Pod-Canon #1 The Casually Hilarious Heresy of Hollywood Handbook on George Carlin
Welcome, everyone, to the very first installment of Pod-Canon since the column on the greatest single podcast episodes of all time made the big downward leap from popular comedy site Splitsider to humble old Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place. It’s part of a never-ending professional downward spiral that will undoubtedly end with me offering to share my opinions on the latest Wes Anderson movie with passerby for spare change.
I love writing Pod-Canon and turning people onto great podcasts and I know how my brain works so I know that if I do not write one of these beautiful little fuckers immediately I might not ever get around to writing one, and that would suck, because I take my role as a podcast evangelist very, very seriously.
To be brutally honest, in the three years I wrote Pod-Canon Splitsider never asked me to re-write or even revise anything, nor did they ever give me suggestions on what to cover or what to stop over-covering. But I’m nevertheless going to pretend that now that the column is on my site they’ve finally let the maniac out of his cage, and now shit’s about to get crazy.
How crazy? Well, what if I were to tell you that from here on out, the column would be full of gratuitous profanity? Would that fucking surprise you? Does it, you fucker, you? Offended by the word "fuck?" Well too fucking bad.
Also, I can now use this column to freely express my Alt-Right beliefs and further my Men’s Rights activism. Because, when you think about it, wouldn’t building a wall around Crooked Hillary—a prison wall—and then sending all of our enemies a bill for that wall—plus interest!—solve all our problems? Yes, it would.
Lock her up! Lock her up!
Now that Pod-Canon is mine, all mine, the focus will be 90 percent far right wing politics and 10 percent comedy podcasts. That’s right, butthurt snowflake Libtards, I'm about to get a little politically incorrect so you may want to retreat into your safe spaces for the rest of this article, and, as Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements of Hollywood Handbook have repeatedly, semi-threateningly asserted, there is no safer space than six feet underground.
The latest episode of Hollywood Handbook has a characteristically weird, audacious but shockingly effective conceit: the incomparable smart asses play a deeply, deeply embarrassing clip of a very late period George Carlin scatting and rapping and jive-talking his way through a stream of consciousness rant and pretend that it’s from guest Joe Mande’s most recent stand-up special before acknowledging, about twenty minutes in, that it’s a George Carlin bit, and since he was the best, and obviously only getting better with age, it would benefit Mande if listeners mistook Carlin’s material for his own.
Few comedians are more revered than Carlin, and rightly so. He’s not just a legend; he’s considered a God, a paragon of integrity, a peerless comic genius. As is the case with seemingly all geniuses, not everything Carlin did was great, and the de-contextualized audio clip the Boys play is, to put it mildly, extremely not great. In fact, it’s damn near hypnotizing in its awfulness .
With awful white men from Bill Maher to Ricky Gervais to Jerry Seinfeld loudly, obnoxiously flying the flag of “political incorrectness” there’s something disconcertingly contemporary about Carlin bragging about being “politically, anatomically and ecologically incorrect.”
Like much of what follows, it has the cadence of something brash and provocative without actually saying anything or even making sense. Carlin’s crazy, free-form word jazz has a disconcerting habit of slavishly obeying comedy rules and formats. Why doesn’t Carlin just profess to being politically incorrect, a phrase that, while singularly annoying at least has some sort of meaning, albeit one that shifts and morphs constantly and can be difficult, if not impossible to track down?
Probably because the comedy rule of three dictates that three is the perfect number regardless of context, so we’re somewhat bewilderingly informed that the hep cat rapping to us all hip-like is also anatomically and ecologically incorrect as well. What does that even mean? Does Carlin have three hearts and four lungs? Is he a weather system as well as a truth-telling comedian-philosopher? Or did he choose those words because they sound funny and smart and appropriate even if they’re ultimately meaningless?
What follows is a beautiful and brutal deconstruction of the bit as Sean and Hayes take their time destroying Carlin’s opening ramble on an almost syllable by syllable basis. They’re at once comedians breaking down another comedian’s material in the harshest, most hilarious and incisive way and gleeful heretics poking malicious fun at one of the Gods of the medium.
Carlin, like Eminem, got a lot of credit for playing with words, for taking them apart and putting them back together and experimenting with form and delivery and using words not necessarily for their meaning but rather for how they sound, particularly when juxtaposed with other words, particularly antonyms.
For example, Carlin follows up the politically, anatomically and ecologically correct line with the breathlessly worded declaration, “I’ve been uplinked and downloaded, inputted and outsourced, I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a high tech low life, a cutting-edge, state of the art, bicoastal multi-tasker and I can give you Gigabytes in a nanosecond.”
Carlin delivers these words in a heady rush so fast it doesn’t give the audience time to think about whether what he’s saying. It's deliberately overwhelming. There are certainly comedians whose cadence were so inherently funny that it almost didn’t matter what was being said. Don Rickles was such a comedian. So is Jackie Mason. And so is George Carlin. His material was often brilliant, and revolutionary and important but the George Carlin persona and rhythm were so strong and so beloved that he could get audiences to laugh and cheer at material that, to put it mildly, was far from his best.
The episode made me think about a notorious clip of a George Carlin impersonator doing a corporate gig for what I have to imagine is a data storage company where a Carlin lookalike performs Carlin’s famous “Stuff” routine but tailors it for his audience by swapping out “data” for “stuff.”
The silence that follows is absolutely deafening. It’s excruciatingly uncomfortable for a number of reasons above and beyond the absurdity of a George Carlin impersonator doing corporate gigs as Carlin even after the legendary comedian died. The woefully misguided performer seems to think the crowd will break into applause every time the word “data” is uttered but the whole point of Carlin’s original routine is that stuff has a physical quality that fills everyone’s life with clutter. Data, by comparison, is decidedly un-physical. That’s the whole goddamned point: there’s a fuck ton of data on my iPhone and iPod even though they’re machines tiny enough to fit comfortably into my pocket.
Yes, the cult of Carlin is strong, but not quite strong enough to get people to laugh at nonsensical jokes confusing data with stuff.
I would like to state outright here that what Hayes and Sean subject Carlin to here is not fair. It’s not fair at all. If you apply this kind of close, brutal reading to any great artist, from The Beatles to Notorious B.I.G, you could make them look terrible.
Yet there is value in this ruthless satirical deconstruction all the same. Lou Reed’s influence on rock and roll is hard to overstate, although heaven knows a half century worth of pretentious critics have tried their damnedest to do so. But that doesn’t mean that we should quake with reverence towards the album he did with Metallica, or the concept album he did about Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven.
As the simultaneously productive and overheated cultural debate about Kanye West’s ongoing public breakdown illustrates, genius should not be a lifetime pass for either egregiously wrong statements and actions or for hackwork. Nor should a great artist doing sometimes terrible work take away from their greatness or significance.
As a matter of principle, we should make a habit of occasionally knocking our heroes off their pedestals. We’re not really doing Carlin a service by romanticizing and sentimentalizing him as a secular Saint and all-knowing contemporary philosopher whose every utterance reverberates throughout the ages as a profound satirical truth.
Carlin was human, just like the rest of us, and part of being human involves sucking sometimes. but in a standout episode of a consistently hilarious podcast, Hayes and Sean mine massive laughs out of what I imagine is one of Carlin’s late-period creative nadirs.
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