Epic analysis: George Carlin’s 17 best comedy albums

By | February 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm | 48 comments | feature slider, Lists, Opinion | Tags: , ,

This list will rank George Carlin’s albums in terms of overall quality, with special attention paid to both straight hilarity as well as philosophical pertinence. I chose albums rather than specials for three reasons: 1) most of Carlin’s albums simply were the audio from his specials [especially on the really important discs]; 2) He has more pre-HBO albums than he has non-album specials; 3) Almost every bit of material from his non-album specials appears somewhere on his albums. And yes, I know 17 albums equals all of Carlin’s albums.

[Note: I excluded Take-Off's and Put-On's and Burns and Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight because his pre-70's material is all character-based lounge-schtick--an entirely different style of humor than the bulk of his career. Attempting to compare them with all the rest of his work would be apples and oranges; their inclusion would make this a less informative list.]

17) Toledo Windowbox - 1974

“By any chance, did you [audience members] all come in the same van?”

–Laugh Rating: 2.0 [out of 10]
–Philosophy Rating: 2.0 [out of 10]

Toledo Windowbox has the distinction of being Carlin’s least memorable album, by far. This is mildly ironic due to the fact that it has one of the more memorable titles in the Carlin catalog. [Genius as he might have been, the guy wasn't much for a catchy title (as evidenced by the fact that the CD that went on to be known as Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics--probably his best title--had been re-named from his HBO special Doin' It Again--easily his worst title).]

The only joke I can readily remember of off the top of my head from this disc is the titular one, where he discusses the different names for marijuana and recalls some guy offering him something called “Toledo Windowbox.” In fact, I just re-listened to the album in preparation for this essay and, already, I can’t think of anything else. [Consulting the track listing...] The heftiest bit on here is “Nursery Rhymes,” a drug-reference-infused recital of popular nursery rhymes which basically amounts to Andrew Dice Clay’s “Adult Nursery Rhymes” except with drugs instead of sex. The result is just as funny as Dice’s (which is to say, not terribly). Although it must be slightly embarrassing for Dice that Carlin did Dice’s most famous bit about 20 years prior–and it ended up being Carlin’s least famous bit. The rest of this album is equally un-hilarious and even less memorable. You should skip it, every time.

16) Occupation: Foole – 1973

“Nobody goes right to work. You might get there on time, but screw the company, those first 20 minutes are yours!”

–Laugh Rating: 2.5
–Philosophy rating: 3.0

As a youth, this was my least favorite Carlin album. But on re-examination, I enjoy it better than Toledo Windowbox because Carlin talks about his background growing up in New York. It’s probably only nominally funnier, if at all, but it’s significantly more personable and memorable. Foole is the equivalent of hanging out with Carlin at a diner while Windowbox is simply a collection of his least effective jokey-jokes.

15) Life Is Worth Losing – 2006

“Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide, even though women attempt it more. So men are better at it. That’s something else you gals will wanna be working on. If you want to be truly equal, you’d better start taking your own lives in greater numbers!”

–Laugh Rating: 3.0
–Philosophy Rating: 6.5

[Full disclosure, for what it's worth: I have never heard this album, only watched the special (same goes for It's Bad For Ya). However, I've examined the track listing, and the material is the same. Also, I've only seen him live twice, and both times were about 10 months apart during the year he was working on the material for Life is Worth Losing. I initially had this ranked much higher because comedy is always funnier when you're there. But upon re-examination, the material doesn't quite hold up when it's not soaked in the awe of hearing it come straight from the mouth of your childhood hero.]

This material is almost painful to listen to. Carlin comes off as a misanthropic old-fart. On his next and final album, he’ll explain how he’s an “old fuck” and not an “old fart,” and that might have been true at the time (the difference being the general attitude). But here, he’s an angry old fart, simply railing on about suffering, suicide and death with a lack of nuance that makes you go “Ok, grandpa… Jesus, take a chill pill.” I’ll touch more on this album later, when we look at why It’s Bad For Ya was so much better.

14) On The Road – 1977

“They say you have a flashback just before you die. You see your life over again, kind of a little movie or news-reel. It doesn’t seem mathematically possible! Okay. You’re out in the surf. You’re about to die. The movie starts. Now you’ve gotta see the whole movie. Including the ending! Which involves arriving at the beach, walking out into the surf, and having the movie start. You gotta see it again. Thanks to the movie, we can never die!”

