What would Carlin have made of 2016?
In September 2001, George Carlin told a fart joke, and it lingered in limbo for 15 years.
It was recently unearthed by the comedian’s daughter, Kelly, and now we have I Kinda Like It When a Lot of People Die, which was sourced from two Las Vegas shows recorded on Sept. 9 and 10, 2001. On Sept. 11, planes struck the World Trade Center, people died, and history was rerouted. Understandably, Carlin decided to rework the material and drop that working title for 2001 HBO special Complaints and Grievances.
Fifteen years later, jokes about 9/11 are mostly approached with caution. (Stories about being there, not so much.) For example, on the recent Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe, Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson’s father, a firefighter who died on 9/11, was the focus of one particularly cringe-worthy joke (though Davidson put it out there first). By 2016 standards, there aren’t any jokes on I Kinda Like It that are terribly offensive, but as always Carlin has foresight.
The album starts with a bit on police that falls in line with the vitriol being expressed towards cops 15 years later. “You don’t help the police” goes his refrain. “They’re not on your side.” In the most publicized bit, he complains about the class system on a plane and the hierarchy of farts. He imagines a scenario in which flatulence builds up in the cabin until the back half of the plane blows off, and Osama Bin Laden gets blamed for “cabbage fart detonations.” It seems like such a quaint joke now, given that Bin Laden has become part of parody culture.
Later, he expands on what he truly likes: “Fatal disasters with lots of dead people.” Natural disasters, preferably an asteroid.
“I like a nice trainwreck.”
He foresees a future in which Earthlings experience a mass natural disaster—a hemispheric megastorm—are wiped out, and start better lives in other galaxies, which are created by our mass hate. Guys name Todd are gone, and so are soccer moms.
For the morbidity of the title, this closer is actually kind of sweet. He imagines a more cosmic, natural mass death for us, but in 2016, the title points to more than that day in September. It unintentionally anticipates the waves of mass shootings and police violence we’re seeing now, much of which can be streamed live.
And what would Carlin, who passed away in 2008, have made of the Trump-Clinton race and all its surreal inroads?
He probably would have made lists, which seemed to be how Carlin made sense of the world around him. Yes, some of the material on IKLIWALOPD feels dated, as when Carlin says the word “faggoty,” but experiencing this document, plus extras like a recording from 1957, adds some new context.
The album is available for purchase Sept. 16 on Amazon and iTunes.
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