There's something slightly morbid about watching the great George Carlin's fourteenth -- and final -- stand-up special, It's Bad for Ya. Taped in March of 2008, Carlin spends a lot of the hour talking about death and the afterlife (or lack thereof). Hearing him talk about getting old and dying -- and knowing that he would pass away in June of 2008, only a few months later -- makes Carlin's routine seem darkly prescient. It also makes just about everything he says a little more resonant; knowing it would be the last special we get from the comic forces one to sit up and pay close attention.
Jester, Philosopher, Poet
Carlin definitely looks all of his 70 years on It's Bad for Ya, but he hasn't lost any of his wit or edge (the fact that he's still writing and performing stand-up at age 70 ought to be enough to silence any of his critics).
Since the early 1990s, Carlin has been becoming progressively grouchier -- and It's Bad for Ya proves to be the culmination of that progression. From children to church to patriotism to death, Carlin doesn't have a nice word to say about anything; if the special amounted to nothing more than a list of complaints, it would be insufferable. Luckily, there's always more to Carlin's negativity -- his grouchiness makes a point. One of comedy's sharpest social critics, Carlin spends the hour pointing out hypocrisies in American culture and language -- the Things We Say and Do Not Mean.
It's Bad for Ya is essentially divided into three acts: Death, Children and Bullshit. Carlin's routine on dying -- or, more specifically, the way others react when someone dies -- is excellent. He ridicules the empty comments people make ("He's smiling down on us right now" or "Don't hesitate to ask me to do anything") and demolishes the ideas of Heaven and Hell. The next section, covering adults and their treatment of children, is the weakest of the three and the only time It's Bad for Ya sags; he still gets off the occasional clever turn of phrase, but it's not his best stuff.
The best stuff he saves for last: the final third of the special, which I'm categorizing under the too-general "Bullshit," is his most socially critical. As Carlin attacks widely accepted phrases ("Proud to be an American") and ideas (like swearing on the Bible, or having "rights") his larger thesis finally comes into focus. It's what late-era Carlin has always been best at: applying logic to language and ideas that don't support it. This final third -- particularly a routine on American "rights" -- is some of the best material he's ever done, and a fitting way for one of the best comedians of all time to go out.
The DVD release of It's Bad for Ya contains two bonus features The first -- and lesser of the two -- is a clip of Carlin performing on The Jackie Gleason Show in 1969. It's interesting to see Carlin early in his career, working in a totally different style but still showing glimpses of the comedian he would eventually become.
The second featurette is a fantastic 30-minute interview with Carlin, called "Too Hip for the Room" (something he said he'd like on his tombstone). Essentially just a truncated version of the three-hour interview conducted in 2007 with the Archive of American Television, the piece shows Carlin speaking candidly about his history as a comic and his approach to comedy. His insights are articulate and quite invaluable to any fan, and I was particularly interested to hear Carlin say that his 1992 special, Jammin' in New York, marked the real transition into his ultimate comedic style. I've always thought that was Carlin's best special, and the clearest example I could point to of his combination of observation, anger, humor and social commentary. He spent the remainder of his career doing a variation on that special, but never to such effect.
- Release Date: November 25, 2008
- Running Time: 68 minutes
- 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
- Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
- English Subtitles
- Studio: MPI Home Video
DVD Bonus Features
- "Too Hip for the Room" 2007 Interview
- Carlin on The Jackie Gleason Show in 1969