George Carlin’s entire inventory of monologues is a treasure trove of a brilliant mind. I could have chosen any one of a hundred different pieces he has written over the years. His Rice Krispies bit for example, or Ariline Safety, or any number of monologues where he focused on how we use and abuse the English language (Have A Nice Day! Yah yeah can ya give me my fucking change please?) Football vs Baseball, Golf for the Homeless, his take on The Ten Commandments, Four Groups That Gotta Go, Saving The Planet, The infamous Seven Words speech that simultaneously got him in so much trouble and made him an international household word, even Hippy Dippy Weatherman; I love em all. I could keep on listing them but that’d get boring. For purposes of this exercise (a continuation of my Gene Perret Workout as explained a couple days ago in a previous blog post) I’m gonna focus today on “A Place To Keep My Stuff” which is one of the most classic and world renowned pieces that George Carlin wrote & performed in his lifetime.
While I can’t say his Stuff monologue is literally my absolute favorite piece of his, it’s the most elegant and succinct in its design. It’s woven like a tapestry. He must have slaved over every word, every nuance. When you listen or watch the multiple versions of this piece which have been recorded for posterity, there are minute changes but there’s a rhythm to it he attempted to capture every time. It’s like a piece of jazz. It’s like music that he’s almost singing as he runs through it. George Carlin was a rap artist long before anyone put it to a House beat, cuz he always marched to his own.
Actually this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That’s all, a little place for my stuff. That’s all I want, that’s all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody’s got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there. That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That’s all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time! A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.
It seems repetitive and it is. This is how he’s setting up the premise, and perhaps in a way Carlin is making fun of the entire pop industry right here. He’s using the word “stuff” so much he’s purposefully grinding it into our psyches, like a bubble gum pop song that means nothing but repeats its inane drivel over and over so you’ll remember the name of the song long enough to seek it at a record store. At least that’s how top 40 music worked back when he made this comedy bit. He was doing more than just setting up the joke, George was branding the word “stuff” and attaching it to himself. It’s no surprise of course that he named the album this piece first appeared on after this piece. Then many years later when he came out with a collection of his life’s work, he named it “All My Stuff.”
You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff!
I’m not going to copypaste the entire piece here. You can see it in the YouTube link above for so long as that link lasts. The point is he’s really thought this through, and is sharing a series of illuminations or epiphanies he has had about this concept. Human beings are very materialistic. Hopelessly we imprison ourselves by shackling ourselves to that which we possess, until it kinda possesses us. As with most of his work, Carlin makes us look at ourselves and laugh. And maybe along the way we think twice about our behavior and seek to change it. Maybe. Or maybe we just laugh and accept ourselves for who we are.
But here’s the shining gem in this entire piece. I mean he takes us on a journey from the mainland to Hawaii and explains how no matter how far we go we are still chained to what we possess and the whole trip is hilarious, but the shining gem of this entire work is right here. Carlin describes you hypothetically on a trip to a friend’s house, spending the night in someone else’s room, and there’s no room for your stuff because their shit is everywhere.
Have you ever noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?
Up until this point in the monologue he has purposefully avoided using the word shit, and we know Carlin is not a person to shy away from profanity w/o just cause. In fact there’s one point earlier in the piece where shit would have sufficed but he says “crap” instead, or repeats “stuff” again. There’s multiple versions of this piece and I urge you to go find them and compare them it’s really interesting. Also if you watch his expression, sometimes he almost seems frustrated cuz he kinda loses the rhythm of the piece and.. well I’m digressing.
After this point, the word shit does get used but still very sparingly. He tries to save the word shit for here; for emphasis and impact. He’s purposefully saving the use of the word for right here, to make a salient point. Our perception of our possessions is very curious and strange. What matters to us is what we own, but unless we consciously think about it and make a choice, what someone else owns is at best an obstruction and at worse an obsession. Elsewhere he’s talked about variants of Keeping Up With The Joneses; coveting, wanting what other people have. Here he’s focusing on the fact you have something, and you can’t put it anywhere because of someone else’s shit. It’s a brilliant revelation that never ceases to get a laugh (even applause) because it’s so universal and so basic to The Human Condition. For better or for worse, this is simply who we are as a people, and as individuals.
I’ve often cited this piece as an example of why I despise censorship. The point George Carlin makes here, and the way he makes it, is nothing short of a work of art. Every word it a brush stroke on an immense canvas that crosses borders and touches people worldwide. Everyone can relate to this, and in the shit/stuff statement, it’s clear that he can’t truly bring this point home any more succinctly and elegantly than by using the word shit at just this point in the routine. You can’t bleep it without totally ruining the gag and the message. I’ve heard it done, and it’s like pissing on the Mona Lisa, it shouldn’t be allowed. It’s sacrilege to censor George Carlin because even tho it appears at times that he’s using profanity haphazardly, he never did. Every time he used profanity, it was on purpose, and as necessary as when a world class chef uses strong spice in his choice of cuisine. You don’t question a talented chef in his own kitchen without asking to be backhanded and thrown out of the restaurant. Likewise, no one should challenge Carlin’s choice of preparation or presentation when it comes to any of his life’s work. Don’t shit on Carlin, cuz he never shit on you.
So I like this piece because it’s a work of art. It is exquisitely written with a rhythm and cadence all its own, like jazz music. It deals with a simple concept that is universally acceptable and shows people what they truly are in a way that makes us laugh at ourselves. As the piece progresses it takes us on a journey from the mainland to the Hawaiian islands, and yet you never leave your seat. Magnificent writing and energetic performance. A master work from a master craftsman. In Carlin’s hands, stand up comedy was more than just a man with a mike, and yet that’s all he ever really needed.