Carlin’s Last Interview

It’s a goldmine.

I love the bit about Arthur Koestler.

And I love his idea for “files” – I want to look through his files!! – but I also want to take that idea on myself.

I loved this, too:

So, those qualities of being alone like that fostered in me a need for adult approval and attention. Now they say that it’s kind of a common cliche that comedians just want attention. But it’s an element that’s very important. The job is called “look at me.” That’s the name of this job. “Look at me. Ain’t I smart? Ain’t I cute? Ain’t I clever?

I needed to be—not the center of attention—but I needed to be able to attract attention when I wanted it, through my stunts and my fooling around physically with faces or postures or voices I would do. Then it became funny the things I would say, and I became more of a wit than simply a mimic and a clown. And so, those things were all important in this. The fact that I didn’t finish school left me with a lifelong need to prove that I’m smart, prove it to myself, maybe to the world. “€œAin’t I smart, ain’t I cute, ain’t I clever.”€ “€œListen to me, listen to what I got to say.” So, those things are important elements in the drive behind all of this.

It makes some people embarrassed to hear a person admit so openly that what he needs is attention. It seems to confirm everything they hated about the school show-off, now transferred to entertainers and performers who have the balls to admit that why they do it is they like to be looked at.

But Carlin’s honesty there reminds me of a wonderful anecdote told by Dustin Hoffman:

At the end of filming Marathon Man, there was a party. Laurence Olivier was quite ill. The shooting had been intense, and everyone was relieved it was over. Hoffman never quite got over being in awe of Olivier, despite their polar opposite ways of working (“My dear boy, why don’t you try just acting?”) – and he was very moved by the thought of Olivier, this old ill man, turning in such a great performance. It is what he does. Hoffman was sitting with Olivier at the party, and Olivier said, out of the blue, “Do you know why I do this?” (Meaning: acting). Hoffman shook his head No. Olivier got up, which was a bit of a struggle for him, he was quite weak, and leaned over to Hoffman, putting his face right up against Hoffman’s – and saying over and over and over, “Look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me …”

Hoffman was tremendously moved. Perhaps you might expect that Olivier would say that he “did it” because he believed in the grand tradition of theatre and storytelling, or that he was carrying on the torch from Richard Burbage and wanted to interpret the classics to a new audience, or that he believed in the craft itself, and the nobility of it. All valid reasons, too, to “do” something.

But no. For Olivier it all boiled down to: “Look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me …”

Bless him (and bless Carlin) for being courageous enough to just say it.

Here’s the whole interview with Carlin.

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17 Responses to Carlin’s Last Interview

  1. Carrie says:

    Loved this part, Wait Til They Hear This

    And I love the feeling I get in my gut when I’m watching on the computer screen that is close to being realized the way I would like it to be. the feeling I get in my gut is “Wait’ll they hear this, wait’ll I tell them this, I can’t wait to tell them!” It’s like the guy on the end of the bench: “Put me in coach, put me in!” They call to me, I can tell which ones are pregnant, which ones need to be moved up to a higher level of readiness, and it’s because I can’t wait to say them, I can’t wait to share them with people.

    You know, you get 2500 people, acting as a single organism: the audience is a single organism and it’s you and it. And to have that feeling of mastery up there—it’s an assertion of power: here I am, I have the microphone, you came here for this express purpose. You’re sitting not in tables at nightclubs with waiters and glasses, you’re seated all facing forward in order to enjoy this and here I am, and wait till you hear this! There’s nothing like it in my experience that I could aspire to. It has as much a payoff as writing, which has a big payoff.

    Great interview, thanks for the pointer.

  2. Lisa says:

    I have a question.

    If an actor is from the Method school, would he/she be bothered by what Olivier said?

    I watched an interview with Robin Williams once, during the Hook press tour, and he told a story about how he was kind of kidding around with Dustin Hoffman about the Olivier anecdote and DH was very angry about it. Almost insulted.

    Are the schools of acting that different?

  3. red says:

    Lisa – In my view the results CAN be very different – try to imagine Laurence Olivier playing Stanley Kowalski as Marlon Brando did it did and you’ll see what I mean – but I don’t think one is better than the other. I mean, most of my favorite actors would never have said, “Yes, I am a Method actor” (Cary Grant, Bogart) – but what they are doing is just as compelling and real as someone who says, “I am a Method actor”.

