If there is something crucial for me about biographical documentaries and feature films, it is that they capture the essence, the core of the character they are dealing with. When I watch such a film and realize that it is completely clear to me not only who and what the character the film deals with actually was, but also what he actually wanted to say and what his views on life and their missions were, then it is successful movie. The two-part biographical documentary about the legendary American comedian and social critic George Carlin, who was ranked second among the best stand-up comedians of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, definitely succeeded. And all those who have never heard of Carlin and who are not familiar with his life and work will fully understand who he was and will simply have to feel respect for this equally great and problematic guy after “George Carlin’s American Dream” by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio.
This is a performer whose career has spanned half a century and who has been at the very top of the American stand-up scene for practically all of that time, even before it was even called a stand-up scene. He is a comedian who, over time, turned into a social critic and cynic who literally used words as a weapon and who made people laugh to tears for decades, and only when they stopped laughing, those same people would realize that what they are really concerned about was talking. It is a story of ups and downs, numerous starts from scratch and reinventing the style by which Carlin did not adapt to the spirit of the times, but rather dictated trends and created the spirit of the times. Many interlocutors talk about Carlin and his work, practically all living and current American and British comedians, and his essence is perhaps best captured by one sentence of the also great Bill Burr.
He recalled how as a young man, sometime in the early nineties, he went to watch Carlin while he was moving again for the umpteenth time. Burr tells the truth that his main intention was to go on the show to laugh at a failed comedy legend, a guy who has completely lost his way and is no longer funny at all, but pitiful and pathetic. And when it did, 55-year-old Carlin performed the best stand-up he had ever seen. In total, this documentary lasts almost four hours, but every millisecond is well used and we follow his life story from the beginning in the late fifties and breaking through on the then entertainment scene until his death in 2008. And Carlin started at the end of the fifties as a classic mainstream entertainer of that time, appeared on television and by the end of the sixties was earning $250,000 a year.
He was one of the most sought-after and highest-paid comedians of his time, but all that time he felt like a traitor and suppressed the rebel in him. Of course, all that had to explode and at the end of the sixties he started from scratch. He decided to leave the lucrative gigs and reject the zither humor he used to deal with and became the main rebel and star of the then counterculture scene alongside Lenny Bruce. He started from the beginning with performances in smaller clubs, at colleges, with extremely provocative performances for that time. When he discovered the drug, as he says, he began to break all taboos, from a straight mainstream type and follower who doesn’t make waves, he became an icon of the counterculture, a leading fighter against social hypocrisy, a fighter for freedom of speech and the abolition of censorship.
What is most fascinating about Carlin is that he was extremely critical of all sides of the political spectrum, and as much as he despised left-liberal smugness, he loathed conservatism and their dullness and corruption. Although Carlin may appear to be a misanthrope at first, his statement that every cynic actually hides a disappointed idealist is ingenious. A man who realized that the whole society and everything they made us do is actually a deception and an illusion that has the sole goal of maintaining the status quo and that the privileged keep their privileges, and the unprivileged stay at the bottom of the food chain with trivial entertainment.
In this great documentary, we follow his ups and downs, private successes and disasters, long-term struggle with cocaine addiction. There are also numerous recordings of interviews with Carlin in the later stages of his career in which he talks about his life and views on life and his intelligence, shrewdness and ability to capture the zeitgeist in such a fascinating way really impresses. That without condescending to anyone and so harshly and brutally, he spits in everyone’s face everything that is on his soul and that the vast majority may not want to hear. It’s a real shame that this genius comedic mind didn’t live another year because it would have been really interesting what he had to say about today’s phenomena like woke culture and canceling those who said or did something that goes against that irritating and disgusting dogma of political correctness today .