Addressing Bogus Carlin Quotes

“The problem with quotes on the Internet, is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity.” – Abraham Lincoln

TL;DR (Summary)

For those who don’t want to read everything here, I’ll sum it up for you:

  1. Many “George Carlin” quotations and essays you find on the internet are not his.

  2. This was a concern for Carlin, and it should be a concern for fans, too.

  3. I give some advice on how to help tell a fake quote from a real one.

George Carlin’s Own Feelings on Fake Quotes

Back in 2001, Carlin wrote a small essay to address this issue. It was up on his official website (georgecarlin.com) and stayed there until late 2012, when the site was then revamped. You can find an archived copy of the essay here, which I’ve reproduced in full below:

DON’T BLAME ME

Floating around the Internet these days, posted and e-mailed back and forth, are a number of writings attributed to me, and I want people to know they’re not mine. Don’t blame me.

Some are essay-length, some are just short lists of one and two-line jokes, but if they’re flyin’ around the Internet, they’re probably not mine. Occasionally, a couple of jokes on a long list might have come from me, but not often. And because most of this stuff is really lame, it’s embarrassing to see my name on it.

And that’s the problem. I want people to know that I take care with my writing, and try to keep my standards high. But most of this “humor” on the Internet is just plain stupid. I guess hard-core fans who follow my stuff closely would be able to spot the fake stuff, because the tone of voice is so different. But a casual fan has no way of knowing, and it bothers me that some people might believe I’d actually be capable of writing some of this stuff.

“PARADOX OF OUR TIME”

One of the more embarrassing items making the internet/e-mail rounds is a sappy load of shit called “The Paradox of Our Time.” The main problem I have with it is that as true as some of the expressed sentiments may be, who really gives a shit? Certainly not me.

I figured out years ago that the human species is totally fucked and has been for a long time. I also know that the sick, media-consumer culture in America continues to make this so-called problem worse. But the trick, folks, is not to give a fuck. Like me. I really don’t care. I stopped worrying about all this temporal bullshit a long time ago. It’s meaningless. (See the preface of “Braindroppings.”)

Another problem I have with “Paradox” is that the ideas are all expressed in a sort of pseudo-spiritual, New-Age-y, “Gee-whiz-can’t-we-do-better-than-this” tone of voice. It’s not only bad prose and poetry, it’s weak philosophy. I hope I never sound like that.

HOW TO SPOT A FAKE

Here’s a rule of thumb, folks: Nothing you see on the Internet is mine unless it came from one of my albums, books, HBO shows, or appeared on my website. If you see something with my name on it, and you really need to find out if it’s mine, post a question on my bulletin board. But only if it’s really important to you; don’t fuck around with me for a lark.

—George Carlin, 2001. Originally posted at georgecarlin.com/home/dontblame.html

I see two important take-aways from this:

  • It’s clear that George Carlin himself objected to these fake works being passed around with his name on them, for several reasons. That alone is a good enough reason for any Carlin fan to be against them too, I’d say. Never mind the fact that Carlin prided himself in being very skeptical-minded, which is the opposite of believing and blindly sharing things you read without question.

  • The only authentic “George Carlin” quotes you’ll find are essentially just the ones that can be traced directly back to one of his albums, books, or HBO specials. Though to this list I would also add things like TV appearances, interviews, and live bootlegs. In short though, if we can’t find direct evidence of him saying a particular thing, then we shouldn’t assume he said it.

How to Know if a Quote is Authentic: Six Questions

Let’s say you’ve found some words that are attributed to George Carlin. Did he really say it? Here’s how I would go about determining that:

The quick way: check this website. Or email me!

I have put in a lot of effort over the years to research and catalog most of the “George Carlin” quotations you find on-line, and categorize them as real or fake. If it’s real, then I list it with the exact, original source of where it’s from (e.g., which exact Carlin album, HBO special, or book he wrote), so you don’t have to even take my word for it. If it’s fake, then I give my full reasoning behind it.

If you’ve found a particular quote or essay and want to know whether it’s really him, then feel free to email me at the address below:

bill (at) george carlin dot net

Likewise, if I say a quote is real or fake, and you have a good reason to believe I’m wrong, then please email me to correct me! But be prepared to give actual evidence, not something stupid like “oF cOUrSe hE sEd iT Go gOOgle it lolol”, or “wELL hOw Do u nO hE DIDENT say it”, or “Well even if he didn’t say it, I like the quote, so I’m going to keep sharing it”. This last one is a true sign of douche baggery. (Disclaimer: I reserve the right to publicly humiliate those sorts of emailers by name here.)

What follows though is the criteria I use though on determining whether a quote is authentic. I think others should use this, too.

1. Is this a quote we can find on one of his official releases?

For example:

  • Is this a line that Carlin says in one of his HBO specials?

  • Is this a line that Carlin says on one of his albums? This can include the written liner notes on the sleeve.

