A two-parter clocking in at a total of nearly four hours, George Carlin’s American Dream combines archive footage and current interviews to tell the full story of George Carlin—his many phases, his many tribulations, and his ultimate status as a trailblazer.
When I was a kid, my dad would play Carlin’s early release, Take-Offs and Put-Ons, in the car on long trips, and I loved that shit. I had it memorized. Naturally, my curiosity had me wanting more Carlin comedy, but my dad told me to not bother, because Carlin had since gotten “weird.” Dad was a conservative, and he preferred Carlin’s suit and variety-show days to the counterculture rebel he became on albums like Class Clown and Occupation: Foole. I, of course, sought out the cassettes anyway and kept them hidden in my room.
I do remember that his transformation was a bit jarring. One day, he was on The Tonight Show looking like Joey Bishop; the next, he looked like Jesus. His albums were full of curse words and taboo subjects; Carlin basically became one of my teachers when it came to looking at life under the surface.
The film, quite studiously, pays nice attention to all the phases of his life, including good times and bad times, up until the heart problems that eventually took him out. (Some of those problems are hereditary; some were due to his well-documented drug escapades.) You get the full story on Carlin, and it doesn’t feel a moment too long.
Apatow is coming off his worst movie yet with The Bubble, so it’s good to see him follow that up quickly with what will be considered essential viewing for all standup comedy fans—and aspiring comedians as well.
It’s quite eerie to watch some of Carlin’s routines in this film, especially his takes on the environment and viruses. The man was ahead of his time.
George Carlin’s American Dream is now streaming on HBO Max.