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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Audiobook Review: Napalm and Silly Putty

Basic Information
Format: Audiobook (Two Double-Sided Cassettes)
Author/Narrator: George Carlin
Publisher: Highbridge Audio
ISBN-10: 1565114507

(As an aside, I'd just like to note the hilarity of the Amazon page on this work. As of this writing, it lists the number of pages. In an audio book.)

Synopsis: George Carlin reads one of his bestselling books of comedy and observation. Pretty straightforward.

So I've been a Carlin fan for a long time now. Well, a long time relative to my age. I know my grandmother would be terribly amused that anyone in their 20s (gasp, a personal detail) claims to have done anything in particular for 'a long time', but perspective is everything.

At least, it is for George Carlin. Napalm and Silly Putty is an audiobook filled with humor from an intentionally skewed, borderline psychotic perspective. For Carlin fans, you recognize the drill by now: Carlin's cranky, agitated, self-involved and bored, looking for amusement, which is fortunately abundant because life is an endless parade of hilarious affliction and suffering.

Before I talk about the actual content of this book, I think it's useful to address two aspects I've seen in other reviews, and noticed about his books myself. First, people tend to read or listen to a Carlin book and think, "I've heard a lot of this shit before!". Well, yeah. You probably have. There's a lot of overlap between his comedy tours from tour to tour, between his books and his comedy, and so forth. He readily admits so in live performances. There's actually a lot of fun to be had if you go to a couple shows distantly spaced in a tour, watching the work and humor change and evolve, seeing which jokes he keeps and which he chucks. The same is true here; sure, some of the material comes from earlier comedy tours, but it's placed in the context of a book, surrounded by other material, and presented in a different format.

Which brings me to the second issue. Half the amusement, easily, in Carlin's work is his delivery. I tried reading another Carlin book in dead-tree format and didn't get through it, even though my brain tried to supply his voice in my head. He's funny as hell in person, or as in the case here, on tape. In print, you lose a lot of the subtlety, the sarcasm, the little vocal tricks and cues that make up his work. So, if you are going to get a Carlin book, I think audio is the way to go.

All that aside, how is Napalm and Silly Putty? Well, for the most part, it's very funny. At times outright hilarious. Carlin makes the most of the format, delivering his humor in a more laid-back, warm and friendly until he kicks you in the ribs, Grandfatherly tone, and it works. The material is great too, some of it older, much of it stuff I'd never heard before.

Unlike his standup, there are no particular constraints on time or length of a routine. Many pieces are one sentence quips or observations, which can be somewhat jarring if you're not expecting it. Others run as long as he feels like, going into something in greater detail than in the time limited, eternally-preparing-for-the-next-HBO-special format he does his shows in. Taken as a whole, that makes this audiobook presentation worth listening to on its own to a Carlin fan, as it effectively is giving him another medium to work in.

Particularly noteworthy bits, to me, included his take on Entropy and the related fall of Western Civilization. Always the dedicated charitable soul, Carlin wonders how he can help to advance these noble, and quite inevitable natural processes.

There's an extended piece on Jesus writing a tell-all book that's sure to have angered the handful of conservatives who could bring themselves to be exposed to alternative ideas. There are lots of Carlin's typical observations on the precise state of decay of American society (usefully seen, now, as an attempt to appraise his success in hastening its demise).

Finally, you get a lot of little one-liners and puns you're not going to find anywhere else in his body of work. These for me are really hit and miss, but it's nice to have them. It's sort of like seeing a character actor branch out into another genre of film; they might not be as consistent there as you like, but you get to experience something new, and challenge your own preconceptions at the same time.

Overall, I can heartily recommend this as an excellent companion for a long car ride. Let Carlin be your 'content provider', as he puts it, and you'll feel the hours slide by, along with the road under your wheels. If you listen to cassettes somewhere else, it's still funny of course, but damn if this isn't a perfect piece of roadside entertainment. Not to mention, outside of cars, who does listen to cassettes these days?

--Lots of new material
--Book format allows for experimentation

--Experiments don't always succeed, here or anywhere else

Rating: 4/5