July 29, 2019  (Web Review)

George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy

(2019) 60 min. DVD: $14.99. MPI Media Group (avail. from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

Remember what the young Jon Stewart looked like? Viewers can take a gander at his soft features circa 1997 here, on a night when he served as host and interviewer for a somewhat disappointing career celebration of comedian George Carlin. Taped about a decade before Carlin’s death at age 71, this HBO special tribute—filmed at the Wheeler Theater in Aspen, CO—boasts a strong beginning, with a lengthy archival clip medley of cherry-picked great routines by Carlin over many years via his many manifestations, from buttoned-down Establishment wit to ponytailed hippie to, well, a T-shirted old guy you might see on the subway. After this compendium of very funny vintage material, however, things go south. Carlin takes the stage and performs for about 20 minutes, but his material is less than inspired and not up to the standard of everything else the viewer has just seen. It was a risky move: starting a program with a comic’s greatest hits and then setting him up to compete with those memories. But on the plus side, the always class-act Stewart engages Carlin in a fruitful conversation, which nicely underscores the latter’s elder statesman status. A strong optional purchase. Aud: P. (T. Keogh)