Napalm and Silly Putty

by George Carlin

Published by Hyperion

288 pages, 2001

Buy it online






Words From the Head Inmate

Reviewed by David Middleton


...rather than becoming just another mindless, religious robot, blindly believing that everything is in the hands of some spooky, incompetent father figure who doesn't give a shit, I decided to look around for something else to worship. Something I could really count on. And immediately, I thought of the sun.

Sun worship is fairly simple. There's no mystery, no miracles, no pageantry, no one asks for money, there are no songs to learn, and we don't have a special building where we all gather once a week to compare clothing. And the best thing about the sun... it never tells me I'm unworthy. It doesn't tell me I'm a bad person who needs to be saved. Hasn't said an unkind word. Treats me fine.

So I worship the sun.

Put a slightly different spin on this and take out the expletives and you'd think you were getting deep with Deepak. The quote above, however, is not Dr. Chopra but from George Carlin's latest book Napalm and Silly Putty. Though, in truth, I'm pretty sure that I got a better understanding of how the world works reading it. Carlin really set me straight and more quickly and with less confusion than Dr. Chopra might have, and I got a laugh as well.

Napalm and Silly Putty is the follow-up to Carlin's 1998 book Brain Droppings which was on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 weeks. Carlin covers just about any topic you can think of and a few you never thought you could be bothered with. Sex, drugs, sports, driving, the old, the young, death, babies, airport security, rape, religion (especially religion), television -- "If you watch a sitcom carefully, you can see that it's really nothing more than a series of doors opening and closing with a series of jackoffs entering and exiting."

There's very little that is sacred and what is gets torched and brutalized by Carlin's acerbic wit. Carlin's basic philosophy -- if one were to be so bold as to break it down -- would be fuck 'em if they can't take a joke, and if they can, fuck 'em anyway. No one is safe from his insightful observations. And while no one is safe, everyone benefits. Carlin's comedy is about having the ability to look at the world from a different angle and then relay his skewed view back to the world in a humorous way. To poke fun at the ridiculous things we humans do in our everyday lives and to him, life is one big and fascinating spectator sport. He looks at the things that we all take for granted, things we often don't even think about and tells us we'd better take a long hard gander and start to ask ourselves some important questions. Like: "If the reason for climbing Mt. Everest is that it's hard to do, why does everyone go up the easy side?"

What Carlin is really doing is basic philosophy and disguising it as humor. He's telling us that we should question everything -- everything -- and then just maybe we'll stop doing some of that crazy shit that we've been up to. Occasionally George gets a little morose, a little deep with his ideas, and while they are funny 99 times out of 100, that one time left over will get you thinking.

Take, for example, his views on pro-life protesters:

You don't see many white, antiabortion women volunteering to have black fetuses transplanted into their uteruses, do you? No. You don't see them adopting any crack babies do you? No, that's something Jesus would do.

And you don't see many pro-lifers dousing themselves with kerosene and lighting themselves on fire. Remember The Buddhist monks in Vietnam? Morally committed religious people in Southeast Asia knew how to stage a protest: light yourself on fire! C'mon, you Christian crusaders, let's see a little smoke. Let's see if you can match that fire in your bellies.

I found Short Takes" particularly interesting. These are sections scattered throughout the book that are full of interesting little observations and thoughts. It's like reading the doodle pad in Carlin's mind:

If I had my choice of how to die I would like to be sitting on the crosstown bus and suddenly burst into flames.

In this era of "maxi," "mega" and "meta," you know what we don't have any more? "Super-duper." I miss that.

Wouldn't it be great if we could make a guy's head explode just by looking at him?

It's time to start slapping people.

We will never be an advanced civilization as long as rain showers can delay the launching of a space rocket.

When people say "clean as a whistle" they forget that a whistle is full of spit.

Near as I can tell, "jack-shit" and diddly-squat" are roughly the same amount.

What exactly is wrong with inmates running the asylum? It seems to me they are in an ideal position to know just what's needed.

Hilarious and irreverent, Carlin has been entertaining people since the 1960s when his Hippy Dippy Weatherman first surfaced. He has inspired countless comedians and his commentaries on life and the human condition are as sharp as they have ever been.

And remember this last piece of advice: "As you swim the river of life, do the breast stroke. It helps to clear the turds from your path."

And maybe wear a pair of goggles. Just a thought. | May 2001


David Middleton is the art and culture editor of January Magazine and there's really not much he can say that'll beat George Carlin in the mister funny pants department.