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Opinion: George Carlin wasn't predictable, unlike AI

Comedian George Carlin gestured during a news conference in 1978.
Comedian George Carlin gestured during a news conference in 1978.

A new George Carlin special is out. But it's not really George Carlin, the brilliant and audacious comedian who died in 2008, just days after he was named to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Of course, he is also remembered for uttering what are called the "Seven Dirty Words" in a routine the FCC considered indecent and said could not be broadcast without being beeped.

This new so-called special is an AI production on YouTube presented by Dudesy, and calls itself a comedy AI.

Dudesy calls the production, "George Carlin: I'm Glad I'm Dead," even as Dudesy's first words are, "What you're about to hear is not George Carlin..."

But the voice also insists, "To those under 20, I'm the only f***ing George Carlin!"

"Whatever this comedy special is," Kelly Carlin, George Carlin's daughter, told us, "It is not born from my father and should not have his name on it."

Dudesy explains that AI absorbed thousands of hours of George Carlin's routines to fabricate a semblance of his voice and concoct what they call a George Carlin routine for today. It features AI jokes about Donald Trump, new technology, Taylor Swift, and lots and lots of **** and ****.

"My dad spent a lifetime perfecting his craft from his very human life, brain, and imagination," Kelly Carlin added. "These AI-generated products are attempts to recreate a mind that will never exist again."

She says her family is exploring how to legally protect her father's work from AI manipulation.

Dudesy insists its AI George Carlin is similar to an impressionist who impersonates a public figure. Like Austin Butler playing Elvis, Jay Pharoah doing Denzel Washington, or everyone imitating Donald Trump.

But Jim Meskimen, who may be the world's best impressionist, told us he considers AI imitations more like, "watching a Roomba carry a football 50 yards. There's no link to an actual living person whose creative energies we recognize and admire."

"None of what I heard was funny," he says of the special. "It was AI making a joke and then laughing and applauding itself."

I dipped into the production. It seemed to go: big-name, bad joke, dirty word, canned laughter. It was something the real, late George Carlin never was — predictable. As Jim Meskimen put it for us, in his George Carlin voice, "I'm not George Carlin. And even when I'm dead, I'm not f***ing predictable!"

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.