–Laugh Rating: 4.5
–Philosophy Rating: 5.5

This is the first album to appear on this list that I would recommend to any comedy fan. [Therefore: Of Carlin's 17 modern-era albums, 14 are at least "good."] Chronologically, it begins a four album ascent which will lead up to the point where Carlin really broke through to his true legacy work (What Am I Doing In New Jersey? and the three albums following). Furthermore, it’s the first album to really get personal AND universal, discussing his two main subjects: language and “little things we all share.” There are 13 minutes on death and dying. About 10 minutes on being a kid and the cliches kids hear every day. There’s five minutes on dog ownership, and seven minutes on going to the supermarket. Many of these premises sound hackey, but that’s because it’s not the ’70s anymore. There’s a great bit on the kid/cliches track that I wanted to transcribe here, but I wouldn’t be able to capture Carlin’s brilliant intonation. Go to iTunes and download the track “Parents, Cliches, and Children’s Secret Answers.” It has an outstanding punch line which really illustrates the subtle ways in which Carlin’s skills for various vocal timbres remained important to his comedy even after the lounge-schtick era.

13) It’s Bad For Ya – 2008

“Children should be taught to question everything. To question everything they read, everything they hear, children should be taught to question authority. Parents never teach children to question authority. Because… Parents are authority figures themselves and they don’t wanna undermine their own bullshit inside the household. So they stroke the kid and the kid strokes them, and they all stroke each other and they all grow up all fucked up and then come to shows like this.”

–Laugh Rating: 5.0
–Philosophy Rating: 9.5

Thankfully, this was Carlin’s final work (rather than Life Is Worth Losing). It still doesn’t have as many laughs as his better albums, but at least he’s got some punch lines and his philosophy is in the right place.

What exactly does that mean, “His philosophy is in the right place?”

Well, within the context of comedy, the philosophy of “life is shit, I can’t wait for everyone to die” (i.e. the thesis of Life Is Worth Losing) is not as effective as “The world is full of bullshit, folks, and it’s bad for ya.”

Even if it’s truer to him.

Stand-up is a tricky thing, and at a certain point, comedy became about more than just laughing (Carlin, himself, possibly had more to do with that than just about anybody). Mitch Hedberg might have certain jokes that are funnier than Bill Hicks’ (like, almost all of them). But Mitch is entertainment. Hicks is art. In the halls of comedy, entertainers enjoy more successful careers but artists are more important.

Still, humans are essentially animals, and Andy Warhol can produce the most important 35-hour film about Pavlov’s hierarchy of needs ever rendered. But if we aren’t given incentive to watch it (i.e. it doesn’t feel good) then it might as well not exist. Comedy cannot be JUST art, it is–by definition–a sub-category of entertainment. But art is where elevation occurs. Hicks joked about how he had to sprinkle dick jokes into his philosophy like parents playing “here comes the airplane” with their toddlers’ food. It’s Bad For Ya may or may not have been a less direct portal to Carlin’s soul than Life Is Worth Losing, but it was a very effective portal to the world at large, which–at this point, especially–was way funnier than his personal misanthropy and probably more important to learn about.

12) FM & AM – 1972

“Some day, birth control will go off-prescription. And when they do, they’ll need those cute little catchy names… Preg-Not! ‘Doctors prefer Embry-No!’ Here’s one for the ladies: Nary a Carry! Something lofty and poetic: Nay, Family Way! Something earthy and crude: Mom-Bomb.

Something for the youngsters: Junior…Miss! Here’s a real man’s product: Inconceivable! Mommy Not, Fetus Fail, Kiddie Kill, Poppa Stopper, whatever you want. Womb Broom, Humpty Dumpty, y’know. They’re clever guys. I wouldn’t be surprised if they come up with a birth control pill that doesn’t work all the time and call it Baby-Maybe!”

–Laugh Rating: 5.5
–Philosophy Rating: 5.0

His earliest work on this list (which began the transition to modern Carlin), FM & AM is a comedy concept album; it’s split up into two parts, reflecting the radio-dial. The FM side contained observational material of a counter-cultural nature (i.e. what Carlin’s comedy was beginning to become, full-time). AM contained those aforementioned lounge-acts, which he would admit were cheesy and impersonal, despite being well written and sometimes funnier.

Although the FM side was the new direction of Carlin’s comedy, it was, generally speaking, still more clever than funny. The “Shoot” piece established language as Carlin’s main topic. “Sometimes they say ‘shoot!,’ but they can’t kid me. Shoot is just shit with two ‘Os.” There’s a touch of philosophy, mostly of the hippie-esque anti-establishment variety. “It’s no accident that we’re drug-oriented. Big drug companies got us that way, and they’d like to keep us that way.”

While not really a howler, it’s exciting to see Carlin’s transformation from dancing monkey into free-thinker. This album may deserve a handicap due to only really being–for the purposes of this list–half an album. But it won’t be receiving one, tough shit.

11) Class Clown – 1972

“The dioceses sent one Spanish priest, Father Rivera, to hear Spanish confessions. And all the Irish guys–who were heavily into puberty–would go to confession to father Rivera because he didn’t seem to understand the sins, or at least he didn’t take them personally. There was no big theological harangue, he didn’t chew you out. He was known as a light penance… Three Hail Mary’s and you’re back on the street with Father Rivera!”

