Judd Apatow & Michael Bonfiglio Dissect The Genius Of An “Outlaw” Comedy Legend In ‘George Carlin’s American Dream’

Today, beards are common, unmistakable pieces of facial scrub. Even a person as conservative as Sen. Ted Cruz sports one.

But 50 years ago a man with a beard sent a political message. This indicated participation in counter-culture, the renunciation of conservatism. George Carlin The routine included on his 1972 comedy album captured the threatening act of bearding FM and AM,

“Here’s my beard. Not weird? Don’t be stingy, it’s just a beard,” he said, continuing, “that’s the point. The word ‘beard’ shocked a lot of people. Beard! This American Not sounding. Beard! Lenin had a beard!”

Carlin told his audience that he had grown a beard and grew his hair long around 1971. It was a transgressive act that marked a turning point in his life and career, moving from clean-cut comic to culture-defining, acerbic observer. Without him making that fundamental change, we wouldn’t be talking about Carlin today, and neither Judd Apatow And Michael Bonfiglio directed a two-part biographical documentary about him for HBO, George Carlin’s American Dream,

“He figured out how to be successful by selling himself a little bit by trying to be on TV and be safe,” Apatow says, referring to an earlier 1960s iteration of Carlin’s—cleanshave, hair clean, straight into one crazy man-style suit and narrow tie. “Then he finally decided, no, I have to be me. And he decided to go against the grain. And that’s when he found his greatest success when he was true to himself.”

Judd Apatow (left) and Michael Bonfiglio.
Lev Radin/Everett Collection

The Emmy-controversial film documents Carlin’s less than idyllic childhood in an Uptown section of New York City (Carlin would not say that he and his friends refer to the neighborhood as “White Harlem” because it compares to its brazier nomenclature). In “Feeling Tough”, Morningside Heights) he was probably destined to be a comedian because his father bore a surprising resemblance to WC Fields. His Irish-born Pa was an alcoholic and Carlin’s mother separated from him when George was an infant, raising George and his older brother Patrick on their own.

“His trajectory is the story of a classic comedian,” says Apatow, the acclaimed director of Knocked And 40 year old virgin, “He comes from a toxic family, from childhood where his brother was abused by his father and his mother had to run away. I’m sure it made him question how the world works. ,

The filmmakers interviewed Carlin’s older brother, Patrick, who died earlier this year at the age of 90.

“Yeah, that was high,” Bonfiglio remembers of that sit-down. “Patrick was a daily pot smoker. He’s a charming guy, absolutely hilarious and a real muse to George … They were very close to him their whole lives. It was a real privilege for him, especially their shared On things like childhood. And Patrick knew his father and George never did.

Even before he reached his teens, Carlin was broadcasting fake radio news and pretending to announce baseball play-by-play. Carlin’s daughter Kelly gives Apatow and Bonfiglio the keys to her father’s vast archives.

“He had a tape recorder when he was a kid in his 40s. He would record short routines and things and he saved all that stuff,” notes Bonfiglio. “George was a really obsessive hoarder. They kept everything… As documentary filmmakers, it’s like a dream come true. We were really able to allow George to tell his story.”

After a stint in the Air Force (Carlin was ‘invited’ to leave the US Army), he became a disc jockey, then formed a comedy team with a fellow DJ, Jack Burns. They performed together for a relatively brief period, but the documentary notes the important role played by Burns in shaping Carlin’s political outlook.

“Jack Burns was a very progressive man,” Apatow says. “I’ll admit that for the first time in Carlin’s life she thought, Oh, maybe when you’re funny, it must be about something you care about. You should try to say something. And He began to experiment with Jack not only with silly sketches, but also with political satire.

Carlin became a very successful solo act but did not fully blossom creatively until the experience of leaving LSD.

“I started taking some acid and some mescaline, and I was suddenly able to see things differently,” Carlin says in the documentary. “What I really was, was a bandit and a rebel who swam against the tide that the establishment wants from us. And that person was being suppressed.”

