George Carlin: It’s Bad For Ya DVD review

The late George Carlin's final HBO special is, sadly, some way short of his best.

George Carlin earned a name as one of America’s top comedians with his confrontational and controversial brand of observational humor. His emergence onto the comedy scene in the late 60s saw him become the natural successor to Lenny Bruce. Perhaps best known for his ‘seven words you can’t say on television’ routine that saw a radio station that aired it almost stripped of its license and Carlin arrested for breaking obscenity laws when performing in Milwaukee.

The controversy around the routine only served to make Carlin a bigger name and over the years he established himself as one of the most influential names in American comedy, influencing the likes of Bill Hicks, Bill Murray, Jerry Seinfeld and Denis Leary to name but a few. Carlin has also appeared in a number of movies over the years: most notably Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey, he also appeared in three Kevin Smith movies (Dogma, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back and Jersey Girl).

George Carlin, sadly, passed away due to heart failure on the 22nd June last year. He was aged 71. This was four days after it was announced that he would receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

This DVD is of George Carlin’s 14th, and last, special for HBO, which aired on 1st March 2008 and featured material that was honed during a tour of the US that preceded this special. A recording of the set won him a Grammy for Best Comedy Album, although the album recording was on a different date to that of the DVD.

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Carlin sets out to shock early, with attacks on Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods in the opening minute. If you’re expecting to be in for something controversial, though, you’ll be disappointed. The overall theme of the set is very bleak with the majority of the set occupied with Carlin talking about death in some capacity, which is appropriate given that he passed away three months after this was filmed.

It’s not a set that had me laughing throughout. There were moments I enjoyed, though, such as when he’s talking about professional parents and ways of ending conversations you don’t want to be part of.

I’m perhaps not the target demographic for the majority of the material. After all, I’ve never had to consider deleting deceased friends from my address book. Regardless of the tone and lack of laughs, it’s all well observed stuff and delivered with immense skill, as you’d expect from Carlin, even if some parts are a little cringe worthy.

I found the stage set up quite distracting. This is the first stand up DVD of Carlin’s that I’ve seen. I have, however, listened to a lot of his sets on CD, so I’m not sure if he usually performs on a stage that resembles a home office or whether this was for the benefit of TV audiences. Surely people can appreciate the quality of the stand up on a normal stage without having a bizarre backdrop?

It’s not a DVD that’s packed with extras; scene selections aside, there are no special features on offer here.

If you’re unfamiliar with Carlin’s work I wouldn’t recommend It’s Bad For Ya being your first introduction. It doesn’t reach the levels displayed in his best work. I’d suggest that this is one for completists only.

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If you’re after an introduction to Carlin, track down Class Clown (which includes Seven Words), FM&AM and Toledo Window Box. These are all recordings from the 70s that show what a great comedian George Carlin was.

Ultimately, what’s on offer here is more of a rant than a comedy set and if I want to hear a 70 year old man rant I can go visit my dad. Feature:

2 stars

George Carlin: It’s Bad For Ya is out now.


2 out of 5