–Laugh Rating: 6.0
–Philosophy Rating: 5.0

Class Clown is the album which appreciates most upon Carlin’s death. In addition to being one of the funnier of the pre-1980 albums, it’s the most memoir-oriented and shows him at his most magnanimous. We always want to remember people at their best and–while anger is part of what made Carlin a legend–Class Clown becomes a much better tribute to him than You Are All Diseased, even though Diseased probably reaches funnier summits. But Class Clown has the humanity and personality of a funny guy you’d love to hang out with. The profanity is casual, and his “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on TV” is more based on disarming foul language and celebrating its silliness than its shock value.

[Still, one can't deny that--simply due to the time--it DID have shock value, as evidenced by the fact that you've heard of it even though it probably wouldn't rank on a list of Carlin's top 20 funniest bits. Any time a comedy bit incites a Supreme Court hearing, you can probably chalk that up as jolting a few dudes, for sure.]

“You can prick your finger, but you can’t finger your prick!”

Carlin opens talking about about where a comedian comes from, and connects to the classroom jokester in all of us. One of the things that makes a good class clown to him is a talent for silly vocalizations. While not famous for impersonations, Carlin’s earlier rise to schtick prominence is no surprise, as his utility for robust mouth-noises dates back to fourth grade. His vigor for cheek-popping and the “bilabial fricative” (raspberries, for the uninitiated) is a conduit to his inner child and the inner child of the listener. He also talks about religion, but not in a “Fuck Religion!” type of way. Rather, “Hey, wasn’t it slightly absurd growing up Catholic?” There’s certainly rebellion there, but Carlin was still enamored with his culture, which lends his performance a less drastic, more even-keeled atmosphere. He pokes good-natured fun at religion and big business, rather than the desperate viscous attack on American ideals, which we see later on in his career.

10) An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo – 1975

“A Philadelphia man was arrested for attempting to make an unauthorized deposit at a sperm bank.”

–Laugh Rating: 6.5
–Philosophy Rating: 2.5

This is definitely Carlin’s silliest, jokiest, most punch line-oriented disc. One good chunk of material is the non-topical “Weekend Update”-style news headlines which speckle his early HBO specials. We are introduced to his classic “Baseball & Football” bit, which discusses the vast personality difference between our two favorite sports. There’s not terribly much to say about this one. It’s the funniest disc from this era– pure unimportant entertainment.

9) A Place For My Stuff – 1981

“A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it… That’s all it is, a house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get… more stuff!”

–Laugh Rating: 7.0
–Philosophy Rating: 3.5

This is the first and only album where Carlin interjected produced audio skits into his routines. Little nuggets of comedic theatre-of-the-mind are sprinkled liberally amongst the straight stand-up. “Interview With Jesus” and the game-show “Asshole, Jackoff, Scumbag?” are good premises, but the punch lines don’t really hold up, especially after a few minutes. Other bits like “Join The Book Club” hit better, simply listing a few dozen hilarious made-up book titles. A series of announcements contain some funny lines, but don’t particularly need to be in this bells-and-whistles format– they could simply be incorporated into the stand-up (which Carlin will do on his next album Carlin On Campus).

“St. Anthony’s home for the occasionally coherent is holding a staring contest tonight, with the proceeds benefiting the dead-peoples’ Olympics!”

The titular bit is one of Carlin’s more famous routines. Like a lot of his early work, it’s more clever than hilarious. Although one of his hard-edged lines that will appear on two more albums makes it’s debut later in the disc: “Have you noticed that most of the women who are against abortion are women you wouldn’t want to fuck in the first place?”

Honestly, I find a lot of his funniest lines on here are throwaways that will be largely forgotten in lieu of his “catchier” work.

“You’ve been listening to the erotic daydreams of an infant worm being sucked backwards through a French milking machine. Remember, hire the handicapped, but don’t let them take your rectal temperature! Stay tuned for: ‘Let’s Injure Dave!’”

8) You are all Diseased – 1999

“They ask at airport security, ‘Did you pack your bags yourself?’ No! …Carrot Top packed by bags!”

–Laugh Rating: 7.0
–Philosophy Rating: 8.5

Carlin’s four best albums, which you’ll meet shortly, found him a louder, angrier man. However, You Are All Diseased is entirely too hostile and bitter, showing signs of resting on angry-comic laurels. There are a few instances of really good joke-writing but a lot of the material on here sounds like “I really hate _________, next time I see them, I’m tellem’ to eat shit, ya fuckin pussy!’” Some people would say that this makes it a more quintessential Carlin album than something with less of an edge. I disagree. You Are All Diseased is a delivery album, not a material album. The best era of Carlin’s career started when not just his delivery, but also his writing got really amazing. Here, the delivery is sharp as ever but the writing has really taken some steps down. Minus a few brilliant pops, I’ll take the sillier but consistently funnier material on Carlin On Campus or Playing With Your Head any day of the week. If I’m comparing his career to Pink Floyd’s (and why shouldn’t I?), this is The Final Cut– Gilmour is basically out of the band, leaving just angry Waters to turn the knobs in the studio by himself. And just as Floyd never truly returned to form after descending The Wall, Carlin was never really back in town after Back In Town. Even though his pinnacle successes might have been cynical, derogatory and angry in their own right, they were more cerebral than emotional. You Are All Diseased is a bitter tantrum.

