After being canned from his four-year stint at the MGM Grand for his dark humor, followed by calling Vegas tourists "f--king moronic," and then spending 30 days in rehab for using "too much wine and Vicodin," George Carlin is returning to the Strip. Never one to forgo speaking his mind, the ninth-grade dropout—whose 13th HBO special debuts in November—kept his sinus doctor waiting long enough to deliver an eloquent earful about greed, spirituality and the ridiculous accusation that he's an angry guy.
Is there a particular statement you're making by setting up shop at the Stardust?
Out on the road, it's my business. I'm not in a partnership with a corporation. Down in Las Vegas, it's very conglomerate. You have these people who wear suits to work and run around reading letters from some people who didn't like my suicide bit, as if suicide isn't all over society. They felt special, I guess.
The MGM Grand—I don't know because I don't go around and get demographic information—but it seems like the overall clientele in that hotel is older and more conservative. Maybe there will be some people who go to the Stardust who tend to like what I do. I have a pre-sold audience and I have to kind of extract them from the teeming masses in Las Vegas somehow. I don't know how you do that, but I'm going to be there trying.
Discussing your rehab, I know you've previously struggled with cocaine.
Yeah, I actually had given up cocaine on my own in the '70s, and that led me to believe that "Gee, I didn't have any problems." So there I was drinking beer and smoking pot for 30 subsequent years, just enough to stay a little buzzed.
There are various kinds of hitting bottom, and there's this phenomenon called a high bottom. I didn't have life-threatening stuff going on. I didn't f--k up a house, I didn't f--k up a relationship. I had no arrests, no legal troubles, no DUIs. I didn't stagger, I never missed jobs because of it. I just made sure that every day, I had my buzz.
How has your thinking changed?
The thing I developed out of it was a very much more pronounced sort of a spiritual connection; a surrender to things beyond your control. You don't control the universe—period—and your ego is not your amigo. So without getting into God and religions and all these loaded terms, I've found a way to kind of get outside myself.
Looking back over your career, any personal highlights?
Actually getting better at what I do over time is the most satisfying part of this. What's an interesting distinction a lot of people don't make is between an entertainer and an artist. What I do is entertainment, but what feeds it is my art, and my art is my writing. There are some people who are just content to be entertainers, and there's nothing wrong with that. But they don't really grow and go anywhere different or challenge themselves, and it's just kind of static. And we don't hear about them after a while. Then there are people who have the need to keep changing and evolving and looking at themselves and picking up things. I think I'm in that category, because I've gone through all these different phases. I've lasted 44 years.
What's the biggest misconception people have about you?
Well, I'm not angry. I don't act angry. I don't feel angry. I don't live angrily. But I'll tell you what I am: I feel disappointed and betrayed by the f--king species and betrayed by my culture, and I think the gifts this species was given at its inception, the gifts this country inherited, have been squandered in the interest of greed and self-aggrandizement. It irritates me. I'm disappointed. So anything you hear is a theatrical heightening of those feelings.
But the person up there on stage is essentially you and not any sort of extension character?
There's two guys in here. One's a good student who does the writing and is real careful about his writing. The other is a big show-off who wants to crack his knuckles and make the girls in class throw up. That's me.