decline of the English Empire or go to the Roman Empire, and you’ll see the common denominators. There is too much division of wealth.”
Carlin was well off, but he didn’t flaunt it. He was never part of the Hollywood set, and I’m certain that’s part of the reason why deserved tributes weren’t rendered.
“I never had showbiz friendships,” Carlin said. “I live inside my head. Me and Sally (his second wife) are all we need. You know what’s nice? I love to say we don’t go over to anybody’s house, and we don’t have anybody over here.”
When I told Carlin my father was the same way, he laughed. “Tell your dad he’s a smart man,” Carlin said. “And he saves a lot of money on greeting cards.”
But I always sensed that deep down, Carlin cared since he wasn’t just a comic but a social engineer. He often offered solutions along with punch lines. However, he claimed he was a detached observer.
“The reality is that I don’t give a crap,” Carlin said. “I’m way out past the orbit of Pluto in my mind. It’s all a distant event, a drop-in time. You know none of this matters at all.”
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