Sharpened in the Eighties (1981-1986)
"I was back at Carnegie Hall, where I'd been ten years earlier at the height of my first breakthrough. I'd shown I could bounce back from a near-fatal Big Ticker Event and joke about it. The lack of focus, the tentativeness, the 'hey-man' looseness of the seventies had all vanished. I took the stage from the moment I came on and held it till I left."
- George Carlin, Last Words
- Acknowledgements [0:26]
- Opening [1:13]
- A Place for My Stuff [4:35]
- First Announcements [1:34]
- Have a Nice Day [3:14]
- Rice Krispies [2:35]
- Second Announcements [1:09]
- Interview with Jesus [8:06]
- Join the Book Club [2:37]
- Abortion [0:28]
- Third Announcements [1:26]
- Ice Box Man [6:16]
- Fourth Announcements [0:53]
- Asshole, Jackoff, Scumbag [6:29]
- Fifth Announcements [0:25]
- Fussy Eater (Part 1) [3:38]
- Sixth Announcements [1:05]
- Fussy Eater (Part 2) [4:32]
- Seventh Announcements [0:16]
A Place for My Stuff (1981)
Recorded November 1981. Released August 1981.
This was the very first George Carlin album I ever owned, and to this day I'd have to say that it's my over-all favorite. I probably chose it first due to the inclusion of many bits I had seen in Carlin at Carnegie. I first bought it on cassette but I don't think it was released on CD until 2001, which of course I re-bought. Hell, I even named my blog after it.
This is a unique Carlin album, because it's not just all stand-up comedy. It's a mix of both stand-up and studio-recorded comedy sketches. As Carlin mentions in the biography Last Words, he was planning on making a film version of stand-up routines mixed in with other footage called "The Illustrated George Carlin", but plans for that fell through when he ran out of money to fund it. "In a way the album concept was an audio version of The Illustrated George Carlin -- cutting away from live performance to recorded vignettes." To me, A Place For My Stuff as an album also marks a rebirth in Carlin's style. Starting with this album and continuing into the 1980s, Carlin sounds much more quick, efficient, and focused than he had ever sounded before.
The album was nominated for a Grammy in 1983, but lost to Richard Pryor's comeback album, Live on the Sunset Strip.
I was rather surprised that Carlin didn't have too many good things to say about the A Place for My Stuff album! Here's an excerpt from Last Words:
"I hadn't recorded an album in five years -- after doing one almost every year -— and it would be a talking point: "Check this out: George is on his way back." [...] To do something different and attention-getting, I needed to get back to a concept album. I made it half live, half in studio. It was called A Place for My Stuff. Overall I felt I didn't pull the concept off, although there's some good material on it. It was the first time I used the line: "Why is it that the people who are against abortion are people you wouldn't want to fuck in the first place?" The stand-up stuff was passable. The studio stuff really stunk. I had no experience in the studio and I wasn't about to let anybody help me. But it was something to talk about, and the "stuff" routine, which was the opening of the live portion, eventually became a signature piece for the next generation of material."
There are three female characters on the album: the interviewer in "Interview with Jesus", and the two from "Asshole, Jackoff, Scumbag", Ethyl Schwanz and Ola May Critter. For a long time I didn't know who supplied these voices. There are no credits on the cassette version, nor the CD version, and no mention in the Carlin's biographies Last Words nor 7 Dirty Words. Some time in the 90s I was listening to the album with my brother, and he commented that Ethyl sounded like Toby, the rude secretary from one of our favorite series, HBO's Dream On. Toby was played by actress Denny Dillon, who had also been in the 1980-81 season cast of Saturday Night Live. Some sources I found on the web listed Denny Dillon among the album credits, but those sources seemed highly questionable. Kelly Carlin told me that it was Lois Bromfield. Bromfield did in fact do a video version of the "Interview with Jesus" with George Carlin four years later for the HBO pilot Apt. 2c, but the voices on the album didn't sound like Bromfield to my ears.
Finally in March 2013, I got in touch with Denny Dillon, and she confirmed that it was in fact her on the album. Here's what she said:
... Yes I am the voices on the George Carlin album. He had seen me on Saturday Night Live and asked me to do those voices. I didn't actually realize I was uncredited, but it was me, doing all three of the voices. Happy you recognized that! They were characters of mine and I adapted them. The New Yorkish one [Ethyl Schwanz] is "Pinky Waxman" and the midwest voice [Ola May Critter] [is] "Nadine", characters I had created and did on SNL. ...
At the time of this writing, Dillon leads a Hudson Valley-based comedy group called Improv Nation. If you're on Facebook, please go give a "like" to their page.
- Program opening
- Professional Comedian
- Heart Attack
- Rice Krispies
- Have a Nice Day
- Ice Box Man
- Fussy Eater
- New News
- The Musical Portion of the Show
- Dogs & Cats
- Filthy Words
Carlin at Carnegie (1983)
Recorded 1982. Released 1983.
This was probably the first Carlin HBO special I saw in full. I had heard my friend recite parts of it to me before, and knew I had to check it out. I don't know how I ever managed to rent the video with my parents' approval; they were big on restricting stuff with any swearing or other "R" rated material. But I did get to see it. In any case, I have a special fondness for it, which is interrelated to my love for A Place For My Stuff. You'll notice a lot of titles here from that album: "Abortion", "Rice Krispies", "Have a Nice Day", "Ice Box Man", and "Fussy Eater". Carlin adds a few new twists and more material to some of these pieces.
The special opens with Carlin asking people on the streets of New York "How do you get to Carnegie Hall", and getting a variety of answers. "Professional Comedian", "Heart Attack" (where he talks openly about the second heart attack he had suffered, while watching a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in 1982), and "The Musical Portion of the Show" are new routines. "New News" is a piece where he recites a series of fictional news announcements, similar in style to the ones he did on previous albums.
Now in the world of comedy, there are several routines which are typical "hack" stand-up routines. These are the jokes that we've heard thousands of comedians do before (women hate seeing the toilet seat up, how terrible airline food is, etc.). The differences between dogs and cats is admittedly one of those hack routines. However, Carlin's "Dogs & Cats" routine here was still years before it became something other comedians did to death, has its own Carlin style to it, and most importantly, is hilarious too. Some of the jokes are recycled from the "How's Your Dog?" routine from "On The Road".
And finally, the show closes with "Filthy Words". Like the track of the same name from "Occupation: Foole", Carlin examines some of society's taboo words and phrases. Though he has lots and lots of new inclusions and observations. The night ends with a reading of his compiled list of hundreds of such words. By the mid 1990s, the list had grown to be "An incomplete list of impolite words: 2,443 filthy words and phrases compiled by George Carlin." The entire list was put on posters, sold at the merchandise booth at Carlin's live shows. I bought one in the mid 1990s at one of his shows. I had it on the front door of my bedroom in my fraternity house in college, and it managed to survive. It's now framed and on the wall next to my bed.
In Last Words, Carlin says:
"'Carlin at Carnegie' in 1982 was the pivotal event in my career after the drift and confusion of the late seventies. The material wasn't stellar: with the exception of the heart attack sweepstakes and "Seven Dirty Words" (included by special request of Mr. Fuchs), it was mostly 'A Place for My Stuff'. As usual I was unhappy with my performance. [...]
I was back at Carnegie Hall, where I'd been ten years earlier at the height of my first breakthrough. I'd shown I could bounce back from a near-fatal Big Ticker Event and joke about it. The lack of focus, the tentativeness, the hey-man looseness of the seventies had all vanished. I took the stage from the moment I came on and held it till I left. Sure, there were some fluffs and shot timing and nervousness, but the first hints of a new voice were emerging with an edge to it that hadn't been there before. [...]
When it came out in early '83 it was a ratings smash. Within weeks we were selling out double shows again [...] Carlin at Carnegie was the real beginning of a relationship with HBO that over the next twenty-five years first incubated my artistic development and then set the seal on it. Without that anchor I don't know how exactly I would have evolved as a performer and an artist. You could say as HBO grew, I grew, but it wasn't just the size of the audience and the fact that it was self-selecting. The constant need for a new hour of material every couple of years kept me fresh and productive. And HBO's absolute lack of censorship was liberating. Whatever topic I chose, people I attacked, language I used, views or opinions I expressed, I never heard: "We'd rather you didn't...", "We'd prefer if you'd...", "Could you change/tone down/leave out ... ?" Even in the vicious, repressive atmosphere of the Bush years, they've never wavered.
