August 6, 1995
MORE than 15 years ago and barely a month after his sitcom started on ABC, a virtually unknown comic starred in his first “On Location” special for HBO. A decade later, a female comic headlined her first “On Location” special more than a year before starting the sitcom
that made her a megastar.
Robin Williams and Roseanne are but two of the dozens of comedians featured in “20 Years of Comedy on HBO,” a 90-minute retrospective at the premium cable channel’s history of hilarity George Carlin, an established star when headlining his first HBO comedy special in 1977, hosts this star-studded laugh fest.
The often-outrageous comedy pulls no punches whether the subject is racism (Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor), religion (Elayne Booster, BUI Hicks), the battle of the sexes (Rita Rudner, Richard Lewis) or politics (Dennis Miller, Bill Maher and Carlin).
“You get tired of the unspoken contract that must be a laugh every 10 seconds,” says “verbal vocal artist” Carlin, who continuallyÂ tests the limits as the comedian who has headlined more HBO specials than anyone. “Comics hate silence; you’re afraid what’s going in people’s minds. So I take the risk now of doing long stretches of things.”
“When I look back at a show like this,” HBO chairman Michael Fuchs says, “and see what we have done for 20 years, and quite honestly whatÂ some of the comedians have said on those shows… [it illustrates] from day one on HBO we’ve had a point of view. We believe it’s a point of view that’s a little bit more intelligent, a little bit more provocative.
It goes places where other people don’t usually go on American television.”
HBO indeed has gone to places before anyone else, like its first comic special on New Year’s Eve, 1975, featuring Robert Meurat Haverford College in Pennsylvania.
“The Pee-wee Herman Show” debuted in 1981, five years before his Saturday morning network show.
” Whoopi Goldberg Direct from Broadway,” her stunning one woman show, premiered in 1985. HBO inaugurated its annual live “Comic Relief”Â event in 1986 to benefit the homeless. The next year, Jerry Seinfeld headlined his first “On Location” special, nearly three years before his hit NBC sitcom.
Whether it’s a rising star or a familiar face, HBO has got ’em.
Even caustic Carlin generates a loyal following. “There’s an affection between me and whatever part of the public it is that I have as my audience,” he says. “I think they regard me fondly in a way beyond the comedy or whatever else they like about the entertainment value.
I think they see a kind of vulnerable, OK, likable person somewhere in the mix.”