The podcasters behind “George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead”—a controversial stand-up “special” originally advertised as AI-generated—confirm their stunt routine was “completely written” by a human. Although an unsurprising turn of events, it still may not shield them from legal fury.
A brief catchup on the Carlin controversy
To bring anyone blessedly unaware of recent events up to speed: Earlier this month, content creators Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen hyped a forthcoming, Carlin-centric episode of Dudesey, a podcast series they claim is written by a “state of the art entertainment AI” of the same name trained on data including the duo’s own social media posts, text messages, and emails. Then on January 9, Sasso and Kultgen released the episode (currently private on YouTube) after “training” “AI” (they claimed) on text and audio from the entirety of Carlin’s over 50-year career.
“George Carlin died… before 2010, I think—and now he’s been resurrected by an AI to create more material,” Kultgen said in a preview YouTube video. Carlin died in 2008.
At the episode’s outset, Dudesey “AI” claimed: “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,” before launching into “George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead.” Over the course of the segment, a vocal clone of the late comedian covered a range of Carlinesque topics, including gun violence, politics, free speech, and class.
“If you’re in America, you’re special. God made something just for you, something no other country on the planet gets,” the fake Carlin states early in the episode, as reported over the weekend by The Washington Post. “Of course, I’m talking about mass shootings!” Listeners were not amused.
A tough crowd
Virtually the only positive response to Dudesey’s fake Carlin set came from a self-provided audience laugh track. The internet quickly panned the episode as a clickbait cash-in meant to leverage a simultaneously hyped and maligned AI industry.
“ChatGPT and other LLMs rely on vast swaths of copyrighted material created by human hands. Dudesy can’t fart out a crass imitation of George Carlin without viewing 14 standup specials that are the sum of a human’s life, dreams, and labor,” Matthew Gault wrote for Vice.
Others doubted how much AI technology was actually used to make “I’m Glad I’m Dead.” Images in the YouTube video resembled generative AI artwork and vocal cloning can already produce near-indistinguishable imitations of real human voices. However, critics were skeptical that any generative AI is currently capable of creating an hour’s worth of coherent material.
“Despite the claims that Dudesy has somehow ingested Sasso and Kultgen’s work, or that it somehow ‘learns’ and ‘generates data that will be used to make the next episode better,’ it appears to be more likely that it uses a combination of readily-available tools patched together to ‘surprise’ two comedians clearly in on the act,” commentator Ed Zitron wrote in post for his internet culture newsletter.
“It’s also worth remembering the context around AI at the time Dudesy premiered in March 2022. The ‘state of the art’ public AI at the time was the text-davinci-002 version of GPT-3, an impressive-for-its-day model that nonetheless still utterly failed at many simple tasks,” Kyle Orland explained for Ars Technica. “It wouldn’t be until months later that a model update gave GPT-3 now-basic capabilities like generating rhyming poetry.”
Meanwhile, the comedy legend’s daughter also made her own thoughts on the matter clear.
“I understand and share the desire for more George Carlin. I, too, want more time with my father,” Kelly Carlin wrote in a statement posted to X a day after the video’s release. “But… the ‘George Carlin’ in that video is not the beautiful human who defined his generation and raised me with love. It is a poorly-executed facsimile cobbled together by unscrupulous individuals to capitalize on the extraordinary goodwill my father established with his adoring fan base.”
The Carlin estate’s legal team filed a lawsuit against Dudesey’s creators on January 25, claiming copyright infringement, deprivation of rights of publicity, and violation of rights of publicity. According to US law, plaintiffs could be entitled to as much as $150,000 per charge. Soon afterwards, the podcasters finally confirmed many critics’ suspicions.
In a statement first provided to The New York Times on Friday morning last week, a spokesperson for Sasso and Kultgen stated their Dudesey is a “fictional podcast character created by two human beings.” As for “I’m Glad I’m Dead,” the material itself was “completely written” by Kultgen, although the lawsuit’s defendants have yet to confirm if they employed AI for the Carlin vocal clone or accompanying artwork.
Joshua Schiller, a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner, LLP, and an attorney for the Carlin estate, believes Sasso and Kultgen admitting to the stunt won’t absolve the duo of legal responsibility.
“Who knows what to believe from these defendants? All we know is that they are craven opportunists who have fabricated a piece of content that violates multiple of my clients’ rights,” Schiller said in a statement provided to PopSci on Monday. “We look forward to getting the truth about how this shameful spectacle was created and holding defendants accountable for their blatant disregard for the law and basic decency.”
According to the lawsuit filing previously obtained by Ars Technica, plaintiff attorneys argue Carlin’s reputation and legacy is now potentially damaged by association with the Dudesey special, and are continuing to seek legal and financial compensation.
The Carlin “stand-up,” although largely debunked, draws attention once again to the mounting copyright-related lawsuits against a still largely unregulated AI industry. Makers of programs such as ChatGPT maintain that access to copyrighted material is key to training trustworthy, safe AI. Compensation for such access, however, is currently far from uniform, reliable, or even legally sound. Meanwhile, there remains the possibility “I’m Glad I’m Dead” employed both AI vocal clone and generative art programs—both of which are often trained on massive, copyrighted datasets.
The real George Carlin saw it coming
As the controversies continue to play out, it certainly feels like Carlin himself was onto something almost exactly 20 years ago.
“I’ve been uplinked and downloaded. I’ve been inputted and outsourced. I know the upside of downsizing; I know the downside of upgrading,” he wrote in his 2004 essay, “Ode to the Modern Man.” “I’m a high-tech lowlife. A cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, bicoastal multitasker, and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.”