On March 25th & 26th, 1988, at the Park Theater in Union City NJ, the eternal KING of comedy George Carlin recorded a special for HBO called What am I Doing in New Jersey? Though it’s not considered his best work, Carlin fearlessly attacked controversial topics head on using his legendary wit and sarcasm. Sure, it’s a 20 year old comedy special, but the ideas Carlin explores and rips on are still fresh and relevant today.
Carlin fiercely kicks the show off with his gripes of Reagan’s government. The Reagan White House vowed to the American people that they’d get government off their backs, but still ’till this day decide what you can read, and what broadcasters can say on the radio. Carlin tore right into the idea of the FCC and how they pointlessly horn in on our 1st amendment right. The bits on Ronald Reagan are obviously dated but if you really wanted to, it’s entirely possible to substitute George W. Bush and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. From there, he blew “right to lifers” out of the water, and did a hysterical bit on Civil War reanactors: “…they should use live ammunition!”
Carlin is at his best as he details ironic and sometimes bizarre aspects of American culture:
“This is a place where gun store owners are given a list of stolen credit cards, but not a list of criminals and maniacs! And now they’re thinking about banning toy guns, and they’re gonna KEEP the fuckin’ REAL ones!“
Later on in the show, Carlin deals with some of the most appropriate topics for a show in NJ, such as traffic and driving:
“…New Jersey deserves the title “Toll Booth Capitol” of the United States of America.”
“…you can’t back out of your driveway in New Jersey without some schmuck in a hat wants 50 cents! And i don’t mind payin’ tolls, but every 27 feet? Bullshit!“
“…so I say let ’em be honest, let ’em put it right on the license plates, New Jersey: The Tollbooth State. What does it say now? The Garden State, haha, sure, if you’re growing smokestacks…YES.”
“I like New Jersey…I even have one of those t-shirts you guys sell, “Kiss Her Where It Smells Take Her to New Jersey”…so I like the place…”
Carlin also offers some helpful tips and hints on improving your life:
“how to get rid of counterfeit money: put it in the collection plate at church. See how often the simple solution will elude us?“
“…someone asks you what time it is, say, well it’s either 6:15 or Mickey has a hard on.”
Keeping with the driving and traffic topic, signs and stickers on cars get Carlin fired up. He also offers a few suggestions on how to deal with a cop when you get pulled over.
In his review of the comedy album, JT Griffith of AllMusic.com had this to say: “The main weakness of What Am I Doing in New Jersey is that it doesn’t have any choice takes on the “Garden State” at all. What a missed opportunity. Overall, a light and entertaining comedy album, but not a groundbreaking or challenging one. ” I concur with JT. I would’ve liked to hear more of Carlin roasting New Jersey, but at the time, in ’88, making fun of NJ guido’s wasn’t as popular of a trend as it is now. Perhaps riffing on Joe Piscopo or Pork Roll sandwiches didn’t entice Carlin very much either and I think this HBO special was better off for it. Regardless of it’s shortcomings, What am I Doing in New Jersey is another quite entertaining entry in Carlin’s extensive discography. It’s available on CD and DVD.
** Built in 1931, The Park Theater Performing Arts Center features the the longest running passion play in the United States which details Christ’s last days. It’s now in it’s 94th season. Judging by their website, it looks like there aren’t many big names performing there anymore.