June 24, 2008


George Carlin

I suppose for a life lived so full (and by his own account, so hard), 71 years was a ripe old age for George Carlin. He was one of the great subversive comics that took Lenny Bruce's mantle and ran with it. Peppered with a good dose of Mort Sahl's dry exposition, Carlin was as funny as Richard Pryor and as biting as Bill Hicks, but with a touch that didn't usually leave you squirming like those last two (unless of course you were an out-and-out establishment flunkie). While Bruce was the godfather of post-war legally provocative routines, Carlin brought forth the "dirty" words concept with a more concise delivery that could often make even those who blushed also giggle a bit.

Carlin started way earlier than when I first came upon him, by which time his almost conservative schtick had given way to hilarious counter-cultural insights. I hadn't even entered my teenage party dog phase when I was cracking up with our next-door neighbor's older kids who were playing albums like Class Clown and FM & AM. I remember watching him on TV along with my parents. His broadcast TV stuff is pretty tame, and though my mom ridiculed his long hair (and he ridicules her right back) both she and my dad got a kick out of Carlin. It was a good thing they were clueless to the blue side of his comedy. Here's some classic George from the Flip Wilson show in 1972:

By the end of his career he was a tad whacked on things like 9-11 conspiracy and his "act" was often so powerfully anti-establishment as to be almost humorless (akin to Hicks' cutting and over the edge stuff). Still for me there wasn't much squirming, because even where Carlin cut through some of my own hypocrisy and ignorance I couldn't help but say, "Damn if he ain't calling that straight." By the end he wasn't so much offering up social musings as he was putting forth a battle cry to WAKE UP AMERICA! You were once a generally decent example of good society (warts and all) but are now quickly deteriorating because of your rank-and-file's complacency and ignorance in the face of the machinations of the rich and powerful!

Carlin's death is a big loss for us anti-establishment sympathizers because his kind are few and far between. Even in the face of some of his heaviest bullshit-calling, George could make you laugh your ass off. There is now one less face, familiar to millions, steadfastly working to try and tell it like it is. Thankfully there will always be his past body of work.

Observe the genius, gone but not forgotten:

Via con el sol, Jorge. Thanks for preaching to those of us in the cheap seats.

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I still must admit, I've never found him that funny. Oh, I get his humor, that isn't it. But as far as funny, he's no Dennis Leary to me.

BUT his social commentary on the state of our world... loved it. I loved the stories behind his humor, even if I didn't laugh much.

What is sad to me is that here is someone who was speaking to those of us in the cheap seats and heard his cry to wake up, but he did such hard living that like most people of the hard living ilk (Hunter Thompson and William Burroughs pop to mind) they are not taken as seriously by those that most need convincing because they can't see past the drugs, drinking and hard life. It's hard to take men such as this seriously, even though they are fighting the good fight.
he was tops in my book. and i'll miss him for the rest of my life.
maybe people like him needed the drugs and drinking to withstand the endless bullshit that is modern society. ya think?
Man, we're losing a lot of groundbreaking people lately, Carlin the most recent. Just like with Korman, Russert and Diddley, my reaction when I heard George had died was simply, "What? No way." Then more sadness than I would have expected.
For me, George Carlin was like 'a gateway' that lead to Bill Hicks, and for that I will always be grateful to him. That sounds like damning him with faint praise, but it's actually not. And I think Carlin was great too. We have him to thank for wicked observations like:

"If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little."
When I managed a music store in E.R. I always blared Carlin when I was getting ready to open (or the Black Crowes...go figure). Always good to start the day off smiling. :)

If you like Hicks, how have you never seen Denis Leary? We'll watch it so you can go 'stolen' over and over with me...still, he's funny, he took Hicks' jokes and made them easier for a wider audience. They were friends until Hicks saw No Cure.

Done rambling....Now.
Leary's delivery is good, but as you say, some of his stuff wasn't too original... Also, he was always a little too studiously 'politically incorrect' for me... i.e. his schtick always looked contrived, like it was an act. Whereas Bill was just himself... or if he wasn't, he at least gave that very strong impression. George Carlin gave the same impression too, I think.
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