Carlin had always displayed amazing verbal dexterity (a letter from a fan describes him as a “comedian of common sense”), but that era of social upheaval in the late 1960s and ’70s In 2008, he grew into something even bigger—a sharp commentator on the fundamental structure of American society.

An appearance by Carlin in San Diego in 1972 is included in the film, where he references Muhammad Ali resuming his boxing career, being banned from the sport for several years for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. After.

“For three years, the cat couldn’t work—Muhammad Ali,” he said. “And, of course, he had an unusual job – beating people. But the government wanted him to change jobs. The government wanted him to kill people… the government became spiteful. They said, ‘Look, if If you don’t kill them, we won’t let you beat them.'”

“For the most part, he didn’t joke about what happened that day in politics… he tried to talk about the bigger picture. I think that’s why the content remains,” Apatow says. He talks about the root of what is wrong in the country and what is wrong with the behavior of the people.He was talking about the environment in the late 60s, the way people are just starting out And he was very aware of the problem of the threat of a woman’s right to choose … I think that’s why his material is unlike a lot of comedians whose physical age has come to an end.”

Apatow notes that when a recent US Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked, commentators quickly revisited the Carlin bit from years ago. In an HBO comedy special, Carlin observed, “Boy, these stereotypes are really something, aren’t they? They’re all in favor of the unborn. They’ll do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, that’s it. You are on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from pregnancy to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you.”

“Everyone turned to George Carlin for what he said about it,” Apatow marvels. “I was thrilled by the fact that no other comedian had a routine that turned around. It wasn’t just George Carlin’s One Piece, which is the gist of what we’re all thinking. It was that no one else has a competing piece. He was on a completely different level.”

George Carlin
Carlin with his daughter Kelly, left, and wife Brenda.
Courtesy of George Carlin Estate / HBO

Apatow won an Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Non-Fiction Special for his 2018 film The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling, He was very close to Shandling, working with him The Larry Sanders Show, Apatow did not know Carlin at that level but had a conversation with him decades earlier.

“I interviewed him for Canadian television in the early ’90s, and I remember him being so thoughtful and kind,” Apatow recalls. “He wasn’t someone who tried to be funny in that setting. They saved him for the stage… He was just a kind, deep thinker.”

A few years before that, Apatow assisted in the production of Comic Relief, a fundraising effort by prominent comedians to fight poverty. In the mid-1980s, Carlin performed in a Comic Relief special.

“I was just so blown away that in this telethon she did this remarkable, insightful, hilarious routine,” Apatow recalls, “how golf is a racist sport where white people are trying to carve out the country and screw people up.” Let’s get together and we should give golf courses to the homeless. And it was so exciting to see.”

Bonfiglio, who shared an Emmy with Apatow for the Gary Shandling documentary, cherishes one of Carlin’s routines related to the environment. He quotes from: “‘The planet is fine. People are messed up.’ To me, it’s such an extraordinary piece of writing and insight and performance. When you look at it [George Carlin’s American Dream] And you listen to the audience, they’re not sure where he’s going because he takes you on a ride like that… it’s so deep and insightful. It’s probably my favorite piece of his.”

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There are so many to choose from. In the 1992 comedy special “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”, “My Stuff Versus Your Shit”, or his observation, that America makes nothing anymore but still excels at war: “We You can get the shit out of your country, okay. Especially if your country is full of brown people. Oh, we like that, right? That’s our hobby… Iraq, Panama, Grenada, Libya. In your country There are some brown people, tell them to watch the crap.”

Carlin had three heart attacks over the years and died of heart failure in 2008 at the age of 71. Some say that as he grew older, he became irritable about America. It is a matter of opinion, but undoubtedly he had soured our species.

“He had contempt for the choices his fellow human beings were making,” says Bonfiglio. “And you see the development of that despair in the film… He wasn’t seeing progress. He continued to watch people, as he put it, choose competition over cooperation and see their fellow humans as each other.” Getting richer and richer, getting poorer and poorer… After suffering a heart attack, he had known about his mortality for a long time and realized that he was living in a better world. Wasn’t going to live to see. He wasn’t going to live to see humans behave better. And I think he was annoyed by that.”