Playboy: Jim Carrey once said you were his anti-role model because he didn't want to be so angry at your age. Aren't you tired of being angry?
Carlin: Yes, he did say that in a Playboy Interview, and I saw it, and I'd correct him in the following manner: I like Jim a lot. He's extremely talented, and he's a good fucking human being. But he misread the thing as anger. It's not anger. Angry is getting into a fistfight, which I've never done. Angry is losing your temper and regretting it. People who have been around me for 20 minutes or 20 years will tell you they've never seen me angry. Now, I can get irritated like anyone else--in traffic, on a slow line in a store, at a dumb clerk. Hey, that's natural, especially when you're an efficient human being and you like things to go properly. But angry? Not me.
Playboy: Then what is it? How do you classify your vitriol?
Carlin: It's dissatisfaction and disappointment. I'm disappointed that my culture let me down. I feel betrayed by the people in this country. They're dumb. They're just fucking stupid. They don't know how to protect themselves and operate in their own interest. I'm telling you, my fucking species let me down a long time ago.
Playboy: Is that why you haven't voted since 1972?
Carlin: That's right, for George McGovern. It doesn't matter if anybody votes. Kerry wouldn't have been any different than Bush. One of the most interesting things in politics is that we always worry about censorship from the right because that's the standard formula, but suddenly it's barreling in from the left, too, from the campuses in the East and the intellectuals via political correctness. I think when you go out of your way to protect so-called minorities and disaffected people by altering the language used about them, by calling people "differently abled" or whatever shit it is, you're saying they're not strong enough to handle anything on their own. The left thinks it's protecting people, but it's actually insulting them, whether they're handicapped people or blacks or lesbians. But the bottom-line message is still the same, whether from the left or the right: "You can't handle life unless we, the white, paternalistic, educated, wealthy community, help you by altering the game plan." And that's just fucked.
Playboy: Is there a politician you think could make a difference?
Carlin: I'll tell you who's an interesting figure: Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general of New York. He's very articulate and bright, makes smart alliances and goes after the right targets. I'd love to see him rise nationally, but the politicians would figure out some way to destroy him. They'd say, "Well, his sister was a lesbian in Venezuela, and she contracted the syph and gave it to a nun who was in with the terrorists." I'm telling you, politicians do what they want. The people who own this country own the land that counts and control the corporations and all the sources of news and information. Big chemicals, big oil, big insurance, big accounting, big banking, energy--the rich control everything, and they bought the Senate and the House a long time ago. They bought the statehouses. They bought the city halls. The judges are in their back pockets. These people have convergent interests: How can we make more money and get things our way? Reduce government regulation. Reduce our taxes and increase the burden on the general fucking public regardless of its health or safety or well-being. It's property over people, and that's why I'm not getting in my car and driving to some fucking high school gym to punch a hole in a piece of paper.
Playboy: Since the news seems to be skewed depending on which channel you watch or which newspaper, magazine or blog you read, how do you figure out what the truth is?
Carlin: You can't, and that's why people have begun looking to the distorters for the truth--to Jon Stewart, who I love and think is brilliant, and to The Onion. But all news is distorted today. What's presented to us as news is a fabrication or at least a manipulation of reality. The problem with these fucking people--these network anchors or whatever--is that they need access. All these fucking people who cover Washington or anything a reporter covers need to know they can get interviews. You don't fuck up your access if you're one of these people. So you play a delicate game. You don't embarrass your sources; therefore, you don't reveal certain things. You don't ask hard questions, so you're compromised from the start.
Playboy: Explain something to us, then. If this country is so averse to provocative viewpoints, why do your books consistently become best-sellers?
Carlin: We're schizophrenic. Of course the Republicans would love to make this a complete theocracy and have America be a kind of Taliban state where they have strict control over behavior and whatever titillation there is in news, advertising or entertainment. But they can do only what they can do, and that leaves room for fuckers like me. That's why I love this place. I love this country. I love the things it has given me, and I don't mean a nice car. I'm not really wealthy by any means because I had a long struggle with the IRS that defeated that purpose. But I do well, and I love that. But I love more than that. I love that I get to talk like this. I think this is fucking great. And there will come a day when folks won't get to talk like this. You can see that on the horizon if certain things break certain ways.