HBO's Carlin at Carnegie special was the last time I ever recorded a version of "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." There was no need. For the first time, all seven were on television.
- Opening Sequence [1:50]
- The Prayer [1:17]
- First Leftfielders [4:56]
- A Moment of Silence [0:49]
- Second Leftfielders [5:40]
- Breakfast Wine and Who's Boss [1:47]
- Third Leftfielders [3:09]
- Baseball and Football [2:53]
- Fourth Leftfielders [1:45]
- Cars and Driving [18:10]
- An Incomplete List of Impolite Words [5:27]
- Opening (class clown)
- A Place for My Stuff
- It's No Bullshit! (cartoon)
- Little Dogs
- Stuff on Driving
- New News (cartoon)
- Stomach Sounds
- Getting Sick
- Baseball and Football
- Universe of Sports (cartoon)
- Sports Cheer
- Credits / Silent Film Star Death (cartoon)
Carlin on Campus (1984)
HBO special and album
Recorded April 18-19, 1984. Released June 1984.
This HBO special marked the start of a long tradition for Carlin: recording a show for HBO, then releasing it both as a video and an album. It's worth noting though that the album version is SIGNIFICANTLY different from the video version! I didn't realize this for many years. The Carlin on Campus cassette tape was quite rare, and I had only seen it being sold at his shows. I assumed it was no different from the video, which I had already had on VHS. So for years I didn't get around to buying it. I finally stumbled across a used CD version years later, which might have been artificially put together from the vinyl. Both the CD and the DVD have lots of great material, a good deal of it showing up on one and not the other. The vinyl included a red sticker on the front that read "CONTAINS: 350 WORDS YOU CAN'T SAY ON TV."
The first time I had ever seen a performace of Carlin himself on TV was on the Nickelodeon show "Turkey TV". It was a kid's comedy show that featured a bunch of miscellaneous comedy shorts placed one after another: short cartoons, sketches from more obscure television shows like BBC's "The Pink Medicine Show", etc. (whether this had some influence on me to do a comedy radio show 20 years later, I don't know. Maybe.) There were also some stand-up comedians. I saw Dana Carvey's stand-up on the show, long before he had joined Saturday Night Live.
I also saw Carlin's routine from Carlin on Campus on how anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anybody driving faster than you is a maniac. I'm not sure why they thought a segment on driving was something that kids could find funny or relate to. Maybe the people running the show were Carlin fans, and were desperate to find some clean routine of his to include.
In any case, Carlin on Campus is different from his other HBO specials in that it includes a mix of both live stand-up and cartoon shorts. In that sense it reminds me of A Place For My Stuff. Sure enough, the "A Place For My Stuff" routine itself shows up here. Some of his 70s album routines are done here, refined and funnier ("Whistling", "Stomach Sounds", "Getting Sick", and the classic "Baseball and Football"). Carlin returns to the topic of religion with the opening "Prayer". Though the highlight I'd say is the completely new and generously long routine, "Stuff on Driving". The album version of this track includes a few lines not heard on the video.
Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help (1984)
Running Press Book Publishers
I never even knew that this book existed until one day when I saw it listed on Wikipedia. I had always assumed that Brain Droppings was his first book. It didn't help of course that interviewers, press releases, and I think even Carlin himself referred to Brain Droppings as his "first" book. In Carlin's 2007 interview for XM's "Unmasked", he described Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help by saying "It was actually a magazine-sized item to be sold at concerts. I wanted to put out some material in there, so I threw pictures in too because you have to have pictures in it. It's kind of a pseudo-book. Kinda quasi-book." In any case, once I first learned of Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help, I immediately looked up and bought a used copy through good ol' Amazon.com.
As Carlin's description implies, this book isn't really in the style of his later books, in several different ways. Rather, it's a 9x12" book with about 38 pages, in color. So physically it's rather like a tour book you'd get at a rock concert. A lot of the material here showed up on earlier and later releases, including a few routines that finally made it to When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, and even at least one line that showed up in It's Bad For Ya (about God having a three-day weekend). That's what surprised me the most about this book: that so many of these thoughts from his later years had already been in his head since at least 1984.
The phrase itself "Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help" was later used on the backs of some George Carlin t-shirts he'd sell at the shows. It also shows up in Brain Droppings, sometimes acting as a subtitle of sorts.