    And the way of working is very different (although that hard-core Method stuff is not as much in vogue as it was in the 60s and 70s). Some actors use their own memories to play a character. Other actors do not and stick to the script and making crap up. So that’s a hugely different way of approaching a part – and that (in the beginning anyway) was the main difference between the two methods.

    Dustin Hoffman was notorious for immersing himself in parts to a degree that seemed ridiculous to others (he was making fun of himself in Tootsie with the whole “A tomato would never sit down” thing) – and Olivier, who also had many years of experience on Hoffman, was baffled by all the sturm and drang. But that was how Hoffman had to work. He wasn’t doing it to show off … His talent was such that he needed all of that in order to feel he had permission to play make believe. Laurence Olivier didn’t understand that attitude at all – but that’s neither here nor there. There is no right way to work. The question is: is an audience moved? Does it work?

    I also happen to think that Olivier was a genius. A true genius. There were times in his life when he was playing Hamlet, Macbeth, and Henry V in repertory – so he had all of those parts in his brain at the same time. The same time! I mean, that’s a level of genius and concentration that I can’t even understand.

    But yeah, Hoffman was sensitive to being made fun of for his process. It’s a personal thing. I can only work the way that feels right to me. If I have to roll around on the floor and make silly noises (and I do) then that’s my process and I have to do it. That way felt right to Hoffman. And sometimes he got great results with it – other times not so much … but the same was true for Olivier.

    I heard Hoffman tell the story in a seminar and he welled up with tears – so I’m sure his experience of that moment has changed over the years.

    But Marathon Man was back in the 70s when it was a much more stark difference between the two camps.

    The main distinction is:

    A Method actor works from “the inside out” – meaning: he works on the emotional life of the character before anything else.

    The other school works “outside in” – meaning: he works on the walk, the gestures, the accent of the character first. The emotions are not center stage – the way they are with method actors.

    Of course it’s just not as cut and dry as that and Hoffman had much of the old-school in him and Olivier had much of the Method emotional power … But that’s the best way I can put it.

  4. red says:

    Oh, and just to add to that longest comment ever:

    I think people (actors) can get way too caught up with labels!! If a way of working works for you, then do it – and don’t worry whether the Method Actor gods will approve or not!

    I just never worried about labels. A lot of the method acting stuff just never worked for me. (There’s something called sense memory and affective memory – the most controversial aspects of Method acting – and they never worked for me. At least not in terms of helping me play a part.) So I don’t use them. But people like Ellen Burstyn and others sing the praises of sense memory – so that’s great for them, but it doesn’t work for me! Let it go!

    I joked to Michael once that I belonged to the “Bang Bang You’re Dead” school of acting, and that’s pretty much true.

  5. red says:

    Carrie – I loved that part, too – the real rush he felt from his own mind and wanting to share it. I also loved his graciousness at the very end, thanking the interviewer for the thoughtfulness of the questions. Pretty classy.

    Have you seen The Aristocrats, that documentary about “the filthiest joke” in history? I really enjoyed it – and Carlin acts as a kind of grand historian about the joke – filling us in on why all comics know the joke, etc. He was so smart.

  6. Alex says:

    Can I use that comment from you for my Viewpoints book Sheila? It’s the most clear and precise explanation of acting an it’s traps I think I’ve ever read.

    Lemme know.

  7. red says:

    Alex – Ha! I already want to edit my comment like crazy … I guess my view is: it really doesn’t matter HOW you get there … but THAT you get there, you know??

    And if you need some tools (sense memory, for example) to help you get there – then go for it.

    It’s funny – Meryl Streep tells a story about meeting Lee Strasberg, early on in her career – she wasn’t famous yet, doing stage work, etc. She met him and said something like, “I know nothing about Method acting – should I take some classes, you think?” And Strasberg said, “You don’t need them.” She was already doing it, already coming alive in the circumstances of the play, why mess it up if it was already working?

  8. red says:

    And I want to understand Viewpoints more – so finish that book, please!

  9. Alex says:

    Yes! Yes!

    And you know that’s what The Veiwpoints are. That’s me main goal for every student that walks into my class.

    You already have all this stuff inside you (I think), and my job is to help you find it. That’s all. Not to give you a big bag of crap you lug around with you and worry whether or not you’re doing it “right”. There’s no right or wrong way to use the Viewpoints, all I ask is that you TRY them. See where they lead you. See what comes up. What emotional things can you find out about who you’re playing, and most likely that will lead you SOMEwhere. Not the Right place, but instead, ANOTHER place.