As for the brilliant spikes I mentioned…

I’d like to mention something about language, there are a couple of terms being used a lot these days by guilty white liberals. The first is “Happens to be”… “He happens to be black”… “I have a friend, who happens to be black.” Like it’s a fuckin’ accident, ya know. Happens to be black! He has two black parents? “Oh yes, yes he does.” And they fucked? “Oh indeed they did.” So where does the surprise part come in? I’d think it’d be more unusual if he just happened to be Scandinavian. The other term is “openly.” “He’s openly gay.” That’s the only minority they use that for. You wouldn’t say someone is openly black. Well maybe James Brown. Or Louis Farrakhan! Louis Farrakhan is openly black. Colin Powell is not openly black, Colin Powell is openly white. He just happens to be black.

7) Carlin On Campus – 1984

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anybody driving faster than you is a maniac?”

–Laugh Rating: 7.5
–Philosophy Rating: 4.0

Carlin on Campus shows the first acceleration toward the pace, volume and themes of things to come. He still has the goofiness of the early years, but demonstrates the frustrations of modernity that are going to really amp up within the next half-decade. He revisits “Baseball & Football,” and does almost 20 minutes on cars and driving.

“[Avoid on the road] any woman whose head you can’t see in the car at all. Any four-foot woman in a Cadillac is certain death. I pull over and take public transportation, myself. I’m not fucking with a ghost-car, you know? Let someone else flag down the flying dutchman, it’s not my job!”

He also has several bouts of left-fielders, short-form mini-rants about whatever cultural oddities he has in mind. This style will later blossom into “Free Floating Hostility” and pretty much the entire stretch of Complaints and Grievences.

6) Playing With Your Head – 1986

“I hate losing things. I hate to lose anything. Because… WHERE IS IT? See, basically, that’s the part that bothers me. Where is it? I had it a minute ago. It was JUST HERE! Sometimes I don’t care if I never get the thing back again, I just wanna know where the fuck it went!”

–Laugh Rating: 7.5
–Philosophy Rating 4.5

This is a sort of partner-album to On The Road, with a zoomed-in focus on “Life’s Little Moments” –material on every day life, childhood and mannerisms. Separated chronologically from On The Road by the more abstract Place for your Stuff and the more ranty Carlin on Campus, Playing With Your Head pulls a little bit from all of Carlin’s repertoire up to this point. And suitably so, because it’s the last album before the big reboot, the last album before the roof of the volcano bursts open, giving way to a dramatic increase in the anger, speed and sheer hilarity which will boost him up–if he wasn’t there already–to super-megastardom. [Quite possibly, this is the last album before he had some compelling encounters with what Carlin called in interviews "value-changing drugs"--LSD and mescaline.]

You can see a bit of foreshadowing with his closer, “Things To Watch Out For.” Carlin simply lists, at fast speed, several dozen modern cataclysms of varying degree. There’s an element of spoken-word beatnik in Carlin that you could certainly detect in his early years, but which he definitely indulged in for the final third of his career. He often goes into rhythmic tirades which either mock the jargon of modernity (i.e. the openings of Parental Advisory and Life is Worth Losing) or which vividly prophesize the dramatic breakdowns of civilization (the closings of Life is Worth Losing and Jammin’ in New York).

Playing With Your Head gives us the first serious dose of this latter category [with no disrespect paid to the earlier but less potent "News Hostility Scoreboard" on Wally Londo]. It’s a comedic crescendo that isn’t out-right hilarious like a really good punch line, but far more dramatic and memorable. What’s he gonna do, save his funniest single joke for the very end? He has to offer more of a narrative arc, an emotional climax. His funniest lines are usually just tags in the middle of a rant or one-liners he’ll drop early in the night. “I’ve never fucked a 10, but one night I fucked five two’s!” This zinger is on track five of 11.

“Sports” — probably his funniest single rant to exist prior to What am I Doing in New Jersey? – is track four. By the time you get to the end, you’re just so possessed by the dude’s personality and wowed by the spectacle of his denouments, it doesn’t bother you that he’s supplanting guffaws with aesthetics– and particularly morose ones, at that — because some serious elevation has occurred.

