Reflections on George Carlin
There’s a lot I could potentially write about. The UFC actually put on a pretty decent show with its Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale this past Saturday, but I’ll save any and all talk for this week’s “Living Under Marshall Law.” There’s also Don Imus being an idiot, but at this point it’s not really news.
But there’s really only one thing to write about; a topic which has been really the only topic of conversations/blogging amongst folks in my inner circle.
George Carlin has passed away from heart failure at the age of 71.
Carlin’s comedy, insights, and delivery influenced my own outlooks on life and sense of humor at an early age. That’s right, the seven dirty words really DO corrupt the minds of young, impressionable children.
Actually, I was 11 years old when I had my first exposure to Carlin. I was always a big fan of comedy from an early age, to the extent that SNL was every bit the required viewing that Saturday morning cartoons were, meaning I got up super early and stayed up super late. Knowing this, my father had always talked up George Carlin, would often quote the things he said, and was eager to share the experience of watching Carlin’s stand-up with me as soon as he felt I could handle the topics of his bits and the manner in which they were presented.
Without the intention of slighting those who have done so, simply quoting the “seven dirty words” (unintentionally) shortchanges Carlin and what he was all about. It wasn’t about the words, it was the inherent silliness in considering certain words completely off-limits while still putting them to paper to let you know that they’re so awful they can’t be repeated. That was at the heart of what Carlin was all about – not the off-color language, but the idea that this world would be a much better place if only we could collectively make better determinations as to where our priorities should lie as it pertains to our country and humanity as a whole.
Carlin, of course, wouldn’t admit to that. Being the self-deprecating guy that he was, he’d insist that he was just a crabby old man who got paid to do what came naturally to him…complain.
In addition to losing the best social commentator since Will Rogers, the world of comedy has lost a trailblazer who has allowed every single stand-up comedian to do what they do. People will always bring up Lenny Bruce, whose high profile and persecution (both legal and otherwise) laid the groundwork for what was considered acceptable in the mainstream. Carlin picked up right where Bruce left off, and as a result became the guy who truly made it acceptable to say the sort of things he said onstage.
In many ways, Carlin was what most other stand-up comedians only claim to be. He wasn’t one of those that was going to steal material, however he also wasn’t one of those guys that shouted from the rooftops about hacky comedians who steal material in an attempt to draw more attention to himself, nor did he compromise his art or his values by accepting any shitty sitcom deal that came across his desk. That’s not to say that Carlin took himself too seriously, but behind the on-stage braggadocio and colorful language was a man with a surprisingly quiet dignity when it came to himself and his work.
I won’t thrust the label of “an American Institution” onto him, just because he’d most likely deride me for it. That being said, as sad as his passing was, what’s even sadder is hitting the realization there’s not going to be anybody else like him in my lifetime.