When last we saw a George Carlin book here in A Modest Construct, I was pretty harsh, but I take nothing back: When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops wasn’t a very good book. It was unfortunately indicative of the George Carlin we saw in the few years before his death; gone were the elaborate jokes about language, the puns, the extended structures, the tone that manages to be both irascible and playful at the same time (try it: it’s not easy).
When George Carlin died last year, I made sure to watch a bevy of his old routines (including the classic “7 Words You Can’t Say on Television”), but it wasn’t until just recently that I sat down to re-read Brain Droppings, which, apart from small clips such as the aforementioned, was my first real exposure to the man when I read it in the late 90s. It was this book that really cemented my appreciation of his comedy.
What makes Brain Droppings different in so many ways from Carlin’s recent work is that it has very few extended rants about particular subjects; neither does it have the serious I’m-joking-but-not-really kind of anger that seemed present in When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops. The best parts of this book are the “short takes,” which are extended sections of small jokes, often about language, in the form of epigrams, puns, and one-liners. It’s an unadulterated show of Carlin’s appreciation for the ridiculousness and flexibility of the English language, of meaning, and double-entendre, and it’s a joy to read. Even better, it’s the sort of book that doesn’t require large blocks of time: since each section is short (usually a few pages at most), you can easy leave and come back without worrying about losing the narrative thread.
There’s a good reason this book was on the bestseller list for over almost 40 combined weeks. I think it highlights what was so great about Carlin, even though it lacks the inherent charm of his live comedy performances. What’s more, it’s largely atopical, so it doesn’t seem dated even though it’s now 10 years old. Pick it up and read it: this is what made a comedy legend.