An AI-generated "George Carlin" tackles God in a new comedy special. Does it hold up?
"No machine will ever replace his genius," said the legendary comedian's daughter
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George Carlin, the comedian who died in 2008, just released his latest hour-long comedy special, offering his take on evergreen topics ranging from God to death.
Or rather: “George Carlin” released the special.
“I’m Glad I’m Dead” was created by Dudesy, a “a podcast run by AI and curated by humans.” Those humans are comedian Will Sasso and writer/producer Chad Kultgen, but it’s not entirely clear how the new special came about. A disclaimer at the beginning of the video says that the machine “listened to all of George Carlin’s material” and then "did my best to imitate his voice, cadence and attitude as well as the subject matter I think would have interested him today.” It’s entirely possible, though, that this was written (or at least heavily edited) by a human before going through a filter to make it appear to be coming from Carlin.
The end result? Some critics say it’s unethical and a disgrace to Carlin’s carefully crafted comedy. But it’s also… not terrible? While long-time fans could probably notice all kinds of subtle differences, casual listeners could easily be fooled into thinking this is real.
I don’t think I’m the right person to ask about the ethics here. So I’ll set that aside and ask a different question: What happens when this Fake Carlin goes after God?
If you’ve heard the real Carlin’s most famous takes on religion, then the first couple of minutes in this special may be a nostalgic (if slightly rehashed) take on people’s most basic theological beliefs:
… People are always thanking God for the good stuff in their lives, but somehow, they conveniently forget that it's the same God who does all the bad shit too. And He does a lot of bad shit!
You get a promotion? “Praise Jesus!” You get fired? “God is testing me!”
You meet your soulmate, “God brought us together!” Your soulmate dumps you, “God is bringing me someone else.”
You survive a tornado, “I'm so blessed!” Twenty other people do not, “God wanted them in Heaven.”
It's all bullshit. If He gets credit for the good stuff, then He's got to take the blame for the bad stuff, too. You can't thank Him for curing your cancer when He was the one that gave it to you in the first place.
And don't forget: Before He gave you cancer, He had to fucking invent it.
What kind of a sick fuck dreams up cancer? And why so many kinds? Skin cancer, blood cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer… and my personal favorite, rectal cancer.
Dropping a golf ball-sized tumor in your brain doesn't quite do it for the old man anymore. He has to fuck you in the ass, too!
And cancer is just one of many, many, many methods God created out of thin air in order to murder you.
You know how much God loves killing people? He loves it so much, He's killed every person that has ever lived. He created earthquakes, lighting strikes, dehydration, drowning, obesity, starvation, infant death syndrome, old age, car crashes, train crashes, plane crashes, sex, drugs, and the common cold, all for the express purpose of killing you.
No matter where you are in the world, God can pull out one of these goodies from His bag of tricks to end your life at any time for no reason other than He just gets off on making people suffer unnecessarily and die arbitrarily.
If you’re well-versed in Carlin’s oeuvre, then it at least rings a bell. It’s creepy how well the AI does matching his voice, cadence, and big-picture sensibilities. It’s not perfect by any means but it’s passable. If the material doesn’t feel groundbreaking, that may be because the real Carlin already went down this road decades ago. These days, the same sentiments can be found on Reddit memes and in interviews. The ideas aren’t new. The delivery isn’t new. This just happens to be a blend we haven’t heard before.
Not everybody is a fan of the new special, though. That includes Kelly Carlin, George’s daughter, who wrote “No machine will ever replace his genius.”
She’s not wrong about that, and she has good reason for wanting to defend her father’s legacy. When asked if she gave permission for Dudesy to do this, Kelly Carlin responded, “ZERO PERMISSION GRANTED.”
It’s understandable why comedy fans, too, don’t like the idea of recreating a comedy legend’s style to generate new work in his voice (as opposed to satirizing it or using it as a launching pad for a derivative work). If they can do this with Carlin, who’s next? Just because we have the technology to pull it off, should we? And what effect will that have on the comedians’ legacies?
(Just consider this: What if, in this new “special,” Fake Carlin said something egregiously offensive? What damage would that cause to his reputation? His album sales?)
Again, I’m not the AI expert here. But as a fan of Carlin, and as someone who’s had some of his bits committed to memory for decades, there are other questions that emerge from the new special that may be worth discussing anyway.
For example, what does it say about Carlin’s famous critiques of God if a machine can point out so many of the glaring problems with religious belief? Was Carlin’s genius highlighting religious contradictions and hypocrisy that most people hadn’t seriously considered? Or was it delivering them in a unique and memorable way?
Also, why doesn’t the AI special move me as hard as Carlin’s original bits did when I first heard them? Is it because these ideas are no longer unfamiliar to me, or because I’ve listened to so many stand-ups that I’m used to the rhetoric?
How much credit does the AI deserve when this special wouldn’t have been possible without feeding Carlin’s earlier material into the machine? In other words, this special doesn’t replace Carlin; it owes a debt to him. Without his creativity, you don’t get this material, which means AI isn’t about to resurrect long-dead comedians.
And how the hell did Fake Carlin generate material about trans people that’s both humane and funnier than anything Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais have ever said on the topic?
Seriously, this was the section that I was most afraid to listen to when I saw it in the track list… but it turned out to be better than I expected:
[Conservatives] love talking about how small the trans community is. They say trans people make up such a small percentage of the population, that they shouldn't get to have any input in legislation—even laws that will directly affect their communities and lives.
Funny how that same argument doesn't apply to members of the NRA.
… For every superstar like [transgender swimmer] Lia Thomas, there are a thousand trans athletes who are absolutely mediocre. And there are even more who are fucking terrible, just like it is with cis athletes. Not everyone can be great.
I think all we need to do to change hearts and minds is start making compilation videos of trans athletes performing miserably in their chosen sports.
All it would take is one video of a trans center getting dunked on to go viral, and then everybody could unpucker their assholes about the issue and move on to other things.
As commentator Parker Molloy has said, the problem with many famous comedians discussing this subject isn’t (just) that they’re cis men using trans people as a punchline. It’s that they’re rarely interesting or clever; it’s the same few pathetic jokes recycled every time (e.g. “I identify as…”) Yet Fake Carlin managed to rattle off more creative jokes about trans people than those other comedians ever do. Molloy told me via email, “I'm not sure that it's what Carlin would have said, but it was a fresh take on a joke about trans people, and that's genuinely all I ask for when it comes to jokes about trans people.”
For what it’s worth, Sasso and Kultgen say they didn’t write the material. Sasso said on his show that he was “a little bit speechless” after listening to some of the material. There’s also an open question of whether this video will be allowed to remain online. The first AI-generated comedy special from Dudesy—using the likeness of NFL legend Tom Brady—was removed after Brady threatened legal action. There’s no word on whether the Carlin estate will do the same in this case.