Playboy: You owed close to $4 million in back taxes at one point, right?
Carlin: It started at about a million and went to about $3 million. But it's the penalties and interest that kill you. Plus, there are always current taxes to pay. It never stops. I had a lien on my house for 20 years. So it was very difficult, and it was a character builder. The sad thing is, if I had had more presence of mind, I might not have let that happen.
Playboy: In 1975, on a trip to Hawaii, your 11-year-old daughter, Kelly, made you and your wife, Brenda, sign a contract to stop snorting cocaine for the rest of the trip. Does it make you sad now to think of a child in that position?
Carlin: It was a terrible fucking cruel, unthinking, unloving thing for any parent to have done, to put Kelly in that situation. That's my biggest regret in all this. If it hadn't been for the cocaine, I wouldn't have put Kelly through the trauma of her mother and father fighting like crazy and being on drugs and being maniacs in front of her. It was pretty awful. I had Kelly working with me on these sick strategies to deal with Brenda. After all, I was the more sober drunk. [laughs] Brenda would start drinking early, so we'd hide her car keys if it was after a certain hour--say, noon. Rehab wasn't an option back then, so you did what you could. One time I told Kelly, when she was probably too young to fully understand, "I may have to make believe to Mom that I'm going to leave her. I don't want you to get scared. I'll just be right down the hill at that little hotel. Don't worry." Again, if it hadn't been for the cocaine, I think I would have dealt with Brenda directly, issued an ultimatum. But instead she had to hit bottom. She backed my BMW through the lobby of a hotel. That was as good a reason as any to get cleaned up, and she spent 22 years clean without a slip. But as I look back now, it put all that pressure on Kelly.
Playboy: What's your relationship with your daughter like today?
Carlin: Kelly is now in her early 40s. She's in a good marriage. She's a psychologist with a master's in Jungian depth psychology, and she will probably go for her Ph.D. She has worked through a lot in her own therapy, all of this scarring and damage. And she and I have put a lot of stuff on the table together to try to heal some of this, which we think we have. And we move on.
Playboy: What impact did Brenda's death from cancer, in 1997, have on you?
Carlin: Well, I didn't get terribly emotional about it. First of all, I'm very much a realist and a practical person, and Brenda had been sick for quite some time. If you have any imagination at all, you find yourself imagining outcomes. Even if a person you're with isn't sick, you occasionally think of what life without them would be like. But it was not pleasant by any means. She had been stabilized with chemotherapy, but then things took a rapid turn. They kept her alive an extra 12 or 18 hours, apparently just for me to get back in from the road. And by the time I got there it was gruesome. So it was no picnic, but my tears were fairly contained. I felt them--I cried and everything--but I didn't go to pieces from the whole experience. I had kind of rehearsed it in my mind.
Playboy: And then, a year later, you had a new girlfriend.
Carlin: Sally and I met at a bookstore. Her dog came over and chose me.
Playboy: Dogs do have a keen sense of smell.
Carlin: They must, because Sally is the love of my life. I must say that as solid and as good as I thought my marriage was with Brenda--and we kind of lived in détente after a while because she had been sober about 22 years and I was still drinking and whatnot--there wasn't a lot of emotional connection during those years. But when I met Sally lightning struck. That's not to denigrate Brenda or my relationship with her, but with Sally it's that teenagers-in-love thing all over again. We wear these Jupiter rings and call ourselves the king and queen of Jupiter. It's our planet and we reign over all things Jupiterian. It's all about Jupiter, baby! [laughs]
Playboy: What do you now know about women that you wished you knew at, say, 20 or 25?
Carlin: Mostly it has to do with communication. Never sit on your feelings. Those couples who never fight, they're the ones you have to watch out for. Something's got to give. If you're talking about picking up chicks, I was never a cunt man or a swordsman or any of those things. I was never the guy saying, "Oh boy, I'd like to fuck her." Certainly I would see women and think that. But I wasn't the guy who came to the party and immediately locked eyes with someone and then had her in the fucking coatroom the next 10 minutes. I'm Irish Catholic, so there's inhibition there. I didn't take the Catholic part very seriously as a kid, but you can't shake the Irish part too easily. And you know, Irish foreplay is "Brace yourself, Bridget."
Playboy: But for the sake of oral history, can you recount your hottest groupie experience?
