I Kinda Like It When George Carlin Speaks Presciently from the Grave

Fifteen years ago George Carlin recorded one of the least controversial comedy performances of his career, only because almost no one ever heard it. I Kinda Like It When A Lotta People Die was supposed to air on HBO in November 2001, and Carlin worked out a lot of its material in two live performances at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on September 9 and 10. However, Carlin changed the name of the special and shelved a segment because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks the following day, when close to three thousand people died and over six thousand were injured at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on board United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Typically unapologetic and brutally honest in his comedy, Carlin reworked his program to exclude jokes discussing crooked cops and firemen, airplanes exploding, and his fantasies of large masses of humans dying in catastrophic events. 9/11 caused a dilemma for many comedians—there was a hole left in all of us and comedy had no place there in the days following the horror.

Still, the Carlin we know and love wouldn’t normally let a shattering event deter him from releasing an epic joke about flatulence causing an airplane to explode and Osama Bin Laden being blamed for it. But perhaps this one hit a little too close to home. Brutal honesty was a way of life for Carlin, yet not easily defined, as daughter Kelly Carlin can attest to. Speaking at the American Humanist Association’s  74th annual conference in Denver, Colorado, last year, Kelly talked about the one thing he tended not to be honest about: himself.

Kelly grew up in a confusing home. Both of her parents had substance abuse problems, her mother was emotionally broken, and her father was unable to parent. And yet she felt compelled to tell everyone she was just fine. It was a life far from what her father preached, which was truth. In order to change that, she needed to confront her own truths, and to do that, the world would confront George’s.

Even though he’d spoken publicly about his addiction, there was something about me sharing my experience that made him feel vulnerable and ashamed. I had no desire to shame or blame, and I knew, by the way I had written about those years, I hadn’t. This is when I realized that even the great truth-teller, George Carlin, had difficulty with the truth of his own life.

What does this matter? Well, George Carlin was more than a comedian. He was a role model. He was a leader. He made us question authority and forced us to think for ourselves. He didn’t care about other’s feelings or being offensive. The truth was more important than that. But times like these—when we hear personal stories from his daughter or learn that he refused to release part of his own brilliant work so the country could grieve—these are times that humanize the comedian. He wasn’t just a grumpy old bastard who didn’t believe in God, he was a man with emotion and opinions and he cared.

Without further ado, this new release of old work is finally available for your listening pleasure. I have to say, while the album begins on a pretty somber and awkward note with “Boston Rant 1957,” which is a less-than-witty and far angrier version of Carlin, most of the performances on this album could be some of his absolute best.

The ongoing theme of the compilation highlights the hypocrisy, dishonesty, and conspiratorial nature of the US government. I Kinda Like It When A Lotta People Die is available now on SiriusXM Radio and for sale at Amazon starting today, September 16.