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Five favorite George Carlin HBO routines - VIDEOS

by Joel Keller, posted Jun 25th 2008 1:40PM
George CarlinWhen I posted about George Carlin's death early Monday morning, I made a couple of mistakes, mainly due to a combination of shock and tiredness:

1) I said that Carlin "passed away." Anyone who's listened to Carlin's comedy knows that he hated euphemisms like "he passed away." So, let me correct things right now: George didn't pass away or leave this earth. He died.

2) I really didn't convey how ingenious his comedy was. His observations of even the smallest of human foibles and his examinations of how we use the English language were always among the funniest routines he would do, even funnier than the ones about politics or religion or anything else that happened to chap his ass that year.

I knew about Carlin mostly through his albums, because I didn't have HBO (Occupation: Foole was the first Carlin album I ever heard, and I still think it's the best). But, thanks to HBO and YouTube, I can give you -- in no particular order -- my five favorite Carlin routines ... well, at least the ones that aired on TV:

Baseball and Football: This is probably Carlin's best known bit, aside from "The Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV." It certainly is the one the die-hard fans like the best. Why? Because it's Carlin in a nutshell: his observations of human behavior paired with precise use of language provides the audience a routine they laugh and applaud at because they not only find it funny, but find it painfully and utterly true as well. It's also a favorite because it's the routine that Carlin tinkered with the most over the years. He did an early form of the routine on the first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975, and I heard him do it again at a concert in 1999. But this version, which in this video is from the 1990 special Doin' It Again, is the one I like the best, mainly because of how polished and considered his use of language and voice inflection is, which heightens the comedy.

Stuff: After listening to Occupation: Foole, I sought out other Carlin albums. The first one I bought on my own was A Place for My Stuff, which was a 1981 album that combined live bits (like one about being a "Picky Eater") with studio bits recorded with the help of Denny Dillon (my favorite: the game show called "Asshole, Jackoff, Scumbag!"). A few years later, he did a similar special called Carlin on Campus, featuring some animation and a couple of different routines (including an 1980s version of "Baseball and Football"). In both cases, his ruminations of "Stuff" and how people are so devoted to it was my favorite bit. It's one of his more acute and detailed observations about the human condition, especially when he explains how people take a "smaller version" of their stuff so they're comfortable on vacation.

This version is from a Comic Relief episode, but it's pretty much the same as the one from Carlin on Campus (love the list of essential items at the end):

Have a Nice Day: Until Carlin on Campus, Carlin's albums and HBO specials didn't coincide. So, even though this routine is from Carlin at Carnegie, I first heard it on the album A Place for My Stuff. Yet another exploration of the things people say to each other that are utterly ridiculous. "If I'm in a particularly jaunty mood, I'll tell them 'I'm not unwell, thank you,' which pisses them off because they have to figure it out for themselves."

Sports: Carlin loved sports, as his constant tinkering with "Baseball and Football" showed. But this routine, from 1986's Playin' With Your Head, is just as considered and detailed. It goes over Carlin's rules as to what should be a sport and what shouldn't ("Remember, it's my rules; I make 'em up."). One of my favorite parts is how he breaks down the game of volleyball: "Racketless team ping-pong played with an inflated ball and a raised net while standing on the table."

Things You Never See: This one is also from Doin' It Again, and I list it for one sentence and one sentence only. I won't repeat it here, but it has to do with a hot poker and chopping something off. I first heard that line when Carlin performed at William Paterson College in 1989, and I almost choked on my own spit, I was laughing so hard. Carlin's ability to put words together in unique and funny ways always were my favorite parts of his routines.

If you notice, there aren't any recent Carlin routines on this list. During most of the '90s and '00s, Carlin was in his angry "the human race is doomed" phase, which just wasn't as funny as the more observational stuff. Not that he didn't have any good recent routines -- his observations on death and how people deal with it were funny as hell -- but I think the earlier ones were less angry and a bit more precise. And I didn't put any of his "Seven Words" routines because, well ... they're funny, but much broader than the ones than are my favorites. Of all the "Seven Words" routines he's done, the best one is "Filthy Words" off Occupation: Foole, which you can hear here (staring around the four-minute mark) and here.

What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments.

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The Deej

I've often used his Moderately Neato as a response to How are you.

June 26 2008 at 1:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

my favorite routine was from playing with your head. the one about losing thing. whenever i hear guacamole i laugh my ass off.

June 25 2008 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Scott Schrantz

I've always loved his earlier stuff the best. It seemed like he was just trying to be a comedian back then, and not trying to be "George Carlin". It's more authentic to me. I love his autobiographical routines, like the stuff from Class Clown. Especially his bits about growing up in a Catholic school.

Starts about 2:00 in:

June 25 2008 at 6:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My favorites are probably from the first time I ever saw Carlin - some early 80's HBO special that I've long since forgotten the title of. His punishment of Rice Krispies: "... Sit in the milk. That's all they do anyway is sit in the milk..." is probably one of my fave's. (I've left off both the beginning and the punchline, as to not ruin it for anyone who might seek it out) So is his "competition" with Richard Pryor ("f... that, I think I'll have another heart attack!") and the routine about the difference between cats and dogs (which ends with "f'ing meow... f'ing meow")... He also did his "have a nice day" routine during the special...

George, you were one funny, funny man. You will be missed.


June 25 2008 at 3:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dan Chichian

My favorite routine is one he did on the difference between cats and dogs. I still wonder if we had looked behind the couch after our cat ran into the refrigerator door, something he did often, would we have seen him with his head in his paws saying f'ing meow.

June 25 2008 at 2:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dan Chichian's comment

I'm with you on the "cats and dogs" routine as my favorite, too. I still laugh about the "F'ing meow" line.

Carlin was one of the best comedians ever and Joel nails it regarding his earlier comedy being more "funny". He was definitely at his best with observational humor and the "angry Carlin" never appealed to me as much.

I'll miss the old codger.

June 25 2008 at 3:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cincinnati Mike

Great piece. Of all the GC writeups I have read this week, yours seems to capture him best. Nice that HBO2 is running all of the specials, and SNL is showing their premiere episode. But HBO1 could do SO much better than showing his last, unfunny special.

June 25 2008 at 2:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
White Rabbit

Would be nice if more than half the video's weren't working.

F'ing Youtube

June 25 2008 at 2:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When I was a kid my dad got a huge kick out of my brother & I memorizing Carlin routines & would have us repeat them for his friends (really cute to see a kid under 10 dropping an F-bomb).

The first one I ever memorized was from "Playin' With Your Head". It was the Moment of Silence for the 43 elderly, mentally-retarded, Bolivian, senior-citizen volleyball fans. (Not to mention the unsuspecting fuckers in the funhouse...)

To this day I can do the whole routine and my dad is still proud... My brother & I talked that day and we both agree that it feels like we lost a family member. He will be missed.

June 25 2008 at 1:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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