Review: George Carlin’s American Dream


George Carlin’s American Dream is a two-part, four-hour Judd Apatow HBO documentary about the greatest comedian that ever lived: George Carlin. Should you watch it? Read on for my thoughts.

HBO Documentary Synopsis

George Carlin’s American Dream, directed by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio, chronicles the life and work of the legendary comedian.

Carlin’s career spanned half a century during which he headlined 14 HBO comedy specials and appeared on The Tonight Show over 130 times, constantly evolving with the times and staying sharply resonant up until his death in 2008 and beyond. The documentary examines a cultural chameleon who is remembered as one of the most influential stand-up comics of all time.

The two-part documentary tracks Carlin’s rise to fame and opens an intimate window into Carlin’s personal life, including his childhood in New York City, his long struggle with drugs that took its toll on his health, his brushes with the law, his loving relationship with Brenda, his wife of 36 years, and his second marriage to Sally Wade. Intimate interviews with Carlin and Brenda’s daughter, Kelly Carlin, offer unique insight into her family’s story and her parents enduring love and partnership.

Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Colbert, Bill Burr, Bette Midler, W. Kamau Bell, Sam Jay, Judy Gold and Jon Stewart are among those interviewed for the project.

HBO Documentary Films, Rise Films and Apatow Productions present George Carlin’s American Dream. The documentary was edited by Joe Beshenkovsky; executive produced by Apatow, Bonfiglio, Teddy Leifer, Jerry Hamza, and Kelly Carlin. For HBO: executive producers, Lisa Heller and Nancy Abraham.

My Thoughts

George Carlin’s American Dream is one of the greatest documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and I learned a great deal about a great man. George Carlin was my favorite comedian. I met him at the old Borders bookstore on Walnut Street near Rittenhouse Square in 2001 when he was doing a book signing for Napalm and Silly Putty. He was the smartest person I ever met, and I’m certain that fact will never change. Later that year, I saw him perform live when he made a stop in Philadelphia on his tour, and it was everything I expected and more.

As this documentary makes clear, George had a tumultuous personal and professional life. He also had an inner conflict about how to succeed on his own terms. He eventually did just that, reinventing himself decade after decade, blowing away all of his peers, as well as the millions of fans he garnered throughout his iconic career. Seeing all of the ups and downs in his life, and hearing stories from those who knew him, was profound.

George Carlin was more than a comedian; he was a philosopher. He was a comedic alchemist whose scientific method was second to none; a master storyteller with a sonic and emotional aptitude that was so sophisticated it could never be duplicated. George’s level of precision and dedication to his craft was awe inspiring, and I’m so grateful that I met him and saw him perform live while he was still with us.

George’s “You Are All Diseased” HBO special was how I discovered him. I watched it late one night when I should have been sleeping, and I’ve never been the same since. He opened my eyes to the hypocrisy and illogical nature of a variety of institutions, including religion, government, and corporate America. What I learned watching George informed my critical thinking in the classroom and in life. He made me smarter, wiser, and more aware of myself and those around me. I can’t say the same for any other comedian.

For those of us that absolutely loved George, this documentary is a celebration and examination of the man, the myth, and the legend. If you don’t know George or you’ve only heard of him or you’ve seen clips online, I implore you to watch this documentary, followed by a few of his specials, because you’ll be a better person for doing so. I saw myself in this documentary and in George. He faced the same problems and dilemmas that we do. That’s why he was so loved: he was this relatable sage philosopher who made us laugh, smile, and above all else, think. If there is an invisible man in the sky, I hope his name is George.

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