Someday we’ll move past the point where you can spend half an hour pumping out an AI video and generate headlines. Sadly, we’re not there yet. The latest piece of refuse from the AI hype machine comes in the form of an unauthorized, “AI-generated” George Carlin comedy special—one that practically no one, not even people involved with it, seems to like. It was apparently made without permission from the late comedian’s family or any semblance of good taste, but here’s the best part: it’s not even clear how much of the special was actually created with AI in the first place.
Welcome back to the Dumbest Tech News of the Week, Gizmodo’s Monday column where we dive into the best of the worst that technology has to offer. This week we’re exploring Dudesy, an AI comedy podcast and video channel run by comedian Will Sasso, writer Chad Kultgen, and a tech company they refuse to name. On Tuesday, Dudesy released the special, “George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead.” Even Sasso and Kultgen seem uncomfortable with the project, and that’s to say nothing of the countless bad reviews and outrage from Carlin’s family. In other words: it’s dumb.
“It’s ghoulish,” said Carlin’s daughter Kelly Carlin in an interview with Gizmodo. “Dead people don’t get to have a vote, and that’s what’s particularly disturbing to me about this. They’re voting for him. They’re deciding that this is ok to do and it’s a disrespect to his autonomy. It’s a violation of his humanity and his personhood, and, of course, his creative integrity. Ethically, it’s the stinkiest move I could imagine.”
The special opens with an AI-generated voice describing the work it did to create the special, as though the robot did the work itself.
“My name is Dudesy, and I’m a comedy AI,” the voice says. “What you’re about to hear is not George Carlin. It’s my impersonation of George Carlin that I developed in the exact same way a human impressionist would. I listened to all of George Carlin’s material and did my best to imitate his voice, cadence, and attitude, as well as the subject matter I think would have interested him today.”
It then launches into an hour-long simulacrum of standup comedy in which a voice that sounds a lot like George Carlin, who died in 2008, entertains a pretend audience.
“I’m sorry it took me so long to come out with new material, but I do have a pretty good excuse…” AI Carlin says, pausing for dramatic effect. “I was dead!” The crudely generated sounds of an artificial audience roar in laughter and applause.
Some commenters seem charmed by the standup special, but calling the reviews “mixed” would be generous. Dozens of journalists fired up Google Docs to take cheap shots at the AI Carlin (can you image something so debased) but the loudest response came from the standup legend’s daughter. Kelly Carlin said Dudesy never contacted her or her father’s estate and told Gizmodo she’s considering legal action.
“He really hated people putting words in his mouth,” Kelly Carlin said. “This thing is the most egregious possible version of that.”
Back in 1999, a sort of early text meme falsely attributed to George Carlin went viral over forwarded email messages. The maudlin essay, titled “The Paradox of Our Time in History,” bothered the comedian so much he kept a statement explaining that he didn’t write it on the front page of his website:
“Most of this ‘humor’ on the Internet is just plain stupid,” George Carlin wrote. “I guess hard-core fans who follow my stuff closely would be able to spot the fake stuff because the tone of voice is so different. But a casual fan has no way of knowing, and it bothers me that some people might believe I’d actually be capable of writing some of this stuff.”
You might think Dudesy’s human companions would stand by its work, but Sasso and Kultgen started distancing themselves from AI Carlin before it was even released.
“I personally don’t want to hear a fucking Nirvana song that’s not written by Kurt Cobain and played by fucking Nirvana. It’s not real and it doesn’t matter. Anyone can do an impression,” Sasso said on episode 87 of the Dudesy podcast (available in both video and audio). “Dudesy has consumed every George Carlin special and has pulled off something miraculous, but it’s not, by definition, new. It’s taken from a bunch of other shit.”
Sasso and Kultgen collaborate on the Dudesy project with an unnamed tech company; the pair say a non-disclosure agreement prevents them from revealing the organization’s name. If you take the podcast at face value, the company makes Dudesy’s work independently and presents it to the hosts without letting them know what’s in store. On the podcast episode introducing AI Carlin, Sasso and Kultgen seem to be hearing about the special for the first time.
“Oh man,” Sasso said, taking his head in his hands as Dudsey explained the Carlin project. “I don’t know what any of this means.”
Sasso and Kultgen celebrate Dudesy, which they talk to as though it’s alive. But the two are visibly uncomfortable about the Carlin project and argue about whether the public will welcome the rising flood of AI art.
“What about the next step? Is Dudesy going to do its own hour of standup?” Kultgen asked. “What about a fully AI standup comedian?”
“Nobody gives a fuck about that,” Sasso said.
There’s no video to go along with the AI Carlin special. You can watch it on YouTube, but it’s just the fake Carlin’s voice speaking over a slideshow of hastily-generated AI art. And while the audio clearly seems generated by an algorithm, the content itself raises questions.
Dudesy suggests, in vague terms, that AI tools made the special from top to bottom. Presumably, the fake words our hallucinated Carlin speaks were generated with something like ChatGPT. But while large-language models can produce incredibly convincing text, the whole thing feels a little too polished. The script doesn’t have the hallmarks of AI authorship; it seems a little too good to be true. Because the company behind Dudesy is some kind of weird secret, it’s hard to say for sure.
We reached out to Sasso and Kultgen’s representatives to ask just how much human intervention went into “I’m Glad I’m Dead.” They didn’t respond.
In the special, the fake Carlin rails against conservatives, delves into the finer points of gun control, trans rights, and Elon Musk, and, predictably, discusses the future of artificial intelligence. It sounds a lot like the kinds of things Carlin might say if he were alive and on stage in 2024. Carlin’s presumably simulated voice tells us it’s the first comedian to be brought back from the dead, but it certainly won’t be the last. It goes on to suggest that AI is the future of standup and, in true Carlin form, says we shouldn’t be so precious about the whole thing. That’s a debate worth having, but one thing’s for sure: this Carlin special isn’t very funny.
“If I can’t be precious about his individual existence then I don’t know what we’re gonna do as a species,” Kelly Carlin said. “Of course, people get overly precious about art and things like that, but George Carlin did not write or perform this thing, so take his name off of it. It can be ‘inspired by,’ or ‘an homage to,’ or ‘Carlin-esque,’ or ‘in the style of.’ Call it something else, and then I dont give a shit. Standup is a lived human experience. Sure, a lot of people watch it on TV, but the standup comic has to leave their house and go to a theater to do the work, and it needs a live audience to react to it. An AI audience laughing at an AI thing is another art form.”