5) Complaints and Grievances – 2001

Laugh Rating: 7.5
Philosophy Rating: 7.5

“Motivation books, motivation seminars… Why would anybody need to be motivated by somebody else? Motivation is bullshit. If you ask me, this country could you a little less motivation. The people who are motivated are the ones causing all the trouble: stock swindlers, serial killers, child molesters, Christian conservatives… these people are highly motivated! I think motivation is over-rated. You show me some lazy prick who’s lying around all day watching game shows and stroking his penis, and I’ll show you someone who’s not causing any fucking trouble…”

Complaints and Grievances actually finds George slightly more gregarious than his uber-bitter You Are All Diseased, and this is probably due to the post 9-11 solidarity which was felt by just about everyone– and our New York native was no exception. Don’t get me wrong, he still barbecues American culture, but it’s less bitchy and more logical. Even though he uses the motif, “People who oughta be killed” to segue between his least-favorite cultural sub-strata… it’s more flowery/entertainingly verbose and less emotional/hate-filled.

“Here’s another group of morons who ought to be locked into portable toilets and set on fire…”

Complaint and Greivences is one of Carlin’s more nit-picky albums. It’s still funny, but you can tell he’s exhausted a slew of really important things to rail against. “I’m getting really sick of guys named Todd!” He doesn’t like it when people use credit cards to pay for inexpensive items, and he doesn’t like people who let their kids record their answering machine greeting. He happens to be just funny enough to get you briefly agreeing about these items which you generally don’t give a shit about.

“These people who read self-help books… If you’re looking for self-help, why would you read a book written by somebody else? That’s not self-help… that’s HELP!”

He closes with a logistical routine about how to condense the 10 Commandments into a more efficiently marketable list. It’s a linguistic break-down that puts them into interesting perspective. It’s not his most hilarious closer, but definitely an interesting bit. [Generally speaking, laughs are arranged throughout a Carlin album in the same manner they're arranged throughout his career: in a bell-curve, with the funniest stuff in the middle.]

“More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason.”

4) Jammin in New York – 1992

“I don’t get choked up over yellow ribbons and American flags. I consider them to be symbols, and I leave symbols to the symbol-minded.”

–Laugh Rating: 8.0
–Philosophy Rating: 9.5

This disc is Carlin at his most spiritual. He opens up with a seven minute anti-war rant, then zooms into our shared micro-world. After that, the requisite 15 minutes on language takes the form of his classic bit on airline announcements, in which he dices up and nit-picks the extensive use of non-literal expressions. [There's a great Todd Glass joke about how sometimes Carlin took his bits too far. "Get on the plane! Fuck you, I'm getting IN the plane! ...You know what she means, George, get on the plane!"]

He zooms back out with broad cultural-criticisms in “Golf-courses for the Homeless” and finishes with an eerily serene condemnation of the human race in “The Planet is Fine [...The People are Fucked!].”

3) What am I doing in New Jersey? – 1988

–Laugh Rating: 8.5
–Philosophy Rating: 8.0

What am I Doing in New Jersey? marks a sea change in Carlin’s career. It’s his Dark Side Of The Moon. With Jersey, Carlin takes a significant leap forward in quality, scope and theme. He also makes his initial jump into politics. “Speaking of real-estate, let’s get back to Ronald Regan and his criminal gang!” It’s also the very first time REAL anger shows up in his act.

In “Cars and Driving,” he wails, “WELL I GET PISSED GOD-DAMMIT!!!” It’s the first time he directly assails members of the culture: “I don’t know what’s worse, the jogger-assholes or the bicycle-riding creeps!” There’s also some good doses of high-powered absurdity. “People I can do without: …a man in a hospital gown directing traffic…. …a dentist with blood in his hair…”

In 1997, Carlin did an interview on Dennis Miller’s show, and he gives us a glimpse into his psyche, which seems to have changed dramatically at a date that he puts 10 years earlier (shedding light on the the Jersey time-period):

War is great because it just goes on and on, they’re never gonna learn! And I blame the soldiers, a lot of people blame the politicians. I blame the soldiers who just keep showing up. These assholes since the Turks, the Greeks, everybody. Testosterone: not smart! No wonder they say, ‘You want an education? Come [to the military].’ They NEED an education… …I just think, if [soldiers] never showed up [for war], what would the statesmen and politicians do? They’d have to just have fist-fights! …I’m suggesting there’s an alternative, although it’s probably not doable, it’s a macro idea… The idea is: Fuck these people. Don’t go. Nobody goes! If nobody goes, they’re gonna kill them all? They’re gonna have trials for everyone? I’m just living in a different kind of world, I don’t subscribe. I don’t buy into all the premises that go into this system. I have pulled myself away about ten years ago, I finally decided: Fuck these people, these humans, let them do their thing, I’ll watch. I have no stake in the outcome anymore. I don’t care what happens to you. I don’t care what happens to your country, I don’t care what happens to your species. You can all get fucked. Because it’s fun to watch you destroy each other. It’s entertaining.

