Originally aired in April 1992, "Jammin' In New York" marks George Carlin's eighth HBO comedy special and the first of which he broadcast live. It came at a high point in the master comic's creative output, following a string of brilliant sets that began a decade earlier. (His earlier work was terrific, to be sure, but beginning in the 1980s, Carlin began producing well-crafted, meticulously written concerts that flowed together with much greater ease; on top of that, the comedy was simply funnier.) It's said that Carlin himself considers this his very favorite work, and it's hard to disagree.
"About this time, someone is telling you to get on the plane. 'Get on the plane, get on the plane.' I say fuck you, I'm getting IN the plane. Let Evel Kneivel get ON the plane. I'll be in here with you folks in uniform. There seems to be less wind in here."
As it's tough to discuss a stand-up special without giving away all the best jokes, I'll instead mention that the veteran performer deserves special mention for doing an entire bit on airline travel – a stand-up cliché usually tackled only by rookie comics unable to come up with anything better – and make it among the best stuff of his career. The trick is in Carlin's approach, which isn't in boy-aren't-small-peanut-bags-funny material, but in a clever, biting deconstruction of the ongoing mangling of the English language. To this day, I still wince at the overuse of the prefix "pre-," and it's all thanks to Mister Conductor.
"It's like 'pre-recorded.' 'This program was pre-recorded.' Well, of course is was pre-recorded. When else are you going to record it, afterwards? That's the whole principle of recording, to do it beforehand. Otherwise, it doesn't really work, does it?"
It's in the later portion of the concert - featuring "Golf Courses For the Homeless," a routine recycled and expanded from an earlier Comic Relief performance, and "The Planet Is Fine," an anti-environmentalist (and anti-human) tirade that still leaves me thinking "The Earth, Plus Plastic" every time I pass a landfill - that Carlin begins something that he's since carried over into the rest of his career. While he'll start with a wide array of topical commentary and observations on those "little things we share," a certain cranky boldness (that's been on a steady rise over the years) has him discussing darker, more serious fare for his finale. His latest HBO special was spent almost entirely on the subject of death, while other works involved biting discussions on atheism, religion, and the evils of advertising. I'd like to think Carlin's raw, biting commentaries start here, in "Jammin'," with the comic growing more and more confident in his preaching, and more and more determined to speak the truth, no matter how ugly.
"Any activity engaged in by more than four people in this country has got a fucking magazine devoted to it. Skydiving, mountain climbing, snowmobiling, backpacking, bungee jumping, duck hunting, shooting someone in the asshole with a dart gun, jerking off, they probably have a magazine for that. I'm sure they have. I know they have a magazine. Walking. WALKING!! There's actually a fucking magazine called 'Walking.' 'Look, Dan, the new 'Walking' is out! Here's a good article: Putting One Foot In Front Of The Other!'"
Of course, all this over-analyzing pretty much kills comedy, so I'll back off before I completely ruin everything. All you need to know is that this is George Carlin at his very best. I've seen and heard this concert more times than I dare to count over the past sixteen years, and it still brings me to double over every time. That's how solid this stuff is, folks. If you're a lifelong Carlin fan, checking out this one's a given. If you've never experienced Carlin before, here's the perfect icebreaker.
"It's the only reason I watch auto racing. I'm waiting for some accidents, man! I want to see some cars on fire. I'm not interested in a bunch of redneck jackoffs driving 500 miles in a circle. 500 miles in a circle? Doesn't impress me. Children can do that. I want to see some schmuck with his hair on fire running around punching his own head trying to put it out! I want to see the pits explode! I want to see cars doing 200 mile an hour cartwheels! Hey, where else besides auto racing am I going to see a 23-car collision and not be in the son of a bitch?"
MPI has released "Jammin'" once before, in a now out-of-print double-feature disc that paired it with "Doin' It Again" (which was released as the "Parental Advisory" album, and which I feel tops even this concert, ranking as Carlin's all-time best work). MPI re-released "Doin' It" as a single-feature last year, and now it's time to revisit "Jammin'."
(This new disc seems to be the same transfer as the earlier release. There's no reason for MPI to revamp audio and video for a double dip; they're merely repackaging something that's been off the market for a while.)
I wasn't expecting it to look as solid as it does, considering the age and the video source. I'm delighted to be wrong; while not perfect, the transfer (maintaining the original 1.33:1 broadcast format) is crisp and detailed, or as much as a concert caught on video can be.
The 2.0 stereo mix is all we need, considering there's nothing here but Carlin's voice and the sound of a laughing audience. Everything's crystal clear yet uncomplicated, just as it should be.
If you don't already own the earlier release, "Jammin'" is most certainly Highly Recommended. Even if you have the accompanying album, there's nothing like watching Carlin at work, his body language being the perfect punctuation to his wordplay. Anyone who's interested in stand-up should consider this mandatory viewing.