Since I couldn't find much of any other information on the book, and was curious myself as to which material had or hadn't shown up elsewhere, I've taken the time to write a page-by-page description of what's in this book:
- Front cover. As mentioned in the credits, the photo was taken by Kelly Carlin, George's daughter.
- Inside cover: credits, acknowledgments, and table of contents. The latter two are comedy pieces.
- p1-2: a translucent page with a dedication and quotation.
- p3: Full-page black & white photo of George as a boy, similar to the one on the cover of A Place for My Stuff
- p4: "Tonight's Program"
- p5: "Miscellaneous Bullshit". This page is very similar to the "Short Takes" you find in his later books. In fact, many of these lines did show up in his later books as those "Short Takes" (e.g., "Try explaining Hitler to a kid").
- p6: "The World Hostility Scoreboard". Similar to the list he gave in the "New News" track from An Evening with Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo.
- p7: "Miscellaneous Hassles", continuing the last list and including a few crude drawings of bombings. These may have been done by George himself; he's partially credited for the illustrations on the inside cover.
- p8-9: List of diseases and illnesses, much like the list in Napalm & Silly Putty
- p10-12: An illustrated version of "The Book Club" from A Place for My Stuff and Brain Droppings
- p13: "In The Future", an earlier version of a piece that wound up in When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?
- p14: Some short pieces called "The American Busine$$Man's Credo", "A Short Story", "A Generic Joke", and "Class Act", some of which I remember reading in his later books. Also a written version (with additions) of "It's No Bullshit!"
- p15: "Celebrity Predictions". An updated take on this theme appeared later in the bonus material of 3 x Carlin: An Orgy of George.
- p16-17: A beautiful 2-page spread of "An Incomplete List of Impolite Words", with however many were recorded by that time.
- p18: An earlier version of "People I Can Do Without" from What Am I Doing In New Jersey?
- p19: An earlier version of "Finish Your Sentences", which later showed up in When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?
- p20: "A Salute To Some Of The Famous Bands That Have Previously Appeared On Tour With George Carlin". An earlier version of the fictitious band list that appears in Napalm & Silly Putty.
- p21: "The Ten Most Embarrassing Songs of All Time" (as listed in Napalm & Silly Putty, but with a bonus song), three poems, and two letters
- p22: An earlier version of "Things You Never See"
- p23: "Tumors & Food" and "Tumors & Sports". These are earlier versions of "Tumor Humor: Guys, Gals & Cancer" from When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?
- p24: An earlier version of "The Continuing Story of Mary & Joseph", which later appeared in When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?
- p25: "Number Fun", which I can't find in any of his later books.
- p26: Three short pieces called "Wrinkles", "Idea Flow", and "Nice Body, No Mind". The second of these showed up years later in the bonus material of 3 x Carlin: An Orgy of George.
- p27: "The Science Page". Some science news and facts, some which showed up in his later books.
- p28: "Advertisements". Includes such places as "The Scarf & Barf", "Cafe Vagina", etc.
- p29: "The Baby", a dialogue piece I haven't seen in his later books.
- p30: A photo of Carlin being arrested in Milwaukee, being escorted by the police. Overlaying it is the criminal report, dated 7-21-72 for "Disorderly Conduct"
- p31: "More Bullshit". Some of these show up in his later books as "Short Takes".
- p32-33: "News From All Around". Various news headlines, some of which showed up on his past albums.
- p34: An earlier version of the hilarious "Letter to a Friend" from When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?. Also a few "Left-over Sentences".
- p35-36: A translucent page with a smaller image of George as a boy, like the one near the front of the book.
- p37: A charity letter for "The Fund For The Rich and Powerful"
- Back cover: a young photo of George with a made-up blurb about being "National Tie Champion, 1950".
- Occupation: Foole
- I Used To Be An Irish Catholic
- New York Voices
- High On The Plane
- Goofy Shit
- Class Clown
- Nursery Rhymes
- For Names' Sake
- News Hostility Scorecard
The George Carlin Collection (1984)
Little David records
Compilation album, released 1984
This is NOT to be confused with the DVD set that's also called "The George Carlin Collection".
