the pulse

Dropping out of human race hasn't slowed him a bit

At 70, George Carlin is still in there plugging, still fighting the good fight (whatever that even means anymore), still packing concerts with fans who flock to hear his take on life in these United States, and writing books showcasing his legendary brand of observational, cantankerous wit. He isn't just mailing it in, either. He's still razor-sharp and very much on his game.

But as he prepares on Saturday to front his record 14th live HBO stand-up comedy special — "It's Bad For Ya" (from the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa, Calif.) — on Saturday, Carlin, who performed about 80 live shows across the country in 2007, admits to having something of a different take on things now.

It's not that he has exactly mellowed. Mellow isn't in Carlin's makeup. But no longer is he motivated to push the comedic envelope as a pioneer, as he did so memorably as a barrier-busting, hypocrisy-exposing rebel of the Las Vegas stage and the man who would become a Supreme Court test case via the famed "Seven Dirty Words" television furor in 1972.

Carlin is done trying to battle censorship and free-speech infringements that never seem to end. The vitriol is in evidence against religion and the government and the ruling class as well as the crassness of consumer culture, but now it's somewhat muted by reflection and a certain resignation. He has a ready explanation for the change.

"I no longer see myself as a part of this species," Carlin said in a telephone conversation last week. "To a large extent, I have dropped out for reasons of self-preservation. But I have to say it has been very freeing, allowing me to become fully engaged as an observer. I feel much happier about things now as a result. The divorce has resulted in personal growth. I believe it has also helped me to become better at my art."

As such, Carlin no longer finds it either ironic or tragic that there seems to have been so little change in cultural mores and the iron grip of religion-fueled morality in America since he ran afoul of the FCC. "I accept it as someone looking in from the outside that the culture is destroying itself, and as someone who is no longer part of the human race, I can be fascinated by it rather than mourn it," he says.

He is not simply a basher of the right. Carlin blasts the left just as readily. Politics, to his mind, has always been the problem, pretty much never the solution. But as a comic without an inclusive point of view, he has the air of a man who still cares far more deeply than perhaps he lets on. His comedy remains informed, at its core, by the righteous indignation of the 1960s. The man remains the perpetual outsider.

Which is really a shame. George Carlin is anything but an anachronism. He is an idealistic warrior whose battlefield left him, rather than vice-versa. He channels truth in an era when people don't necessarily want to hear it, their focus diluted by gadgets and social disconnection and the politically expedient doublespeak that has come to sub for profundity.

"The promises we hear today are either false or undeliverable," Carlin laments.

But one thing we can count on is Carlin continuing to do what he can to shake the masses from their lethargy through the reality he believes most choose to ignore.

"On Saturday, the audience will hear about the BS we all live with here in America — things we don't question, that we take for granted and accept," he says. "We're not doing our job as citizens. That's the truth."
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