Carlin: I was never really that guy. During my cocaine years I was a moron with my behavior when I was out on the road, because cocaine kicks up that sexual drive, and I did what a lot of people did at that time. But honestly I don't remember a whole lot. Even with the coke, sex had to be with someone I liked. She had to be someone I was attracted to, not just to her ass or something like that. So there was a degree of honor in it, albeit a very small degree.
Playboy: How has the sexual landscape changed since then?
Carlin: It's actually a weird time for sex. Sex is all over the place in this culture. It's wide open. Compared with the 1960s, when it was merely an aspect of youth culture--free love and all that--it's a virtual sexual carnival out there now. You've got the Internet, strip clubs, porn stars on the radio. Even regular television is all cleavage and legs and asses and hot policewomen on CSI. You go into any hotel and you can buy movies in which the mailman shows up with a big hard-on and suddenly he's fucking three women at a Tupperware party--and it all goes straight to your hotel bill.
Playboy: Is that progress?
Carlin: I'm not sure. It's commercialism, sales, cash in somebody's pocket, which is what this fucking country revolves around. But at the same time we have this supercharged religious and puritanical aspect of our culture. We are the most religious country in the world. Europe looks at us like we have dicks growing out of our foreheads. They can't understand what the fuck is wrong with us with all this religious bullshit. Let's leave actual spirituality over on the side; that's a different thing. You know, you get these people now who say, "I'm not religious. I'm spiritual." Fine. But religion in this country has become a complete distortion and exploitation of the spiritual urge. It's ruled by charlatans who tell us what God thinks about us. God doesn't like our bodies, and we shouldn't like them. Our bodies are sinful instruments, especially the sexual parts and the bathroom parts. Feel guilty, America. Be afraid, America. God wants you to be ashamed! And these opposing forces--the chaste and the unchaste, commerce and religion--battle it out.
Playboy: And let's not forget politics.
Carlin: That's where it gets interesting. Politics is where all this shit comes together to totally fuck over the little guy. Bear with me; this is a large point. You have the religious right steering this country now, led by its head fuck in the White House. And to keep these religious people happy, George Bush and the people he's put in power operate through various arms, including the FCC, which controls commercial television and radio. So Howard Stern will say "pussy" or Janet Jackson will flash her tit, and the FCC sends down a shitstorm: "That's indecent! God doesn't want you to look at that!" Now add in the business element and things get really crazy. Advertisers want to appear righteous and moral because they don't want to scare away customers. They certainly can't appear to be too loose with their sexual standards. Oh no. People don't want to think they're buying a tit with their bar of soap, right? Yet here's the big secret: The Republican machine--the people with the money, the people who own everything, the people who run these businesses--loves that there's sex all over the place, because it doesn't want people sitting around thinking about what's being done to them. It doesn't want people thinking about how bad they're getting fucked by a system that abandoned them a generation ago. It wants people distracted.
Playboy: So instead of giving poor people tax breaks----
Carlin: It gives them toys--three-wheeled all-terrain vehicles and snowboards and cell phones with cameras, anything to take their mind off what's being done to them, that they're being bent over and reamed up their asshole every day of the week. This fucking country is rigged against the little guy. It's been rigged against the little guy for a long time. So the machine tries to distract you. All this Howard Stern shit, all this Janet Jackson's tit shit, any shit at all that keeps people's mind off the real shit that's going on, has a function, serves a purpose.
Playboy: So you see no worth in protecting family values?
Carlin: I'm all for protecting the family--doing the right thing by people, doing good for the working poor and for children. But what these fucking religious right-wing Republican cocksucker fuckheads don't remember is that Jesus Christ--who they look to, Jesus Christ, who they trot out all the time--actually said, "Do something for these fucking poor, sick, hungry people. If they're sick, fix them. If they're fucking hungry, fucking feed them."
Playboy: We take it you're paraphrasing Jesus.
Carlin: Jesus would have fucking gone straight to these religious shitheads and said, "Let's change this shit, people." He wouldn't have given a fucking tax break to cocksuckers like me and people with all kinds of money. And I'm just okay. What's happened with money in this country is sinful. Billionaire is a common word now. Not that I give a fuck if people are rich, but don't be giving a lot of shit back to them with tax breaks. Let them fucking help somebody who needs it. Isn't that the deal here? Isn't the deal humanity? Come on, people!