Yesterday, I asked who said the following, and who were they talking about?

I think his success says much more about something in this culture than it does about him. I think he found a ready-made audience of young, white males who are frustrated and angry and confused and alienated. I don’t want to sound heavy-duty sociological here, but it’s true. They’re not comfortable with assertive women who are competent and capable. And they’re uncomfortable about immigrants. I think that has to do with the job market, the supposed threat of the job market. And they’re not comfortable with homosexuals because they’re not really sure of their own manhood at this point in their lives.

I always felt comics and satirists and humorists attacked the powerful, attacked the people who were messing with everyone, pulling the strings, and his targets are the underdogs. Now I don’t think he came out of the box saying, “I think I’ll attack all the underdogs,” but I think he found and gravitated toward an audience that agrees with that, that likes that.

I received many guesses, some believing the speaker was Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or David Letterman, some believing the subject was Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, or Rush Limbaugh (none of whom has a young audience, by the way).  None of those is right, nor are Grover Norquist and Rick Perry.

When I posted the quote, I didn’t tell you when it was said, but it’s interesting that so many found that it fit contemporary figures.

The correct answer:  the speaker was George Carlin, in 1991, in response to a question about Andrew Dice Clay, who was then at the peak of his not-very-long-lasting fame.

Carlin’s analysis was right on the money, but could easily describe so many loudmouths in the media today, from talk radio hosts to cable TV pundits to print and online columnists. They all find it easy to use their pulpit to attack targets they know their audience fears — or in too many cases, do everything they can to exploit and increase those fears for their own career gain or political agenda. It’s lowest-common-denominator stuff, aimed at those they deem below them on the status ladder, just like schoolyard bullies who never take on anyone stronger. The irony is that the hatred, while somewhat harmful to its targets, ends up hurting the bullies in the long run, as they get left behind while the rest of society changes, matures, and progresses.  Carlin knew that, because his act was about cutting the legs out from under the powerful, the bloated, the bombastic — just the opposite of Clay’s approach — and one of many reasons he had a career that spanned decades, while Clay’s spanned months.

As for the context of the quote, it came from an episode of Alan King’s “Inside The Comedy Mind,” a series that ran on The Comedy Channel (an HBO network that later merged with Viacom’s HA! to become Comedy Central).   Each week, King sat down with another stand-up to talk about comedy — a subject that is usually not very funny, but got them to open up about their own histories and thoughts on the business.

It wasn’t the kind of conversation seen on most TV interviews, in which the guest has something to plug and comes prepared with material ready to go. There was no audience, nor a set-up/punchline every few seconds. In fact, some long stretches were quite serious and thoughtful. The modern-day equivalent would be Marc Maron’s “WTF” or Kevin Pollak’s “Chat Show” podcasts.

I just watched a DVD collection of those interviews, in which King elicited stories that I hadn’t heard before, like:

  • Buddy Hackett revealing what happened the first time he cursed on stage in 1961;
  • Dennis Miller detailing the process of writing Weekend Update for “SNL”;
  • Neil Simon describing how he balanced the comedy and drama in his plays;
  • Garry Marshall enumerating the differences between directing comedians and actors;
  • Rob Reiner explaining how the lead characters in his first movies were all extensions of his own personality.

King’s conversation with Carlin was fascinating because they were so culturally different. Although both New Yorkers and both often angry onstage, King was an old-school, tuxedo-wearing, cuff-shooting, cigar-smoking storyteller whose career path went through the Catskills and Las Vegas, while Carlin was a new-school, jeans-and-t-shirt, long-haired wordsmith who had made his career in comedy clubs and on college campuses. King couldn’t quite relate to Carlin, but obviously enjoyed his act, and was enthralled by his insights.

Aside from the geographic and temperamental similarities, Carlin and King didn’t have much in common as comedians, but they were in accordance on one thing — they both saw right through Andrew Dice Clay.