BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — George Carlin died in 2008 but he continues to trend on social media because his material remains insightful after all these years. Director Judd Apatow took notice of the attention Carlin still garners and that resulted in the HBO two-part documentary, “George Carlin’s American Dream.”
The first half debuts at 8 p.m. May 20 on the premium service with the second half launching at 8 p.m. May 21.
Apatow says, “I think that one of the reasons why we wanted to make the documentary was because he kept trending on Twitter and has for a really long time. Whenever anything happens in the news, people start putting clips up on the internet.
“It’s really shocking how many subjects he has the best routine about and the best insight about. So it really felt like, even though some of this material is decades old, it really applies to all of the divisions and the problems that we’re seeing right now.”
The documentary – co-directed by Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio – chronicles the life and work of the legendary comedian who was dubbed the “dean of counterculture comedians.” His career spanned half a century during which he headlined 14 HBO comedy specials and appeared on “The Tonight Show” over 130 times. One of Carlin’s biggest claims to fame was his comedy routine regarding the seven words you can’t say on TV.
What made Carlin so unique was his ability to zoom in on societal ills and skewer them with great clarity. The documentary examines a cultural chameleon who is remembered as one of the most influential stand-up comics of all time.
The documentary tracks Carlin’s rise to fame, his long struggle with drugs and his family life. His daughter, Kelly Carlin, brings a very personal insight to the production.
“I’m an only child, and the documentary covers a bit about my experience in being so tight with my parents. I actually wrote a memoir called A Carlin Home Companion that talks about my relationship with my mom and my dad, the Carlin Family story,” Kelly Carlin says. “He was a guy who was on the road a lot. He was a working comic. He missed a lot of my recitals and a lot of my events, but we were very close emotionally, very tight.
“I think Judd and Mike do an incredible job of telling my family’s story weaved throughout in order to get a real reflection of my father as a husband, as a father, as a man, and of course the person behind the artist. So we had a lot of love and I was very close to my dad until the day he died.”
Kelly Carlin got a front row seat to her father’s unwavering stance on how he thought that less speech was not good for a society and less speech doesn’t actually protect people. She also got to see her father’s concern for the underdog and his efforts to support anyone who was being oppressed.
She stresses how “lucky” her father was when it came to his fans.
“He had a very loyal audience and he would go out every 18 months to different markets and different cities. I think he’d still be able to say whatever he wanted to say right now,” Kelly Carlin says. “I don’t know if he would use all of the social media and all of that kind of stuff, but I think he would definitely play with it.
“The thing is, because he’s not here, we don’t get to have his angle on it, which I know would blow all of our minds and we would all go, wow. I’ve never thought about it that way because that’s the genius of what he did. So, I really wish he was here. I try to piece together the clues also. But I know he really believed in letting people say what they had to say, their truth, while at the same time not making people who are suffering because of oppression have more suffering.”
The documentary features archival films, photos, audio recordings, letters, and diaries. Along with Kelly Carlin, the film includes interviews with manager Jerry Hamza and his second wife Sally Wade. Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Colbert, Bill Burr, Bette Midler, W. Kamau Bell, Sam Jay, Judy Gold and Jon Stewart share their memories of Carlin.
Bonfiglio was struck while collecting material for the documentary by how relevant much of Carlin’s comedy remains today.
“We also spent a lot of time kind of parsing which things felt relevant to now, which things required too much context of the time, to really make proper sense in the way that George intended them to,” Bonfiglio says. “I think these kinds of films, when it comes to comedy, because in general I think comedy is not meant to last for decades and decades and be re-evaluated later, so it’s an additional challenge, but a really fun one.”