2) Back in Town – 1996

–Laugh Rating: 9.5
–Philosophy Rating: 9.5

When I first ordered this list, I had Back in Town at number one. It’s virtuoso social commentary the likes of which I’ve never heard done better. I think the only reason it can’t take number one is because it’s not dynamic enough, it’s too “to the point.” It doesn’t have enough of those those really silly breakdowns that are undeniably part of Carlin’s essence. Although the one epic fart bit (which is masterfully wedged-in to break up the seriousness) is actually such a brilliant utilitarian observation about the socio-gastrological implications of the human condition that I’m quite certain it’s the most important (and funniest) fart joke ever told.

[Even as I type this, I'm not positive that Back in Town won't be number one (although you'll know by this point in the essay--it's weird that as the reader, you're privy to the final ranking before I am). All things being equal, this might be his best album, but Parental Advisory is just a little bit more "Carliny."]

To give you an idea of how heavy the material on Back in Town is, the first four tracks (of seven total) are listed: “Abortion,” “Sanctity of Life,” “Capital Punishment,” and “State Prison Farms.” “Sanctity of Life” is one of comedy’s great illuminations of the human condition and the various hypocrisies that come with it. It’s amazing how funny it is while it disassembles the matrix before our eyes. “People say life begins at conception, I believe life began about a billion years ago, and it’s a continuous process.”

“State Prison Farms” is a work of conceptual comedy genius. I’ve never heard such an ambitious long-form routine with such abstract payoffs. It wins on so many levels. It manages to be a lecture as well as a one-way-conversation. It’s George playing in a sandbox of language, culture and shared imagery; he builds a gigantic sand-penitentiary, and then knocks it down with the greatest fart routine in comedy history.

The final track, “Free Floating Hostility” is a 20-minute salvo of material ending with an outstanding social indictment called “Why I Don’t Vote.” Like many of his closers and the rest of Back In Town, it’s almost too important to be funny. But not quite!

1) Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics – 1990

–Laugh Rating: 9.5
–Philosophy Rating: 9.0

Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics is pretty much Carlin’s magnum opus. It’s the fulcrum of his entire career, combining the best of the silly and the funniest of the anger. Back In Town might be a skoach more genius from a craft point of view, but Advisory is just a bit better in the end for what it’s all about. It focuses almost entirely on his main topic: language, and how we communicate with each other. Most Carlin records have at least 15 minutes on language, and they’re usually his most famous bits. On Advisory, there’s about 20 minutes that aren’t about language and its bastardization. His closing 10 minutes on euphemisms and how jargon sucks the humanity out of our culture is nothing short of legendary.

~~~

I wanted to point out an item of marginalia I noticed over at Carlin’s Wikipedia page: influences and influenced. The influences list (i.e. people who influenced him) has 11 names– and it’s probably entirely thorough. The influenced list (people he’s influenced) has 21 names on it, and you can be guaranteed it’s only a fraction of its true length. What’s more is, when you look at exactly WHO is on each list, you’ll notice that the people on his influenced list are way more important than his influences (save Bruce, Pryor and Python). You begin to realize that when Carlin stopped trying to be Danny Kaye in 1972, he started becoming something else much greater than the sum of his influences’ parts.

It calls to mind a line from the film Inception: “The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.”

About the Author

Ryan Carey

Ryan covers comedy for Philadelphia's CityPaper. You can read more of his thoughts at Inappropriate Thesaurus

  • Supergoalie1617

    What Am I Doing In New Jersey was awful. Nothing but interchangeable jokes. Feels like Carlin was having serious writers block while doing the material. #3 is waaaaaaaaaaay too high.

  • Joe B. Low

    I still think he was the funniest stand up comic. I’ve seen him in person (Circle Star Theater, San Carlos, 1974) and laughed the entire evening. His HBO specials should be shown to all people in this country; that would be a true education and we’d be laughing hysterically the whole time. George Carlin was a genius comic; certainly among the top 3 we’ve ever had. I really miss him. We need him now in 2012 more than ever.

  • Breadandcircusestv

    Take Offs and Put Ons is a great album! True, it’s a different style, but funny nonetheless.

  • Provenz

    Thanks for this great piece!

  • http://www.facebook.com/garyodrechsel Gary Drechsel

    Just a guess here, but I think George was still morning the death of wife Brenda when he did You Are All Diseased. I saw him on that tour and it was a brutal show and I laughed so hard my stomach muscles hurt. I also saw him on the Back In Town tour and it was one of the highlights of my life. I happened to be with a group of people I didn’t know well and one of them was a very goody goody christian and she was horrified. It’s a precious memory.

  • Jerry Boyd

    Well this is a ridiculous list – written by someone who obviously doesn’t understand stand-up on its most basic level. To say that Bill Hicks was “art” – as opposed to the “entertainment” of a Hedberg or Seinfeld – is just foolish. You may enjoy Hicks (I know I did) but to automatically elevate him above others just because you like philosophy tossed into your stand-up is weird logic.

    Placing the “philosophy” Carlin albums above the others is equally absurd.

    Please re-listen to Take Offs and Put Ons. Almost everything Carlin does over the next 30-some years has its roots on that record.  To leave it off any Carlin album list is what they call in poker a “tell.” And in this case, we can all tell you’re ignorant about stand-up comedy.

  • Jerry Boyd

    Well this is a ridiculous list – written by someone who obviously doesn’t understand stand-up on its most basic level. To say that Bill Hicks was “art” – as opposed to the “entertainment” of a Hedberg or Seinfeld – is just foolish. You may enjoy Hicks (I know I did) but to automatically elevate him above others just because you like philosophy tossed into your stand-up is weird logic.

    Placing the “philosophy” Carlin albums above the others is equally absurd.

    Please re-listen to Take Offs and Put Ons. Almost everything Carlin does over the next 30-some years has its roots on that record.  To leave it off any Carlin album list is what they call in poker a “tell.” And in this case, we can all tell you’re ignorant about stand-up comedy.

  • Jerry Boyd

    Well this is a ridiculous list – written by someone who obviously doesn’t understand stand-up on its most basic level. To say that Bill Hicks was “art” – as opposed to the “entertainment” of a Hedberg or Seinfeld – is just foolish. You may enjoy Hicks (I know I did) but to automatically elevate him above others just because you like philosophy tossed into your stand-up is weird logic.

    Placing the “philosophy” Carlin albums above the others is equally absurd.

    Please re-listen to Take Offs and Put Ons. Almost everything Carlin does over the next 30-some years has its roots on that record.  To leave it off any Carlin album list is what they call in poker a “tell.” And in this case, we can all tell you’re ignorant about stand-up comedy.

  • Jerry Boyd

    Well this is a ridiculous list – written by someone who obviously doesn’t understand stand-up on its most basic level. To say that Bill Hicks was “art” – as opposed to the “entertainment” of a Hedberg or Seinfeld – is just foolish. You may enjoy Hicks (I know I did) but to automatically elevate him above others just because you like philosophy tossed into your stand-up is weird logic.

    Placing the “philosophy” Carlin albums above the others is equally absurd.

    Please re-listen to Take Offs and Put Ons. Almost everything Carlin does over the next 30-some years has its roots on that record.  To leave it off any Carlin album list is what they call in poker a “tell.” And in this case, we can all tell you’re ignorant about stand-up comedy.

  • TBrew

    Occupation fool not operation dipstick.

  • TBrew

    Occupation fool not operation dipstick.

  • TBrew

    Occupation fool not operation dipstick.

    • Jorge Garrido

      You’re right. I’m a goose!

  • TBrew

    Occupation fool not operation dipstick.

  • Aaron Langlois

    People who don’t like Carlin or his material tend to be people who don’t like to think for themselves, or have been brainwashed by the government/corporate mentality (that they are better at making decisions then you). Carlin forced people to actually look around themselves and see the world and all it’s bullshit – and yes, even he spread a bit of bull from time to time but at least when he did it – it was with a smile.

    Enjoy him for who he was and what he brought to the common consciousness.

