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DVD Review: George Carlin's It's Bad For Ya
Don't mind the visage, the eyes behind hold it all. RIP George Carlin.
We are now deeply entrenched in that most wonderful time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we are thankful for so much of our past, and eagerly awaiting the presents of the future. But when it comes to gift-giving, there are desperately few options that celebrate a look back and step forward for ourselves. You can buy the LCD TV or the antique chest-of-drawers, but rarely do you find the item that combines the best of both so masterfully. That is, until now.
Sure, it's not a piece of furniture or receptacle to store your Tivo'd My Super Sweet 16 episodes, but the new George Carlin DVD It's Bad For Ya should be considered as a welcome addition to any comedy fan's library. And, however regrettably, it is also a bittersweet reminder of the final days of one of America's ultimate satirists.
Filmed live by HBO on March 1st, 2008 at the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa, It's Bad For Ya is the 14th and final George Carlin HBO special, capping a career relationship with the cable subscription company that kept him afloat during some very lean years. Beginning in 1977, these specials took place almost every two years, ensuring a robust schedule for the material-dense Carlin to wade through. If there is one thing the man would not stand for, it was repeating material for his specials, meaning the interim years were tirelessly spent creating, crafting, and controlling some of the most famous bits and jokes in the current comedy lexicon.
With It's Bad For Ya, Carlin comes off a 3 year hiatus (hey, the man was in his 70's, he's allowed to slow down eventually), but certainly does not suffer for it. His topics and his tone are as sharp as ever, even if you can tell the old man is slowing down. While his voice remains strong and guttural with an unalterable trace of NY dialect (the delivery we have all come to know and love over the years), it is his mannerisms that give him away. He is more stooped, his movements not as expansive. Mentally and vocally, he is not unlike a fiery animal, caged behind years of drug use and a body bearing the untold miles of a road comic. We know he's still got it inside, even if the paint is starting to chip.
The best moments, as always, are when Carlin is at his most honest and brutal. There is a 15-minute run smack in the middle of the DVD concerning children that is still bend-over funny, allowing the audience to laugh at the absurdities or parenting, and the mind-numbing dedication that some children have to digging holes in the dirt. The pieces on religion are always crystal-clear and razor-sharp, but they betray a hint of the real George Carlin, a man who is closing in on his own mortality and knows it. There are no excuses or bet-hedging towards the possibility of an afterlife, but he does not tackle the topic with as much tenacity as we have seen before. Perhaps it has all been said already, or could it be that Carlin is done with it, knowing that soon enough none of it will matter?
The hardest moments in It's Bad For Ya come right out of the gate, and seem planned by Carlin this way to not only shake off his own rust but to address the geriatric elephant in the room. With opening bits titled "Old Fuck", "Goin' Through My Address Book (to delete those who have died)", and "Things We Say When People Die", he does not shy away from his own age and the ever-increasing prospect that his time is nearly done. It is uncomfortable at times, laughable at others, but it does much to keep the focus squarely on Carlin. This is not some comedian we are watching, this is George F*cking Carlin, the man behind every dirty joke you told in the locker room. He's been doing it for fifty years, and if being edgy means talking about his own death, then so be it. Carlin knows the line only when he has crossed it. This is why we love him.
Perhaps more somberly, the bonus features for the DVD contain two short segments, one entitled Too Hip For the Room and a clip from an early Carlin appearance on the Jackie Gleason show from 1969. While the Gleason clip is humorous and shows a breadth of work that is truly staggering, the Too Hip For the Room interview is illuminating and heartbreaking. Carlin discusses his writing methods, his comedy roots, and his disenfranchisement with those around him, proclaiming regularly that the world would -and will eventually- be better off without humans altogether. He is still sharp and well put together for the interview, but as an old man, sitting in a chair fielding questions, you know that he has seen it all before, and will eventually enjoy his own passing, while it has brought tears and pain to the lives of many of his beloved fans.
For any true fan of stand up comedy, It's Bad For Ya should be witnessed, if only has an homage to the late great Carlin himself, who died only months later on June 22nd in Santa Monica. The DVD features are definitely worth a look as well, in only to give a richer insight into the past and preparation of one of comedy's best and most consistent performers. And as a gift this holiday season, It's Bad For Ya artfully bridges that expanse between the beauty of the past and the surprising elements of the future. While we will never get to enjoy another Carlin HBO special, it is safe to say his future as legendary comedian is well cemented, based in part on the principles and foundations that can be found in It's Bad For Ya.
The November 25th DVD release of It's Bad For Ya brings to a close November, which has been celebrated as George Carlin Month, and can be found wherever DVDs are sold.