This was another compilation from the Little David label, so it spans his 1970s albums. I've seen it on vinyl and cassette, but as far as I know it never got released on CD. Most copies had a red and white sticker on the front cover that read "RECOMMENDED for ADULT LISTENING".
You can see some references to routines on the front cover: "High on the Plane" (airplane embedded in a pile of pot, top left), "I Used To Be Irish Catholic" (top right, though the original title is really "I Used to Be Irish Catholic"), "Headlines" (newspapers on the bottom right), and presumably "Nursery Rhymes" (drugs on the bottom left). I'm not sure what to make of the white house in the center with the joint for a chimney. I would have thought this was for his routine "Grass Swept the Neighborhood", but that track is not on this compilation. My own guess is that it was originally on here, but then after the cover was designed the track was removed and replaced by something else.
The tracks are taken from the albums Class Clown (#2,7), Occupation: Foole (#1,3), Toledo Window Box (#6,8), An Evening with Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo (#4,#9,#10) and On The Road (#5). There are notably no tracks from FM & AM. Track #10 ("News Hostility Scorecard") is presumably just the "News Hostility Scoreboard" excerpt from the original album track "New News". There are also no tracks repeated from the "Indecent Exposure" compilation.
Apt 2-C (1985)
HBO special starring George Carlin, Bobcat Goldthwait, Lois Bromfield, Kelly Carlin, Blake Clark, Pat McCormick, Chris Rush, and Lucy Webb.
This wasn't an album nor a stand-up comedy special, but I thought I'd mention it here anyway, because he wrote it along with 3 other writers, incorporating some of his past routines. Apt 2-C (sometimes written as "Apt. 2c") was described as "A comedy film showing a fictional day in the life of George Carlin, at his apartment where he lives." Here's a more detailed description from the biography 7 Dirty Words:
Prefiguring Seinfeld, the premise of Apt. 2C featured an apartment-dwelling writer constantly distracted by the shenanigans of his eccentric friends and neighbors, who included McCormick, Goldthwait, stand-up comic Jeff Altman, and Lois Bromfield (whose sister, Valri, had appeared on the first SNL). Carlin's daughter Kelly played a Girl Scout. Despite the writing talent rounded up for Apt. 2C, [Chris] Rush could tell that the constraint of working with a writing team was unproductive for Carlin. "If you're a gunfighter for twenty-five years, and all of a sudden they ask you to be a group leader in an advertising agency -- you're not good at working with people, you know?" says Rush, who had a part in the pilot but backed out. "I told him, 'I see what you're trying to do, but it's falling short.'" At one point an HBO executive gave Carlin some notes on the network's suggestions for improvement, including recommendations to tone down the four-letter words. Not surprisingly, that pretty much sealed the show's fate. Carlin had wanted to push the network on Rush's own idea for a show, a mind-boggling conceptual thing he called Innertube. "After Apt. 2C lit a bomb," says Rush, "that was the end of that."
A clip of Lois Bromfield and George Carlin doing the "Interview With Jesus" routine (originally appearing on A Place For My Stuff with Carlin and Denny Dillan) was once uploaded on Bromfield's official site at some point, but seemingly taken down.
The pilot was finally released in 2018 as part of the Commemorative Collection box set.
- Hello-Goodbye [4:13]
- Love and Regards [5:36]
- Groups and Charities [3:55]
- Sports [9:40]
- Five Twos [2:01]
- Losing Things [7:59]
- You're Lost [1:40]
- Missing [1:04]
- Earrings [5:28]
- Battered Plants [3:44]
- Things to Watch Out For [2:35]
- The Envelope
- Hello and Goodbye
- Give My Love to Klause [sic]
- Battered Plants
- A Moment of Silence
- Losing Things
- Envelope Reprise
- End Credits
Playin' With Your Head (1986)
Recorded May 2-3, 1986. Released July 30, 1986.
Most of what shows up on the video also shows up on the album, with the exception of "The Envelope" (a short black-and-white introductory sketch where Carlin plays a detective), and "A Moment of Silence" (which appeared on the Carlin on Campus album), plus a short but hilarious bit about Carlin's uncle.
The "Losing Things" routine is certainly shortened from what it used to be initially, judging from the very similar-sounding, related routines on the topic that show up on the Little David Years box set.
The album was nominated for a Grammy in in 1987, but lost to Bill Cosby's Those of You With or Without Children, You'll Understand.
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