  • Paul Johnson

    God bless George Carlin. I was in the hospital more than twenty years ago after awakening from a coma.  My parents brought my collection of his work to the hospital to cheer me up after discovering the results of my injury, and they really helped me to take my mind off these problems for a short time. He will continue to be a fond memory in my life.

  • Paul Johnson

    God bless George Carlin. I was in the hospital more than twenty years ago after awakening from a coma.  My parents brought my collection of his work to the hospital to cheer me up after discovering the results of my injury, and they really helped me to take my mind off these problems for a short time. He will continue to be a fond memory in my life.

  • Paul Johnson

    God bless George Carlin. I was in the hospital more than twenty years ago after awakening from a coma.  My parents brought my collection of his work to the hospital to cheer me up after discovering the results of my injury, and they really helped me to take my mind off these problems for a short time. He will continue to be a fond memory in my life.

  • ThomfromCincy

    Of course, he didn’t mention Carlin’s first album on RCA that included “Wonderful WINO,” “Al Sleet-the hippy, dippy weatherman,” etc. That’s just too common for someone of Mr. Carey’s hipness.

    • http://twitter.com/PatientZeroBeat Ferenc Szabo

      Reread the article.  He specifically mentions that he’s NOT including the pre-1972 stuff because it’s a completely different kind of comedy and it would be comparing apples to oranges.

    • http://twitter.com/PatientZeroBeat Ferenc Szabo

      Reread the article.  He specifically mentions that he’s NOT including the pre-1972 stuff because it’s a completely different kind of comedy and it would be comparing apples to oranges.

  • ThomfromCincy

    Of course, he didn’t mention Carlin’s first album on RCA that included “Wonderful WINO,” “Al Sleet-the hippy, dippy weatherman,” etc. That’s just too common for someone of Mr. Carey’s hipness.

  • ThomfromCincy

    Of course, he didn’t mention Carlin’s first album on RCA that included “Wonderful WINO,” “Al Sleet-the hippy, dippy weatherman,” etc. That’s just too common for someone of Mr. Carey’s hipness.

  • Muggsy3658

    “I’m aware that some stare at my hari/
    In fact to be fair, some really despair of my hair/
    But they’re not aware, nor are they debonair,/
    In fact, they’re just square …. etc. etc. etc. 
    Love you George.

  • Muggsy3658

    “I’m aware that some stare at my hari/
    In fact to be fair, some really despair of my hair/
    But they’re not aware, nor are they debonair,/
    In fact, they’re just square …. etc. etc. etc. 
    Love you George.

  • Ctoprefect

    I really enjoyed your list.  For my money, I would have put “Class Clown” higher than “Londo” and “Parental” would’ve been #2 because,as wonderful as it is, they screwed up the running order so that it is less effective than the TV special.  Besides that, I’m in agreement.  Also, I can understand why the Carlin and Burns album wasn’t included, but it is a bit of a shame that “Take-Offs” isn’t here.  Sure, it is the old “lounge” Carlin, but Wonderful WINO, Al Sleet and the Indian Sergeant are still classics.

  • Ctoprefect

    I really enjoyed your list.  For my money, I would have put “Class Clown” higher than “Londo” and “Parental” would’ve been #2 because,as wonderful as it is, they screwed up the running order so that it is less effective than the TV special.  Besides that, I’m in agreement.  Also, I can understand why the Carlin and Burns album wasn’t included, but it is a bit of a shame that “Take-Offs” isn’t here.  Sure, it is the old “lounge” Carlin, but Wonderful WINO, Al Sleet and the Indian Sergeant are still classics.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/YPB6PTEJMDOQPPTG6PQWFYWFOU Dylan Matthews

    Really enjoyed the essay. thank you

    • Jason Wayne

      I’ve always viewed Carlin’s Golden Era to be 1988 to 2001. 
      Btw People don’t understand Life is Worth Losing. If you read his autobiography he explains the whole album is one long character bit. Part of the joke is how dark, depressing, and murderous the character is and how stupid that is. It was one high concept about a person who not only doesn’t care about other people but actually enjoys to see them suffer and die. Essentially Hitler as comedian.

    • Jason Wayne

      I’ve always viewed Carlin’s Golden Era to be 1988 to 2001. 
      Btw People don’t understand Life is Worth Losing. If you read his autobiography he explains the whole album is one long character bit. Part of the joke is how dark, depressing, and murderous the character is and how stupid that is. It was one high concept about a person who not only doesn’t care about other people but actually enjoys to see them suffer and die. Essentially Hitler as comedian.

    • Jason Wayne

      I’ve always viewed Carlin’s Golden Era to be 1988 to 2001. 
      Btw People don’t understand Life is Worth Losing. If you read his autobiography he explains the whole album is one long character bit. Part of the joke is how dark, depressing, and murderous the character is and how stupid that is. It was one high concept about a person who not only doesn’t care about other people but actually enjoys to see them suffer and die. Essentially Hitler as comedian.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/YPB6PTEJMDOQPPTG6PQWFYWFOU Dylan Matthews

    Really enjoyed the essay. thank you

  • Jorge Garrido

    The supreme court hearing was about a bit off Operation Foole, not Class Clown.

    • Jorge Garrido

      Also, you underranked Class Clown and Operation Foole, which both should have easily been in the top 5.

    • Jorge Garrido

      Also, you underranked Class Clown and Operation Foole, which both should have easily been in the top 5.

    • Jorge Garrido

      Also, you underranked Class Clown and Operation Foole, which both should have easily been in the top 5.

  • Jorge Garrido

    The supreme court hearing was about a bit off Operation Foole, not Class Clown.

  • Jorge Garrido

    The supreme court hearing was about a bit off Operation Foole, not Class Clown.

  • http://twitter.com/kshaidle Kathy Shaidle
  • http://twitter.com/kshaidle Kathy Shaidle
  • http://twitter.com/kshaidle Kathy Shaidle
  • http://twitter.com/kshaidle Kathy Shaidle
  • http://twitter.com/kshaidle Kathy Shaidle
  • http://twitter.com/kshaidle Kathy Shaidle
    • jamby

      …that whole website is a trolling exercise, right?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/YPB6PTEJMDOQPPTG6PQWFYWFOU Dylan Matthews

      Kathy Shaidle doesn’t think Louis CK is funny

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/YPB6PTEJMDOQPPTG6PQWFYWFOU Dylan Matthews

      Kathy Shaidle doesn’t think Louis CK is funny

    • ‘lo guvnah

       I was wondering why this article was so horrible but then I notcied PJ Media is a conservative web site and it made sense.