George Denis Patrick Carlin, “the dean of counterculture,” was an American stand-up comedian, actor, author, and social critic, noted for his black comedy and his reflections on politics, psychology, and religion. His “seven dirty words” comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation in which a 5–4 decision affirmed the government’s power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves. Carlin’s routines often focused on sociocultural criticism of American society, commenting on contemporary political issues and satirizing the excesses of American culture. In 2008, he was posthumously awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? I fly. I close my eyes and picture myself making the motions of treading water, and then I start floating over trees and houses and farms and fields that are crosshatched. It all rolls by just like in the penny arcade when you drive the car for a quarter. Occasionally, I’ll throw in a lake or a river. Sometimes I let an animal run by. Maybe a dragon. One dragon, that’s all. You don’t want too many dragons in your fantasy.
What is your greatest fear? To lose the power of speech.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? My inability to relax and do nothing.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? The folks who settled the United States and migrated to it afterward have mostly been narrow-minded religious people, exploiters and frontier-justice types who shot first and asked questions later. We’re not a freedom-loving people in the beautiful, spiritual sense. We have an inspiring Constitution, but we’re a hardhearted people. When I see blacks and women wanting to gain their freedom so they can become corporation executives, I realize that the situation is hopeless. What’s the good of having freedom if you then willingly go off and become a slave to an amoral institution? It’s especially depressing to see blacks wanting to dive into the mainstream of American commercial life. They come from a magnificent African culture based on aesthetics, and now they all want to become fort builders like the vicious people who originally enslaved them.
Which living person do you most admire? I don’t spend a lot of time admiring people.
What is your greatest extravagance? I have interests and I read a lot, mostly nonfiction, because I’m probably still trying to finish my education. But my primary avocations are to make my family and my household happy, to live inside my brain, to have funny thoughts and to write them down—for myself, mostly.
What is your current state of mind? I feel an aloneness, and I relish that. As much as I love my family, I really enjoyed it when the house was empty, because then I knew I was truly alone, as we all are on the planet, after all. You know, every atom in us is originally from a star. And during my moments of aloneness, I was most mindful of that; that I’m just another group of matter randomly but wonderfully arranged. That’s when I felt my immortality.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Courage.
On what occasion do you lie? To protect peoples feelings. I don’t see much of a future for this planet. I think it’s a cursed planet. The boundaries we’ve drawn between nations and the profit motive—those two factors—have, in my opinion, brought us to the point where almost nothing can stop the utter destruction of the environment and all our earthly life-support systems. Perhaps after a holocaust, the survivors can rebuild on a more spiritual level. Perhaps civilizations rose and failed many times on this planet before man arrived.
What do you most dislike about your appearance? My left arm is 13 inches sorter than my right.
Which living person do you most despise? Donald Trump. But he’s not a living person. He’s got more in common with the undead. Oh, I am still feeling those angers…no, let’s call them hatreds, because that’s what they are. The current rebellious mood of the country has allowed me to plug right back into my old hatreds. I can scream and holler against religion, government, big business—all those assholes and their values. That hatred is very real. I still hold all the values I held when I was screaming more. They just don’t take a physical and psychological toll on me anymore. I’m not possessed by an us-versus-them mentality.
What is the quality you most like in a man? Honesty.
What is the quality you most like in a woman? Toughness.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? When I was 13, I wrote down the most colourful profanities I heard in my neighbourhood and put them in my pocket. My mother found them in my wallet one day and I swear I overheard her saying to my uncle that she believed I needed a psychiatrist.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? Sally Wade, the Pearl of the Ozarks.
When and where were you happiest? Home alone after school, before my mother got home from work.
Which talent would you most like to have? To be able to play great boogie-woogie piano. The very appearance of a black man singing R&B music is full of expression, full of a physical revelation of his feelings—sexual and otherwise. The body is never held back. The freedom that a black expresses by merely walking down the street is even more evident when he sings onstage. By contrast, the white Protestant Southern country man singing onstage barely moves his body. If he’s playing the guitar, his fingers will move and his lips will move and one foot will tap—and that’s all. He is a tight asshole and that’s his hang-up. But the lyrics those two men will write are precisely the opposite. The black man sings in symbolic terms about jelly rolls and sugar pies, while the white man tells you exactly what’s on his mind. “Ohhh, a truck ran over my baaa-by in the ro-o-o-ad.” It’s a marvelous paradox that tells us so much about those two cultures.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I’ve never permitted myself to experience the joys of racquetball.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Being arrested in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1972 for obscenity after giving a stand-up performance at Summerfest. What the six cops didn’t realize was that I had cocaine in my pocket moments before they got to me. During the show, my wife came up on stage to bring me a pitcher of water, and to inform me that I should go offstage to the right, because police were waiting on the left. When I finished my performance, I exited, stage right, and handed the drugs off to the band.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? George Carlin.
Where would you most like to live? I guess right there at home would be a pretty good place.
What is your most treasured possession? Charlie Parker’s autograph. I got it at Birdland when I was 15. And a medal: Best Entertainer, 1949, Camp Notre Dame. I still wear it.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? To be cold, sick, broke, hungry, lonely, forgotten, and dying.
What is your favorite occupation? If I had lived in Babylonian times, I probably would have chiseled my jokes in stone tablets and dragged them from house to house. In the Middle Ages, I’d have been that odd fellow standing in the middle of the square, telling stories. The townspeople would pass and say, “Every Friday he comes in and talks for an hour. We don’t know why.” I would have loved that.
What is your most marked characteristic? Positive attitude.
What do you most value in your friends? Their ability to exchange overcoats while running at full speed.
Who are your favorite writers? Man in his finest state is a curious and investigative creature capable of the magic of creativity. In a book called The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes argues that man didn’t even reach what we call consciousness—that is, the ability to self-inspect—until about 1000 years before Christ; that The Iliad and The Odyssey were written by unconscious humans who had auditory hallucinations from the right side of their brains. Now, if we can come from a state of unconsciousness to consciousness in only 3000 years, imagine what other states we might reach given the time and the freedom to evolve.
Who is your hero of fiction? I’m not interested in make-believe people.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Yorick, the much-admired court jester of Denmark.
Who are your heroes in real life? Danny Kaye was my childhood dream when I was 10, 11. I kind of looked at that and thought, “Gee, I can do that. He makes funny faces, he talks in funny accents and he can do very, very intricate vocal pieces.
What are your favorite names? Fortescu Dalrymple, Tinky Pringle, and Sympathetic Hah.
What is it that you most dislike? Western organized religion. They’re all outer-directed. “Who can I convert?” “Let’s go to this country and make them Christians.” “Wear this.” “Do that.” “No, don’t worship that way. Worship this way or I’ll kill you—for the good of your soul, of course.” Meanwhile, followers of Eastern religions are sitting in the middle of their minds, experiencing a bliss and a level of consciousness that Western man can’t begin to approach. Christianity is all external, all material. Gold. War. Murder. The big churches operate, morally and economically, just like the big corporations. Yet they don’t pay taxes. Let them pay their fair share, those fucking religions.
What is your greatest regret? Having wasted nine perfectly good years in school.
How would you like to die? To just explode spontaneously in someone’s living room.
What is your motto? Always have a good motto.