November 29, 2012
Worship this way or I’ll kill you: Playboy’s interview with George Carlin
by Kevin Murphy
George Carlin, who died of heart failure at the age of 71 in 2008, was the envy of every other “comedian’s comedian.” He was respected among his peers, but he also drew huge audiences and effusive critical praise and as a result earned bags of money and legions of fans.
His legacy today is secure and his influence is seen everywhere from Bill Maher and Louis Black to Larry David and Louis C.K.
He began his career as a disc jockey, working comedy clubs on the side. Things started to go green for him when, backed by his growing reputation as an innovative and daring comedian, Lenny Bruce, to his colleagues and friends, started calling Carlin his heir.
In 1981 journalist Sam Merrill interviewed Carlin for Playboy Magazine. The interview, which Longform posted in its entirety yesterday, is chalk-full of classic Carlin lines and thumps with the comic’s jaded, canny insights about comedy, drugs, sex, religion, family and all the rest.
Here’s Carlin on getting clean and rediscovering his creativity:
Carlin: My wife, Brenda, and I are both clean and sober now. I’ve been doing a lot of writing. By the time this interview appears, my first album in seven years will be out. I’m also working on a series of Home Box Office specials, a book and a motion picture. It’s the American view that everything has to keep climbing: productivity, profits, even comedy. No time for reflection. No time to contract before another expansion. No time to grow up. No time to fuck up. No time to learn from your mistakes. But that notion goes against nature, which is cyclical. And I hope I’m now beginning a new cycle of energy and creativity. If so, it’ll really be my third career. The first was as a straight comic in the Sixties. The second was as a counterculture performer in the Seventies. The third will be … well, that’s for others to judge.
The 80s, of course, brought Carlin huge successes, including his now legendary HBO specials, which introduced him to an enormous audience. But that success only came after many hard-fought battles, especially with addiction …
Playboy: Were any of your albums recorded during a heavy cocaine run?
Carlin: The Class Clown album was done totally sober. I’d realized what a hell I’d made for myself and I cleaned up completely for three months. You can hear the clarity of my thinking and of my speech on that album. But by the next one, Occupation: Foole, I was right back into the trip again. I’m more frantic, more breathless. You can hear how sick I am. If you want to see a cokehead, just look at the pictures on the Occupation: Foole album. The angles of my body show you an awful lot. I started doing coke to feel open, but by that time, the hole had opened so wide that I’d fallen through. The body language in those photos tells you everything.
Playboy: You’re talking about astonishing quantities of a very expensive drug. Especially with both you and Brenda abusing it so heavily. How much money did you spend on coke during those years?
Carlin: I never knew or cared. Of course, it was a lot. A fortune. But when I hear people tell me exactly how much they spend on coke, I think, Shit, man. They care more about the money than the drug. I was making a lot of money then. One hundred, maybe 110 dates a year at $10,000 a date, plus the albums. The money was sailing in and sailing out and somehow it all just about worked. But in terms of coke, the only money I ever thought about was that dollar bill I had stuck up my nose.
Carlin grew up without a father in New York’s “white Harlem.” From early on he dabbled with drugs, skipped school, and basically raised hell wherever he went. A large part of him blamed (or directed) that misbehavior on his Roman Catholic upbringing …
Playboy: Of all the values you rebelled against as a child, what was the one you most despised?
Carlin: Religion. When the Catholics start laying their trip on you, you notice very early in life what a load of shit it is. The hypocrisy is just breath-takingly apparent, even to a child. But what I hated most was seeing those priests and brothers getting so much pleasure out of inflicting pain. I wondered what was wrong with them.
Playboy: Do any other religions interest you?
Carlin: None of the Christian religions do. They’re all outer-directed. “Who can I convert?” “Let’s go to this country and make them Christians.” “Wear this.” “Do that.” “No, don’t worship that way. Worship this way or I’ll kill you — for the good of your soul, of course.” Meanwhile, followers of Eastern religions are sitting in the middle of their minds, experiencing a bliss and a level of consciousness that Western man can’t begin to approach. Christianity is all external, all material. Gold. War. Murder. The big churches operate, morally and economically, just like the big corporations. Yet they don’t pay taxes. Let them pay their fair share, those fucking religions.
Much, much more of Carlin’s beautiful vitriol can be had over at Longform. What’s more, this interview is part of a new ebook anthology published by Playboy that includes discussions with Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy, Woody Allen, and other (less) funny people. Check it out, here.
Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.