When George Carlin passed away on June 22, 2008, humanity lost one of the greats, a man who over the course of his decades-long career revealed a tremendous ability to provide insightful humor (or is it humorous insight?) about life in between moments of absurdity and silliness. He deserves to have his face put on the Mt. Rushmore of stand-up comedians. Thankfully, we can still bask in his genius through books, comedy albums, and DVDs of his material.
Released in 1984, Carlin on Campus was the first title on his label, Eardrum Records. It was recorded over the course of two nights on April 18-19 of that same year at the Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles. It should not to be confused with the HBO special of the same name as some of the material is different. The album is now back in print, offering almost 48 minutes of vintage Carlin that covers the three areas his comedy focused on: the big things, the little things, and language.
Carlin starts with “The Prayer,” combining his love of language and anti-authoritarianism, the latter of which shouldn’t come as a surprise to someone who doesn’t believe in God or “the man who lives in the clouds” as Carlin refers to him. He dedicates the prayer to the separation of church and state, rattling off a hybrid of The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegiance, and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He makes no further comment, but the similarities between the faith in these institutions is made clear by how easily they blend together.
There’s no need to worry about the remainder of the set being too intellectual or philosophical, though, as Carlin also talks about his dog Tippy, who committed suicide; passes on an announcement from the National Pancake Institute: “Fuck Waffles!” and reminisces about something his grandfather used to say, “I’m going upstairs to fuck your grandmother.”
Word of warning: Carlin’s advice can’t always be trusted. While he offers great advice on how to get out of jury duty (“Tell them you’ll make a good juror because you can spot guilty people just like that.”), his recommendation on landing a job is terrible and should be ignored (“Ask him politely what his attitude is on Monday and Friday absenteeism.”).
The album’s highlight is Carlin’s classic comparison between “Baseball and Football,” already a fan favorite at the time, considering the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to its mention. His mastery of language is on full display as he compares the pastoral, 19th century pastime with the technological, 20th century endeavor.
“Cars and Driving” is the largest track at 18 minutes, covering an assortment of different jokes that fit under the theme, from bumper stickers he’s created to the difficulty of driving someone else’s car as well as the observation that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac. His bit on the fragility of radio knobs is dated, but listeners should remember that this album was previously released on one of those black and round wax discs called “vinyl.”
Not that it matters to the enjoyment of the material, but the track titles aren’t completely accurate. Carlin offers up “The Prayer” but then other related religious material spills into “First Leftfielders,” the first of four tracks identified as “leftfielders” that appear to be a catchall for unrelated material. Later, Carlin asks for “A Moment of Silence” for “43 retarded Bolivian senior citizens who lost their lives this morning in a roller coaster accident outside of La Paz, Bolivia.” He then talks about the awkwardness of those moments, which starts “Second Leftfielders.”
Carlin On Campus closes with “An Incomplete List of Impolite Words,” an expansion of the seven words you can never say on television to over five minutes of crudeness, an invaluable compendium for future linguists and teenagers before the Internet was able to catalog them. Nothing I could write would top it, so this review closes with it as well: