How cynical was George Carlin behind the stage



Joachim Wald and Raoul-André Wortmann



"Religion is bullshit" is a cabaret piece by the American George Dennis Carlin. Carlin was born in New York in 1937 and died recently on June 22, 2008 in Santa Monica. He was extremely successful as a stand up comedian in the United States of America and was especially known as a taboo breaker. He was not only active as a comedian, but also as an actor and writer, and the numerous Grammy Awards were absolute highlights in Carlin's career.

“Religion is bullshit” falls into the genre of cabaret. George Dennis Carlin has not only rehearsed this piece countless times, but has also performed it many times. Of course, this is not the standard for an average speech, since a speech is usually only given once and not trained as vehemently as a cabaret piece.



The cabaret piece is a censure speech. The main role of a censure speech is to teach and entertain. Carlin criticizes the (monotheistic) belief of the people and apparently rebukes God, but on closer inspection it becomes clear that he is rather criticizing the concept of God invented by people.


Situation information

In his programs, the comedian mostly worked with language, psychology, and especially religion. In his later appearances, he also increasingly targeted American politics.

In his comedy programs, George Carlin worked mostly with current as well as cultural and other topics. In the plays he was able to convey his own attitudes and opinions very well under the protective cloak of sarcasm and irony. In the situation analyzed here and the part of the program dealt with here, Carlin speaks about religion and describes it as "religion is bullshit".

The performance, which has been repeated for the first time, will take place on the stage of the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. The Bass Performance Hall was sold out, which suggests that the audience was kind to Carlin and valued his skills as an "entertainer" (presumption of competence).



George Carlin's portrayal is very expressive. His energy level is very high throughout the cabaret piece. He seems very impulsive and alert and uses his facial expressions, gestures, body language and voice with great variation and exaggeration. Carlin underlines and underlines the textual content. For example, he changes his posture and movements in order to adapt them to the content. When Carlin speaks positively about God, he is standing relatively straight and speaking in a normal tone. However, when it comes to negative qualities of God, then he bends down further and speaks in a much deeper tone. Likewise, his eyes are wide open when he talks about God. It works like this, so he wants to talk about something very important and big. At the same time, however, he makes fun of it in terms of content.

The appearance of Carlin in black clothes with his gray, laid back hair and also gray full beard gives him an intellectual and existentialist touch. He exactly fulfills "the cliché picture of the melancholy, mostly black-clad young existentialist who lives between the jazz cellar, cafe and university" ( wrong.

The sound makes the music and Carlin's sound spectrum is very diverse. He has a high degree of voice variation, which he underlines with non-verbal elements. On the other hand, he uses a very simple vocabulary. The language is easy to understand and hardly contains any foreign words. Swear words, on the other hand, are numerous. In general, Carlin appears very authentic despite the deliberately used representation.



"Religion is bullshit" deals with religion, belief and God; these are very emotional topics as these topics are closely interwoven with people's values ​​and beliefs. Criticism or even an attack on personal values ​​or beliefs usually triggers strong emotional reactions from the person concerned. Carlin approaches this difficult subject in a humorous way. God in himself is viewed as a person, which puts him on a par with man. For example, Carlin sometimes speaks of God simply as “guy”. The following passage is a good example of the personification of God: “And by the way, I say 'this guy' because I firmly believe, looking at these results, that if there is a God, it has to be a man. No woman could or would ever fuck things up like this. " In this utterance, Carlin also makes fun of the "male species".

Carlin's simple vocabulary, interspersed with swear words, contrasts with the high level of content of the topic. This discrepancy creates an emotional “basic tension” which, with the right humor, is quickly transformed into laughter. An example is the statement “Holy Shit!”, Which in this context represents a pun and also illustrates the above-mentioned contrast. Furthermore, Carlin repeatedly addresses everyday circumstances, which creates a personal connection for the audience.

Carlin generates great laughter in the audience - on the one hand through his exaggerated non- and paraverbal representation, on the other hand through his attacks on traditional beliefs and habits. These ideas and habits are exaggerated and presented in simple facts, which means that everyday things take on grotesque and ridiculous forms, such as: “Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. ”By comparing the Bible with popular stories and children's stories, Carlin not only creates a recognition effect, but also earns a lot of laughter through this strange juxtaposition of the books. The following passage aroused tremendous applause from the audience: “And for those of you who look to The Bible for moral lessons and literary qualities, I might suggest a couple of other stories for you. You might want to look at the Three Little Pigs, that's a good one. Has a nice happy ending, I'm sure you'll like that. "

George Carlin uses cynicism as another stylistic device. Cynicism is often mistaken for sarcasm. Cynicism describes the degradation of other people's values, but also the fundamental questioning of moral values. An example of this in “Religion is Bullshit” is: “But people do pray, and they pray for a lot of different things, you know, your sister needs an operation on her crotch, your brother was arrested for defecating in a mall. But most of all, you'd really like to fuck that hot little redhead down at the convenience store. You know, the one with the eyepatch and the clubfoot? Can you pray for that?… ". In this example, Carlin doesn't just ridicule prayer. He even leads from praying to a topic that is rarely addressed - in public / on television - namely sex. With this extreme juxtaposition of two things that are morally located at two opposing poles, Carlin plays the trump card of cynicism to the full. This leads to loud applause and laughter in the audience.



