Had HBO and the legendary comedian George Carlin been partnered from the start, he probably wouldn’t have had to deal with all the censorship issues that led to his career skyrocketing, thanks in part to the ever-incredible “Seven Dirty Words” routine. By the time he did land at the cable network in 1978, it was clearly a match made in stand-up comedy heaven, and his 14-special legacy is remarkable all on its own. So it’s perfectly fitting that Judd Apatow’s two-part retrospective documentary George Carlin’s American Dream will premiere on HBO a month before the 14th anniversary of his death, and the first trailer (seen above) is an instant reminder of his mastery with a microphone.
George Carlin’s American Dream will premiere its first installment on Friday, May 20, with the second part airing the next night, giving comedy fans a weekend full of brilliant wordplay, logical arguments, and bullshit-detecting from a guy who called it with the best of them. Presumably along with a hippy-dippy weather report or two along the way. And it won’t just be a retread of all the bits mega-fans might already be familiar with — not that there would be anything to complain about if that was the case — because things will probably skew a bit more emotional than an on-stage highlight reel. So whether it's laughing so hard I cry, or crying so hard that I laugh, I accept all outcomes.
The new HBO doc is filled with never-before-seen footage of all types. Perhaps most deserving of attention will be the archival footage to be watched, read and heard. The creative team was given access to previously stored-away films, photos, letters, diaries, and audio recordings from George Carlin’s life. Having been a stand-up comedian for 52 years, on top of being a best-selling author who dabbled in TV and other creative projects, the guy no doubt had a mountain of written material built up. I hope to see some unused jokes, since anything that landed on Carlin’s cutting-room floor would be the best jokes in most other comedians’ acts.
Beyond that, as the trailer shows, George Carlin’s American Dream will also feature a wide swath of excellent stand-up comedians sharing stories about working with Carlin and/or how he impacted and inspired their own lives and careers. That lineup of interview subjects includes Chris Rock (who would probably have quite a conversation with Carlin about this year’s Oscars going FUBAR thanks to Will Smith), Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Bill Burr, Steven Wright, W. Kamau Bell, Judy Gold, and more.
From George Carlin’s personal life, the documentary will feature memories being shared by his daughter Kelly Carlin, second wife Sally Wade, late brother Patrick Carlin, manager Jerry Hamza and more. While the comedians can obviously speak to certain parts of Carlin’s career, the family interviews will provide further insight into George’s childhood years, his drug-addled struggles, his run-ins with police and other authority figures, and other elements that fueled so much of his timless comedy.
George Carlin’s American Dream is the passion-geared work of its well-known co-directors Judd Apatow, whose The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling hit all the right notes for fans of that late comedian, and Michael Bonfiglio, who helmed Season 1 of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman and 2021’s TV doc Patrice O’Neal: Killing Is Easy. They know their way around well-crafted and respectful docs, and the fact that everyone involved knew enough to make this thing big enough to spread across two nights tells me it’s in the right hands.
Here’s hoping this doc is amazing enough to thwart anyone in Hollywood who might want to dramatize Carlin’s life for a feature biopic. Unless it can utilize Bill & Ted Face the Music’s technology that would somehow allow a hologram version of Carlin to play himself in that kind of project, I don’t want it. And I probably don’t want the hologram version either, but I’m holding out for that hypothetical trailer before I commit to any final opinions. Can we at least get The George Carlin Show streaming somewhere? Those with HBO Max subscriptions can stream some of his cable specials, while an Amazon Prime subscription provides access to his final special from 2008.
Filled more dirty words than a muddy dictionary — and jokes of a far superior quality — George Carlin’s American Dream will make its debut on HBO on Friday, May 20, with Part 1 airing at 8:00 p.m. ET, and Part 2 airing in the same time slot the very next evening, on Saturday, May 21. Installments will also be available to stream on HBO Max accordingly.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper. Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.