Playboy: Why not take to the airwaves with your ideas? Do you ever think about pulling a Howard Stern and doing a show on satellite radio?
Carlin: Not really, because what would I say on the second day or in the second week or the third month? The celebrity platform has been badly abused, mostly by Hollywood people on the Leno show who say, "I'm really passionate about this fucking project." Who cares? But let me say a few words about Howard: Howard's great. Howard's doing the right thing. And Howard's going to make a fortune for himself--not that that's the important thing, but Howard has pioneered again. He's a smart and savvy guy who found a niche, a big important niche--a male following he knew how to play to. I always liked him, but I was never comfortable doing his show because I never fit there. I didn't have lurid stories to tell about my own life. If I had, I might have been a little antsy about telling them. I could never give his audience the kind of red meat it wants. But when I listen to Don Imus I hear a slightly more thoughtful discussion going on and guests who are interesting to me, not just people showing their knobs or talking about whacking off. Back in 1992 Imus saw a show I did at Carnegie Hall on HBO, Jammin' in New York, and he got on the air and gave it a great review. So I called to thank him, and I said, "You know, I do Howard Stern sometimes. I don't really fit in there, Don. Can I call in to your show every now and then?" He said, "Come on in anytime," and all that shit. So I started that relationship because I feel it's a better fit.
Playboy: You never quite fulfilled your long-standing dream to become a movie actor. Your TV shows get canceled, and you get only bit parts. How frustrating has that been over the years?
Carlin: Movies have been a nice sideline, but that's about it. I'm passionate about showing off, and I'm just fine doing that onstage and in my books. I'm a kid who quit school in ninth grade who needs to show people he's smart. I have this need to prove my brainpower. I'm long since past the real need; now it's just a habit. But I'm still the same little show-off who in fifth grade stood up in the class meeting and sang "Mañana," the Peggy Lee song, a cappella at Corpus Christi grammar school in New York City.
Playboy: So that was your earliest comedy gig? What did the nuns think?
Carlin: I was a good learner and a good student and I could answer any of the questions they asked, so the nuns left me alone. But in my spare time I'd look around and go, "Well, what the fuck. Hey, Joey, watch this." You become a fuckup, you know, by pushing and bending the rules all the time. You try to make the other guys laugh and you're disruptive. So that was my big sin. The sisters kind of winked at it, and I could see it was good to be yourself and have ideas. Soon my natural need to entertain took other forms, such as imitating famous people--Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson--making up routines and imitating commercials and newscasters and stuff.
Playboy: Did that make you popular?
Carlin: With the kids, yeah. With my mother, absolutely not. She couldn't stand it in the beginning. My behavior was always rewarded by two things: people's attention and approval. As a kid who was alone in his house a lot because of family circumstances, I needed attention and approval. I needed to know the world thought I was cute and clever and a smart kid. So I got that. It was an unspoken thing. I didn't put words like this together in my head; it just happened. Like a sunflower leaning toward the sun, I became approval-tropic. I started to bend that way.
Playboy: You've said you don't remember your father, who died when you were eight. Any sense of how his death contributed to the person you are today?
Carlin: My mother and father were separated many times before I was conceived. Two months after I was born my mother realized my father's drinking wasn't going to stop no matter what he said. He was also a bully, and he beat my older brother. My mother was spared because she had four brothers and her father was a policeman. Nevertheless, I spent much of my childhood in fear of his coming to our door. The routine was that my mother, my brother and I would be sitting at the kitchen table. If there was a knock on the door, my mother would stiffen up and fear would come over her face. She would mouth the words to me, "Go look under the door." So I would get down on my hands and knees and look under the door. If I saw a woman's shoes, I could say, "Who is it?" and open the door and get my mother. If I saw a man's shoes, I said nothing. I'd just walk back and whisper, "Man's shoes." And we'd just wait silently for the person to leave. I think that made me a realist, actually.