Robert Frashure: Thanks so much for stopping by again, Kelly!
Since the time that we initially met and I wrote these questions for you, it seems like so much has changed in our world: including the President of the United States. I know that we both have talked about the sense of collective trauma some people are experiencing and ways in which people can stay strong and enlightened during this time. For me, I’m starting to wonder whether what makes this whole election so potently depressing for me is that I can’t laugh about it! I think initially I could laugh at Trump in the primaries when he was making fun of Bush and Rubio and all that, making them look like idiots.
But now it’s sort of turning into something that feels much more heavy and serious, and it’s kind of hard to laugh at. How have you been responding to all of this?
Kelly Carlin: I’m just trying to take it one day at a time and I’m trying not to be panicked about it all. I remind myself that there are at least 69 million people that voted not for him and then probably easily another 30 or 40 million people in this country who don’t vote but who probably don’t agree with him. There’s a lot of people in this country that aren’t happy about him, so that gives me solace. I’m trying to read smart, wise people who aren’t necessarily in the political arena to stay grounded in broader protectives, like Buddhist teachers and people like Parker Palmer and Krista Tippett and people like that. And just trying not to overdose on social media or the news but trying to stay informed. I think even though he obviously has some pretty right-wing ideas about the world, I don’t think he’s as tyrannical as the left are terrified of and he’s in no way a savior for the right. He was a liberal Democrat for decades in his life, so he’s a very independent man and I think that his breaking the rules of some things look terrifying to all of us because this is the way things have been done. But at the same time, people on the extreme left and extreme right hate the Washington establishment.
And I did get back to my work this month too, which I think is really important. That if you have creative work or whatever your calling is, it’s really important to know that, whether we like it or not, the world goes on and we have to keep up our work.
Robert Frashure: Did you feel hopeless at any point?
Kelly Carlin: Yes, definitely. The first few days after the election, I was working on a new book proposal. I kept thinking to myself, “Well, what’s the point of this?” Part of me felt as though if I’m not out in the streets protecting the ocean, because the environment’s a huge thing for me, what’s the point of any of this? It was just like, well, guess what? The rest of world’s going on without you, Kelly. And it has inspired me to become more active and put some money and some time towards issues that are important to me, so that’s a win, actually, for the world.
Robert Frashure: Do you find it ironic how Trump has turned this whole idea of “political correctness” upside down?
Kelly Carlin: Yes. I’m not a fan of political correctness but I am a feminist and some people would put me in a category of social justice warrior, which is this term they give people who want to fight for basic human rights in the world. So I don’t accept any of that kind of stuff and I do think that there is a divisiveness in all of this. I kind of stand separate from some of my more progressive friends in that kind of stuff.
Robert Frashure: Right, and I think that Trump can get away with saying biased things by twisting and perverting the idea of “political correctness.” But I don’t think “political correctness” is really what Trump is really trying to disrupt. For example, if he’s being racist and saying openly racist things: does that mean he’s throwing away political correctness?
Kelly Carlin: I think you’ve got a great point here, Robert. I think what it is is that the left and the right define it slightly differently and the right feels like they haven’t been allowed for decades to speak their mind because people of color and people of gender have been asking the world to represent themselves differently in it. So there is this line between, “Well, I’m a white guy. I want to say whatever the hell I want to say,” which is you’re an American, you have every right to do that. If you feel that you have to be extra nice to people or careful around people and you don’t like that, well, okay, I get that, that we have to be more careful. But at the same time, I don’t think that when the left wants to control people’s speech in ways through regulations or rules or censorship, I think that’s bullshit.
Robert: I have to ask what you think you’re dad would say about the current state of affairs in our country? I trying not to ask this question because I can only image that you’ve been asked this a thousand times. (laughs)
Kelly: There’s no way I can answer it. There just is no way. That’s the problem with that question. He’s been dead for eight years. I don’t think like my dad. Part of me does. I can listen to all of his material, like everyone else, and we can assume what he would say. The only way I answer that question is, A, that I don’t know and, B, to remember that he used to say to the world, “When you’re born, you get a ticket to the freak show, and when you’re born in America, you get a front row seat.”
Robert Frashure: It’s true. I love that.
Kelly Carlin: So pop your popcorn, people, because guess what? The show is ramping up into a very interesting level. (laughs)
Robert Frashure: It sure is. And Donald Trump is kind of a comedian in a way too.
