The all-familiar words “Ladies and Gentlemen,” passed through the open space of the auditorium as the house lights faded out. My two brothers, my cousin, his girlfriend and I looked down from the balcony at the Calvin Theatre in North Hampton, Mass. We had been patiently waiting in our seats through a forgettable opening act and 15-minute intermission. The house was not entirely full, making it feel more like a comedy club than a high-class theatre. Then it was time.
“Please welcome.George Carlin.”
The crowd did not roar or wail when Carlin made his entrance. It was an indefinable noise, filled with enthusiasm, carried out by a score of beloved fans yet almost swallowed up in the vast dark theatre. Carlin sauntered onto the stage and made his way to the lone beam of light that shined directly down onto a small table with a bottle of water on it.
He was clothed in black, nearly blending into the blank black curtain behind him. From the balcony, I’m sorry to say that there was a distant feeling in the sight department, and I could not catch some of his acclaimed facial expressions. But what made the experience memorable and worth retelling was the sensation felt from hearing his weather worn voice ricochet off of the grand auditorium walls. To me, it was more than just a comedy skit, it was a lecture, an enlightening list of proposals, a speech, and something as bold, serious, and touching as an epitaph.
He jumped right into his routine with the same self-induced velocity he always displays. He quickly reminded the audience that he was now at the ripe age of 71. Far from being discouraged by this, Carlin began to list off the reasons as to why it was great to be such an age.
“For starters, you don’t have to lift anything heavy ever again,” he said with his usual sardonic tone. “You can even shit your pants. People expect you to.”
He performed with spitfire deliverance and that lovable eccentric liveliness.
Carlin usually bases his comedic tangents on what he most often thinks about, keeping it fresh in contemporary relevance and keeping a close connection with its contents. What ran through my mind before the show was what a 71-year-old comedian had on his mind.
Despite being a comedic appearance, Carlin went in a direction that filled me with a sting of amazement. He started talking about death, which may not be surprising to those who look at a 71-year-old man and bet on how many miles he has left in him. What got to me was the direction he led his act: He went into great detail about the things that people say to one another when someone who is close to them dies, and he splintered his discussion into life after death, atheism and the general ignorance that people display when confronted with it.
You may or may not know that George Carlin’s wife died more than a decade ago, so when he went about twisting the words of comfort down his own sick path, the humor of it seemed to fade and the harsh reality of his content seemed to leak through. His tone seemed to change and his concentration seemed to revert to something beyond a routine run down of comical jokes. I no longer saw a comedian; I saw a man who said the things he felt the deepest about, and as a result, people laughed at them.
He then discussed such issues as education, rights in this country, the next generation, over-hyped “idols,” and the future of our planet, and he pulled them apart in his stylized in-depth observations. He reminded me of a magician that shows you an elongated balloon, emphasizing that it is without a doubt nothing more than that, then, working his magic, turns it into something fun and creative.
Carlin has the knack of making people laugh at issues that seem so sickening at times. Philosophically structured, he says that if children are the future, then this world has the fate of being a “smoldering ball of poisonous gas.” Parents have kids as though they’re “cranking out another unit,” he said. Kids are not receiving the proper amount of discipline to activate the survival skills they need.
“Kids don’t even have sticks to play with anymore. They’ve been discontinued. I think we import them from China now.”
To Carlin, kids today look like a generation of “Gargoyles.” He also played with the idea of rights in this country, seeing them more as privileges. He even told the crowd to do a Google search on “Japanese rights 1942.” And he has a say about people in this country like Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, stressing he doesn’t like to be told who he’s suppose to define as a hero. It seemed like he was stressing to imprint some message on the crowd and there was a near concern in his voice that counteracted his thick Brooklyn accent, and there was almost a plea in trying to bring people to his perspective on the matters discussed.
Whether the crowd caught on to this or just passed it off as another joke remains unclear. One thing is for sure, his act generated laughter — lots of laughter.
The way Carlin goes through a show, it’s really hard to process the whole thing, due to the speed of deliverance and the thought needed to process the deeply considered thoughts. Before I could really grasp the realness of it all, his act swiftly and abruptly ended, and before anybody could even process the meaning of his parting words, he disappeared beyond the giant black curtains.
Listening to Carlin was like reading a ransom note from the Riddler. There was a poetry to his pace and description, a deepness to his meaning and a broader direction left with every punch line. He reminds me to look at all things at great length, regardless if I like it or not, and learn to find humor even when caught in such a troubling century. I can honestly say that his performance at the Calvin moved me.