  • Is this a line that Carlin says in one of his books? Either printed, or as an audio book?

  • Is this a line that he once said on his official website? He used to chime in with updates now and then.

If we can find him saying this on one of these, then we’re done. He said it. We have proof. Case closed! If not, here are some more things to consider.

2. Is this something we can hear George Calrin himself saying somewhere else?

Keep in mind that Carlin left behind over 40 years of material in these formats, so if a supposed “George Carlin” quotation or essay you find really is authentic, chances are very good that it can be found in one of the previously-mentioned sources. If that fails, though, we might want to consider other possibilities. For example:

  • Can we find an interview where he said this line to the interviewer?

  • Did he say this in some other TV appearance? For example, one of the many times he appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson? Or HBO’s annual “Comic Relief” charity show? Or as a guest on Bill Maher’s old show, “Politically Incorrect”? And in any case, can we find a recording to prove this?

  • Is there a live bootleg recording we can hear where George Carlin says this, maybe in some routine that never made it to an officially-released album or HBO special? Such routines do exist. But of course we’d still have to have a copy of the recording so we can listen and confirm this.

  • Do we have an authentic, hand-written artifact from Carlin saying it? A personal letter or note that he wrote? This is a long shot, but some of these do appear in his widow’s book, The George Carlin Letters: The Permanent Courtship of Sally Wade (2011), as well as the photographs in I Kinda Like It When a Lotta People Die. (2016).

Let’s say we still haven’t found the quote in any of these. It’s still technically possible that he said it. Then again, it’s possible that Abraham Lincoln uttered the word “Internet” in the 1800s by a coincidental string of syllables. But unlikely.

3. Is this quote from a suspicious place?

Before we go further, it’s worth listing some sources that are NOT reliable, in and of themselves:

  • Don’t trust books of famous quotations. Many of these are wrong, and don’t properly source the quotations at all.

  • Don’t trust “swag” items created by random people. For example, on Amazon.com, you might see a bumper sticker or a beach towel with a supposed George Carlin quote on it. Just because somebody took the time, effort, and money to put the quote on something physical, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s real. Yet I’ve seen idiots make these, and even bigger idiots buy them.

  • Don’t trust anecdotes. There are a number of people who knew Carlin personally, and credit a quote to him, but it turns out the quote can be wrong. Human memory can sometimes be faulty.

  • I shouldn’t have to tell anybody this, but don’t trust words thrown on top of a George Carlin picture. Anybody can make these, obviously. It doesn’t necessarily mean he really said those words.

  • Don’t trust an un-official source with “George Carlin” in the name. Anybody can for example create a Facebook page or Twitter account with the name “George Carlin” and post whatever they want. And yes, that includes GeogeCarlin.net! If I say something was or wasn’t said by George Carlin, don’t take my word for it; see my explanation. If it’s a real quote, I’ll give you the direct source (George Carlin album, George Carlin book, etc.) so you can hear it or read it yourself; if it’s bogus I’ll present my argument for why.

To reiterate: we should really only trust direct sources. That is, recordings or writings that came directly from George Carlin himself.

4. Is it something pretty close to what he said, but not exact?

If so, then I’d say there are two possibilities:

  • Most likely, the quote was just poorly transcribed. Many people try quoting from memory. Don’t do this. Just get it right, make a corrected version, and stop using and sharing the incorrect one. You’ll be honoring George, and fans will thank you for it.

  • In some cases though, Carlin may have done the same routine slightly differently on two or more occasions. For example, George Carlin performed his famous “A Place For My Stuff” routine on the album of the same name, as well as on the HBO version of Carlin on Campus (1984), plus he had a written version in his book Brain Droppings (1997), and also performed it on HBO’s “Comic Relief” show. And even though it was essentially the same routine, each of these performances had slight variations on the wording as he continued to refine it.

Of course, even if a quotation is a variant from a different performance, you still have to present the evidence for that. One time some idiot emailed me and insisted that this quote about government was not a misquote as I had described it, but rather a variation Carlin really said from a different recording. When I asked him for proof of this, he kept making excuses and insults. When I persisted, all he could show me was the original recording, which upon listen showed that I was right and he was wrong. Go figure.

5. Is there direct evidence that somebody ELSE (e.g., different comedian) said this?

If an alleged George Carlin quote can’t be found on any of the above sources, but can be found on somebody else’s, then it’s safe to conclude that it’s really not from Carlin after all, and some idiot on the internet just falsely attributed it to him. Pieces like “The Paradox of Our Time” and “Reverse Life Cycle” (Life should go backwards) are good examples of this.

6. Did the quote only start getting attributed to George Carlin after it went viral? Does it get attributed to other famous people, too?

This is a good sign that the quote is fake. Many times, people have taken things that sound like things he could have said, as they were in line with him philosophically (e.g., religion-bashing humor). But I’ve also seen people do this with things that don’t even sound like things Carlin would say, like “The Paradox of Our Time”. Go figure.