Kelly Carlin: He loves getting a laugh. Oh my god, he loves entertaining and he loves getting a laugh and that’s why he does what he does and that’s why he’s so unpresidential and that’s why we’re so uncomfortable with him. He cares more about getting a laugh or getting cheers than he does care about how he comes off.
Robert Frashure: And you don’t know when he’s being serious or when he’s joking.
Kelly Carlin: Exactly. Nobody knows. That’s the thing about it too, I think that’s what is making everyone so anxious is because the unknown is more terrifying than the known. So when he says something, we don’t know should we take him at his word, is he just being theatrical for the moment, is he just trying to get approval from his base, is he trying to set up something so he can fuck with someone down the line? Who fucking knows? He’s a wily fucking fox. He really is wily, man.
Robert Frashure: It’s true. I like your answer to that question about what your father would say, though. It’s like people ask what would Freud say to certain questions, in the year 2016.
Kelly: The whole point of having a Freud or a Carlin in the world is because they spoke what they spoke. I think in a way it’s a total cop out. I’m not saying anything about you, but I think any of us who ask that kind of question, it’s shirking our own responsibility in the world because ultimately we need to be asking, “What do I feel about this?” and, “How can I talk about it in the world? And I should be talking about it in the world.”
Kelly: We don’t have to rely on our heroes to do all the work for us. We need to be leaders now. We need to be our heroes.
Robert Frashure: You’re right. That’s very true too. It’s just, I just grew up listening to your dad’s comedy and I have a feeling he would have something hilarious to say about all of this.
Kelly Carlin: I wish! I wish, Robert. Not only would it be hilarious, but it would be an angle that no one else had penetrated yet and we would all go, “Oh, of course it’s that.” And then of course he would tell him to go fuck himself or something and we’d all cheer at that.
Robert Frashure: That’s a good bullshit story.
Kelly Carlin: Right, and that’s the other thing. If you remember his last special was called “It’s Bad for Ya” and he originally wanted to call the special “It’s All Bullshit and It’s Bad for Ya.” That was his stance eight years ago and we all know it would not have changed at all, so there you have it.
Robert Frashure: Since humor is such an important part of your family, do you have a theory of what humor is?
Kelly Carlin: I would say that it is a surprise that creates an opening of an insight. And when that happens you are shocked and acknowledge the absurdity of the moment.
Robert Frashure: What kinds of things make people laugh?
Kelly Carlin: Seeing the truth, sharing the truth, revealing taboo or secrets.
Robert Frashure: What would the world be like without humor?
Kelly Carlin: This is a great question. Maybe it has to do with our mortality – humor confronts us with life and how we endure it, tragedy confronts us with life and that in the end there is always suffering and death. What would the world be like if we couldn’t have humor and life? We wouldn’t have made it as a species.
Because we understand that we are going to die, we need a pressure valve for life. Who wants to do all of this, know we’re going to die and have no ability to step back from it and get some relief? There often seems to be a thin line between comedy and tragedy.
Robert Frashure: I agree, without humor I don’t think we would have survived as a species. What would be the point?
Kelly Carlin: You really made me think deeply with that question and actually I had some “aha” moments about some of this. Yes, I agree absolutely that laughter is healing and essential to our survival. One of the things you made me think about was you asked what would the world be like if you couldn’t have humor. I really believe that we would not have made it as a species because we are one of the very few species that has it . If you think about, maybe only dolphins and elephants and a couple other species of elephants might understand mortality. But we as humans face our own mortality. At a young age we learned that we are going to not be here any longer. We are going to die. I can’t imagine going through life as a human and not having a sense of humor or not being able to have a release valve like that. How fucking tragic would it be then? It would be so grim to know that this is it.
Imagine none of us being able to laugh, laughter wasn’t a thing and nothing made us laugh, we didn’t see things as funny and we just had to trudge through life. We would be an animal basically because we would basically just be searching for food, searching for shelter and procreating. That’s all we would be doing because all of the stuff that comes with laughter and humor is that creativity, imagination, introspection, all of that, self-awareness. I think it’s all in there. It’s all mixed up. This was a really profound question for me. I was like, “Wow, this is so amazing. This is making me think about this stuff.”
Robert Frashure: I don’t want to put you on the spot because I know you’re an expert on humor. It’s a big topic, I guess.
Kelly Carlin: Yeah, it is a big topic. From my perspective, from my life experience, from what I see, my study of psychology, my life growing up in family of comedy and humor, but it really was an interesting question for me to sit with. And I think you’re on to something and I wonder if there’s any other theories out there. I wonder if someone’s written some serious treatise about this. It’s probably humorless, the treatise.
Robert Frashure: I have always thought that humor comes from the “depths,” from deeper parts of ourselves that are hard to share together.
However, there are so many ideas of where humor come from! Freud, for example, thought that humor was a “defense” against unconscious residues of the past (both individual and species) and was a socially acceptable way to expression instinctual forces. What is your sense of how Jung conceptualized humor? Do you agree with Freud’s perspective?
Kelly Carlin: I think Freud was correct in many ways, but Jung also added insights with the trickster archetype. The trickster comes in and breaks the rules. Donny Trump is very much a trickster energy, with him coming in and breaking the rules, which is why it makes people really nervous because tricksters aren’t supposed to be president.
Robert Frashure: Right. No, they’re not.
Kelly Carlin: Because they’ll break any rule in service of changing the energy. Yeah, exactly. So the trickster is very important role for humanity. It’s an important archetype and it stirs up energy. Its job is to upend the status quo.
Robert Frashure: Exactly. You think on some level what we’re seeing globally at so many different kind of changes is a change in sort of a collective consciousness or a change in an archetype or something?
Kelly Carlin: Yeah. Oh, for sure. I think people have been talking about it. I think it began in the ’60s with the counterculture, a real questioning of institutions and the status quo and it’s been a progression along that. Some people have been talking about it the last 15 years or so in a way that kind of holds it as that there’s this important thing that’s happening as a collective, like you were talking about, that we could jump to the next level of consciousness or evolution of minds and brains and all of that with a real global view, which a lot of people do have a global consciousness. They think about being a member of humanity.
I think what Trump and this alt-right and the right like to do is they like to pull us backwards, back 50 years, because this global consciousness is too scary for them and they’re traditionalists. And there’s something to be said for tradition. Tradition is important on some levels, obviously. And this rapid globalization has economically hurt people and has created a huge imbalance in wealth too. There is some sorting out that needs to be done. But in general and understanding that we are one planet and that we need to take care of this planet – I think that’s the most important globalization issue – is essential. So I see this as kind of like a last gasp of the patriarchy or something like that.
Some people talk about it, it sounds kind of woo woo but the shift between the age of Pisces and the age of Aquarius, and that’s about where we’re at in this millennial change. When you look at the bigger picture, we’re only 16, 17 years into this millennium. People do couch it that way but we won’t be around to know if that’s really the case because it’ll be a couple of hundred years from now that we’ll really know where we landed with all of this. I do feel like this is a last gasp of some sort of traditional patriarchy.
Robert Frashure: It’s happening in Europe too. It’s happening in different parts of the world.
Kelly Carlin: It is and it is a reaction of the progressive agenda and that there was so much progress made in all of these things and with any progress there’s always negative unintended consequences. Part of, I think in America, the unintended consequences were that these white working class men had felt out of the conversation for decades and were screwed by their own party politically and economically and have been left behind by the culture. So they got it from both sides. They got it from the left and the right and they decided to shake things up and Hillary was hated enough that Donald Trump was the other option and here we are. That’s my take on it.
Robert Frashure: Well, I thank you very much for talking with me. You sound hopeful now. I like the hopeful message.
Kelly Carlin: Yay! Yay!
Robert Frashure: I’m kind of hopeful too in a way. I see it as kind of a bump in the road, hopefully.
Kelly Carlin: Yeah. You know what? I think the unintended consequences out of this is there’ll be some difficult times for people but I think that who knows who’s going to be inspired to come forward and who knows how each of us will be inspired to stand up for what we really believe in now?
Robert Frashure: I hope you are right.
Kelly Carlin: Exactly. If you ever have any questions about your path or what you’re doing or if you’re at a crossroads and need someone to bounce something off of, I’m here for you and I can hold that space for you. I know where you’re at in your life and career. You’re very similar to me, so I’ve walked ahead of you a little bit so I have a little bit more different perspective.
Robert Frashure: I appreciate it so much.
Kelly Carlin: Of course, my pleasure.
“But when you’re in front of an audience and you make them laugh at a new idea, you’re guiding the whole being for the moment. No one is ever more him/herself than when they really laugh. Their defenses are down. It’s very Zen-like, that moment. They are completely open, completely themselves when that message hits the brain and the laugh begins. That’s when new ideas can be implanted. If a new idea slips in at that moment, it has a chance to grow.” George Carlin