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George Carlin

After two decades in the show business, comedian George Carlin is still…

The Prince of Snide

From 1959 into 1960, listeners to Fort Worth radio station KXOL-AM were treated to the wit, wisdom and weirdness of a young disc jockey named George Carlin.

"I was on KXOL back in 1959," Carlin told JAM recently during a week-long engagement at Las Vegas Bath's. "My partner [Jack] Burns -- it was Burns & Carlin then -- we left radio to become famous in Hollywood. We had a Dodge Dart that we bought at Ryan Dodge-Plymounth and drove it out to L.A.

It was on the Tarrant County airwaves that Carlin, now 54, began to hone the skills he would perfect as one of America's premier stand-up comedians.

"I had a nightime show from 7 to midnight," Carlin said. "I used to work on little voices and characters — that was pert of my disc jockey style anyway, to throw a lot of personality into it."

"They were always saying, 'Shut up, play the music, George.' And I'd say 'Yes, but look at the mail count.' Because I was getting a good mail count. That's how it went."

No one's telling him to shut up now as Carlin delivers his eighth HBO comedy special, George Carlin Live at the Paramount. The special premieres this month on Home Box Office.

Carlin promises that his latest show will contain a lot of politics. Comedy pieces will cover topics like the Iraqi invasion and the United States Desert Storm operation in which Carlin says he'll take "a psycho-sexual look at war."

Another piece called Golf Courses for the Homeless is an attack on the upperclass' use of golf as a status symbol.

"The premise is, golf is an arrogant game that takes up too much room," Carlin said. "A golf course is about 200 acres in size, and the object of the game, a ball, is about an inch in diameter. It would seem to me that that's an arrogant use of the land."

Carlin will also poke a little fun at environmentalism with a piece that "poses the idea that the planet is more important than the people."

"It's based on the idea that environmentalists are mostly interested in making a clean place to live for themselves and keep their Volvos running and that they're not really interested in the planet as an abstract entity," he said. "They figure that the planet

will outlive us anyway. So I kind of take that nice comfortable Indian position."

Sounds pretty heavy from the guy whose most famous routines involve such topics as taboo words and unidentifiable objects found in the refrigerator. Has Carlin gotten serious on us?

"The description of those pieces should tell you there's been some shift," Carlin said. "I mean, I'm older. I'm more experienced. I have a richer matrix of experience in the world. I've read more. I've observed more. And so the comparisons I make with the data I see every day -- things you see everyday get compared to your mind's collection, and my collection has gotten a little richer over the years."

"So I make better judgments off of my observations now, and I draw better conclusions. And I'm pretty much a skeptic when it comes to mankind and his institutions and the things that the species had put together. So I just have more confidence in that position now, and I'm able to do these types of things you've heard me describe."

But Carlin hasn't gone totally political, either. The comedian will also share his unique gift for pointing out the things we all share in common but never really think about.

"Universal moments, things that bring us all together, things that we share, for instance, have you ever walked into a room in your house and forgotten why you went in there?" Carlin said. "Or looking at your watch and immediately forgetting what time it is, not knowing what you just saw?"

He also plans to update a piece on the language of airlines.

"There are basically three areas I've always tapped," Carlin said of his comic style. "One of them is the English language. Another is universal experiences — dogs and cats, driving, the icebox, a place for my stuff. And the other one is political and social things."

"So those three elements are still what I draw from. I just think I'm better at this now. My experience makes me better."

After reaching a plateau of perfection in the field of stand-up comedy, the only goal left to conquer is that of making something of an off-again/on-again film career.

He originally had meant to use comedy as a stepping-stone to acting, but early experiences in film (starting in 1968's With Six You Get Eggroll) and numerous failed auditions soured Carlin on pursuing a film career.

But after a more recent variety of delightful character roles — including a memorable turn as Nick Nolte's homosexual New York neighbor in The Prince of Tides -- Carlin may be ready to hit the big screen again.

"Obviously, I would love to do it," he said of his ambition to tackle larger acting parts. "I really think I can act. I think there are a lot of things that I have in me to tap, you know, that an actor normally looks for in himself. And they are largely untapped so far."

"What happened along the way, after being disappointed at acting the first time, the comedy developed to an extent that I never suspected I had the ability for. I mean, I didn't know I would be this good at it or prolific and have so many ideas, that my kind of mutual affection with my portion of the public would be so lasting. So that has kind of thrown that equation out of balance and what the result is, yes, I would love to act more."

"But I will never now see comedy as a stepping stone," Carlin said. "This is really who I am. This is my self-definition. Acting is a collaborative medium. It's an interpretive medium, and it might be nice to do some more things, and it will be, I mean I hope to do more. I hope to get their attention, the people who make movies."

"But they're a hard-headed, bottom-line lot, and if you don't want to do last year's movie over again with a new title, they're sort of, like, not interested. But there's not a lot of creative vision in most quarters, so I just have to kind of wait. I can't force that."

Carlin admits he had a few things in mind but nothing definite for the future.

"Well, I don't have anything on paper because I'm kind of waiting to see how this Prince of Tides will help me, what the offers will be," Carlin said. "I don't really want to do any more of these small parts. It sends the wrong message to these people. I've got to kind of hold out for a nice third part, the buddy, you know, the uncle, the man next door, 25-30 minutes on screen, I've got to get something like that."