    Lookatme, Lookatme, Lookatme, Lookatme…..

    That was the best thing ever. Because that’s it. And for me, it’s not about:

    “Oh. Look at how brilliant I am!”

    It’s about:

    “See me.”

    Very simple. And using the Viewpoints helps a person do just that. It’s just one way, not THE way. I hate teachers that do that to students. I had many do that to me my whole acting life and I always ended up simply feeling stupid. Like I wasn’t getting something mysterious that was beyond my reach. When really, everything…and I mean everything…is right there at our fingertips. It’s just about believing that and practicing how to grab it and save it.

    That’s what I think anyway.

  10. Lisa says:

    That’s what I thought. :)

  11. red says:

    Lisa – ha!!!

  12. Lisa says:

    But I still like Ian McKellen’s take on Extras the best. ;)

  13. red says:

    Alex – Oh man how I hate teachers who want to be gurus. They are charlatans and more often than not people who never had careers themselves. They hold out the carrot to students, “I have the way” – but they keep the students hooked and dependent, rather than strong and doing their own thing. I’ve been in a couple of classes like that and I couldn’t STAND it.

    And a lot of the time, the students who are acolytes of such a teacher are the biggest snots about any way that isn’t “their way” – which is so stupid to me. If I get into a role by doing jumping jacks, isometrics and setting my hair on fire – what the fuck business is it of yours? If my performance is good, what do you care how I get there??

    I was in a class once with a student (what a drip of an actor) who was sneering at Spencer Tracy, who famously said that all you need to know as an actor is “learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture”. This guy was so brainwashed by his stupid guru teacher he couldn’t even realize what a douschebag he was being. Buddy, you WISH you could learn your lines and not bump into the furniture with HALF as much conviction and reality as Spencer Tracy. Dousche.

    Also, I think people like Spencer Tracy and Bogart and others came from a generation who didn’t talk about acting all that much … It would have seemed too self-important.

    But I can’t stand that rigid “there is only one way” approach to acting. It’s kind of like the diet industry, or crackpot religions (ahem, you know the one I’m thinking of) and new age cults: follow us, and only us, and give us all your money, and we will show you the way!

    Teachers who purposefully do that to their acting students should be tarred and feathered~!

  14. red says:

    Lisa – hahahahahahahaha That is just the best.

    “You are aware … that I am not actually a wizard.”


  15. Lisa says:

    “There will be NO SCRIPTS on the night!” Hahahahahaha

  16. Alex says:

    People don’t understand the ole actors and their craft and what it taught us. And those people that judge them are filled with their own envy that they can’t duplicate what they see on screen.

    I’ve had a couple of those in my classes and I immediately go after them. I give them lists of movies to watch.

    Remember when you came to class and everyone’s homework was on “Sunset Blvd.”???


    I did that because one of my students said:

    “Acting has changed. People don’t do what they used to. No one jumps around and uses their fingers and shit like that anymore. And besides, I never believed it anyway, that’s why I don’t watch ANYTHING in Black and White.”

    First….I lectured. About Streep, about Hoffman, about Hackman, about Cate Blanchett. Actors don’t allow their emotions to get physicalized??? Really?? Then how did Judy Dench and Hellen Mirren portray women of history?

    I hate that superior idealism. I also hate this new acting style of whispering everything so quietly that when I’m literally sitting next to someone on set, I have to say:


    The cast on Grey’s hated me. But I don’t care. At least for one day, they spoke up, used their instruments, and actually walked around the room while they spoke.

  17. red says:

    Alex – hahaha I love your stories from Grey’s. Serves them right. Acting is not ONLY about close-ups, you selfish selfish people!!

    I loved sitting in on your class, because it made me take another look at “gesture” (I still remember that one student’s observation of William Holden crumpling up the guy’s business card in the first scene – he does it so subtly – folding it in half, then in half again – you might not even notice it but it’s so subtle – tells the whole story!!)

    I remember you and me actually arguing (early on in our friendship) about Joan Crawford … I had only seen “later” Crawford. I had no idea what I was missing. Now, as you know, I am a huge fan of Crawford as an actress – she just had major chops, seriously – I think actors of today blow off her influence at their peril!! She’s terrific!

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