Monday, June 23, 2008

RIP George Carlin

There's a small handful of comedians that I would go back and listen to year after year. Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Cheech and Chong (so sue me! They did some classic stuff that blew me away when I was in junior high) and George Carlin. At the very top for me were Cosby and Carlin. Each a classic story teller. Each with a sharp eye for the ridiculousness of every day life. Cosby was comfortable, Carlin had an edge.

George Carlin died yesterday at age 71. Comedian, actor, author. I was amazed later in life when I realized that he had not always been the counter cultural hippie comedian that I had grown to love. Prior to that Carlin had been a big name as a very mainstream comic. The photos of those early days with the short hair and the tie and suit always look wrong to me. Carlin for me would always be the Hippy Dippy Weather Man(which is actually from that earlier period) and all the stuff from "FM and AM", "Toledo Window Box", "Class Clown", "Occupation Foole" and more. What appealled to me was Carlin's love of words and word play. For all the youth who are sick and tired of me with all my word play I'm afraid they probably have to blame George Carlin (jumbo shrimp, military intelligence). At the center of it all was his amazing (to me at the time) and landmark routine "Seven Words You Can't Say on TV" also referred to simply as "Seven Dirty Words". For the boy in white bread Middle America it was astounding to hear an ADULT talking like that. That routine eventually landed at the Supreme Court after it was broadcast on the radio.

After 1981's "A Place for My Stuff" I found Carlin harder to listen to. His act went from having an edge to an anger and bitterness that I didn't find attractive or funny. You'll find a 10 minute bit on YouTube of him taking on religion. I'm not blind to nor am I silent about the failings that religious institutions and we religious folk have been heir to over the years. I'm just not sure I see the humor in what becomes a long diatribe against what I believe. Carlin was not a believer. That's fine. Calling me stupid (and that's the NICEST thing he calls religious people in the clip. The language is rough be warned. Carlin was never afraid to use all the words he knew) for ten minutes isn't the kind of comedy I enjoy. Plenty of people still seemed to like him and every once in a while I'd catch a bit of stuff that reminded me of the older Carlin. We needed his wicked rapier strikes at the shortcomings of our culture. As his life went on Carlin seemed to despair of the entire race.

Of course he was also the first host on Saturday Night Live, had many top rated HBO specials, appeared in movies as different as "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure", "Dogma" and "Cars". Plus he was "Mr. Conductor" for several years on the children's show "Shining Time Station".

Addition to the original postI was reminded in the comments that I had a close encounter with Carlin a few years back. To help my brother celebrate his incipient decrepitude we had gone to Las Vegas. As we walked down the Strip birthday boy suddenly nudged me and said "Did you see who that was?". Glancing around I only saw some old dude with a gray pony tail and a baseball cap. I shrugged and said I didn't see anybody. Turns out the pony tail belonged to George Carlin who was working at the very casino we were passing (the Flamingo I think). A very cool moment for me. Thanks for the reminder!

He was a complicated and difficult guy in many ways. Without that he wouldn't have been George Carlin. I wouldn't mourn his passing so much.

George's questions about God have finally been answered. I hope they can figure it all out together.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention the time you walked right by him on the Las Vegas Strip and didn't recognize him.