Carlin's speech contains a variety of arguments based primarily on art / technical evidence. His argument is based on a variety of general statements about daily life and the popular notion of monotheistic / Christian belief. He usually puts these statements in context in such a way that they result in a contradiction.


In most cases the arguments are logical and plausible. However, Carlin does not draw a clear line between religion, church and God. So he criticizes religion in general, although his content is only in the monotheistic "area". Or when he claims that God needs more and more money, he is actually only addressing the respective churches. Apart from these inaccuracies, Carlin does not make any major errors in his argumentation and the presentation of the content.


As already mentioned, Carlin mainly uses proof of contradiction, whereby he often only cites the premises and leaves the conclusion to the audience, for example at the beginning
  1. If you violate the commandments, God will send you / the sinner to hell forever.
  2. God loves you / everyone.

Carlin does not comment on this contradiction; instead, he first describes hell in his presentation and then adds laconically: “But he loves you!”.

Sometimes Carlin also carries out the conclusion, as in the following with the classic problem of theodicy:

  1. God is all-powerful, all-good and all-knowing.
  2. There is war, misery, etc. in the world.
    Carlin presents this argument in the form of a personification of God, noting that these results have no place in the life of any higher being. Therefore, he concludes that God
  3. is at least incompetent and perhaps indifferent to the situation.

In the area of ​​the topic, Carlin draws the locations for the evidence from the person and the matter. There are origin (natura), deeds (facta) and habits (habitus): God, incompetence and indifference. In the case of the matter, the effect (eventus) in the form of war etc. is mentioned.

Carlin sums up his criticism of God in one sentence by making a clear, harsh and unambiguous statement that he - in her presentation - only weakens by referring it to himself:

"So rather than be just another mindless religious robot, mindlessly and aimlessly and blindly believing that all of this is in the hands of some spooky incompetent father figure who doesn't give a shit, I decided to look around for something else to worship.
The implicit reasoning is clear:
  1. If you believe in (this) God,
  2. then you are "just another mindless religious robot ..."

In terms of content, Carlin uses not only direct, but also indirect attacks. In the middle part of his play, Carlin (apparently) goes into why he worships the sun. In doing so, however, he lists all the points that appear ridiculous in the light of normal religious practice or are presented by him as ridiculous: “Sun worship is fairly simple. There's no mystery, no miracles, no pageantry, no one asks for money, there are no songs to learn, and we don't have a special building where we all gather once a week to compare clothing. And the best thing about the sun, it never tells me I'm unworthy. "

This has several advantages: The high-contrast representation makes it easier to expose everyday behaviors that are adopted. In addition, the sometimes very hard statements are weakened, since they are applied in reverse. After all, the indirect formulation has its own humorous effect.

Towards the end of the play, Carlin speaks out against the practice of praying. In doing so, he proves contradicting each other, letting the effectiveness of prayer and the divine plan compete against each other: If prayer were successful, then it could impair the divine plan. So either prayer must be pointless or prayer can interfere with the divine plan.

In summary, it can be said that George Carlin enumerates a great number of arguments which are intended to make the pointlessness of religion clear. So he convinces the audience and draws them to his side. Carlin describes many religious habits and circumstances and presents them as pointless and ridiculous. The individual content-related parts of the cabaret are not introduced or transferred, which gives the impression that Carlin is jumping from one topic to the next. The entire cabaret piece has a logical content and is easy to understand. The central statement can be found briefly and concisely in the title of the piece: "Religion is bullshit".


Relationship Ethos-Pathos-Logos

In our opinion, the relationship between ethos, pathos and logos is very well coordinated in this cabaret. Even if it could seem that Carlin brings his gags spontaneously, this piece has certainly been rehearsed and rehearsed dozens of times. Carlin pauses at the right time to give the audience “time to laugh”. He also waits for the laughter to start again at the right time. A good example of the interplay of ethos-pathos logos is the short, following passage: “And I say, fine. Pray for anything you want. Pray for anything,… ”During this sentence Carlin takes small steps, moving the hand from one side to the other. He tends to keep his eyes closed, as if he were “turning a blind eye”. He speaks slowly in a pleasant voice. Then follows the sentence: "... but what about the Divine Plan?" The “but” is accompanied by raising his index finger as a warning. The "but" is pronounced short and loud. And Carlin opens his eyes again as he speaks of "this important matter" again. The example clearly shows how Carlin uses ethos, pathos and logos to convey content to the audience with emotional, rational and representational conciseness.


Notes / learning factor

"Religion is bullshit" is a good example of perfectly used gestures and facial expressions. The interaction with what has been said is optimal. It almost seems like every detail is planned and deliberately executed, but everything seems spontaneous and authentic. That is what makes professionalism. So it is not possible for us to suggest improvements to this cabaret piece. On the other hand, you can learn a lot from Carlin with regard to body language, as every gesture / facial expression / posture matches the spoken word and content.

The video for the speech can be found at the following address: