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Counter-culture Icon George Carlin Dies

by D. E. Carson (writer), , June 23, 2008

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“You will not hear me say bottom-line, game-plan, role-model, scenario, or hopefully...”

With those words, taken from his 1990 album Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics comedian and actor George Carlin took a stab at some of the moronic words used in our everyday language. Sadly, the entertainment world is a little less funny this morning as George Carlin died in Santa Monica on Sunday of heart failure. He was 71.

Over the years, Carlin was known for his racy humor and biting commentary on the world as he saw it. Many times he joked about his Irish-Catholic upbringing and corralled Christianity in with Islam and other religions claiming, “they all took turns killing other people because God told them it was a good idea.” His most famous routine, The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television has been the centerpiece for the defense of FCC regulation of broadcast material during times when children might be listening to the radio or watching TV. Carlin was arrested in Milwaukee, WI in 1972 for performing the routine live on stage. He was charged with disturbing the peace, but the case was dismissed by the judge citing freedom of speech in a live performance and the lack of any disturbance.

With the advent of the Internet, many e-mails have been passed around attributed to Carlin. His website (www.georgecarlin.com) addresses many of these writings as they appear. In Carlin’s own words, “Floating around the Internet these days, posted and e-mailed back and forth, are a number of writings attributed to me, and I want people to know they're not mine. Don't blame me.

“Some are essay-length, some are just short lists of one and two-line jokes, but if they're flyin' around the Internet, they're probably not mine. Occasionally, a couple of jokes on a long list might have come from me, but not often. And because most of this stuff is really lame, it's embarrassing to see my name on it.

“And that's the problem. I want people to know that I take care with my writing, and try to keep my standards high. But most of this "humor" on the Internet is just plain stupid. 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.” And for the record, the Rules for Hurricane Katrina are not Carlin’s either.

Over the years, Carlin produced 23 albums and 14 HBO specials. He worked as recently as last week in Las Vegas. This writer has seen him in concert twice; the first time was while I was a student at the University of Kansas, Carlin appeared at Hoch Auditorium before it was struck by lightening and burned. The second was at the Midland Theatre in Kansas City. During Carlin’s appearance at KU, when he began talking about feminism, this writer noted a large group of femi-nazis who stood up and walked out of the hall in protest. This, of course, left the rest of us wondering, “If you know George Carlin, you know is brand of humor and you damn well better be prepared to be offended.” Carlin, however, either did not notice or chose not to say anything. The former is plausible as it was dark in that cavernous hall and this writer, your humble correspondent, barely noticed them as they were leaving. The latter only proves that Carlin was more mature than these femi-nazis by not giving them what they wanted and that was public attention.

George Carlin was born May 12, 1937. He grew up in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan, one of two sons of a single mother. He dropped out of school during the ninth grade. In 1957, he joined the Air Force and did not fare well. Carlin has posted on his website the discharge notice he received from his commander at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. The charges were extensive including DUI and insubordination.

In the 1960s Carlin teamed up with Jack Burns and began working as a comedy duo. When Carlin experienced the comedy of Lenny Bruce, he dissolved the working relationship with Burns, but not their friendship. Prior to his brush with Bruce, Carlin was a very conservative, clean-shaven comedian. Carlin appeared on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson numerous times but it was his appearance on that show while Jack Paar was still at the helm that gave Carlin his big break. The compilation DVDs of Johnny Carson’s reign features a clip of Carlin’s Al Sleet: The Hippy-Dippy Weatherman in which Carlin is still dressed in a suit and tie, clean-shaven and with short hair.

Carlin’s brand of humor made those who ignored his penchant for profanity take a long look at themselves and many of the hypocrisies of modern society. Carlin once mused that the use of euphemisms has taken the humanity out of our language.

“There is a condition in battle where the human nervous system cannot take any more input...during World War I it was called ‘shell shock’. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. In World War II the same condition was called ‘battle fatigue’. A little softer and not as harsh. In Korea, the very same condition became known as ‘operation exhaustion’. Now we’re up to eight syllables and the humanity is almost completely gone. By the time we got to Vietnam, the condition was called ‘post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen and all of the humanity is completely gone from the condition. I’ll bet ya, if they’d still been calling it ‘shell shock’ some of the these Vietnam veterans would have received the treatment they deserved.” –from the 1990 album Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics.

Hypocrisy was one of Carlin’s major pet peeves and he let everyone around him know about it.

Carlin won four Grammys and had been nominated for five Emmys. It had also been recently announced that Carlin was selected to receive the 11th Annual Mark Twin Prize for American Humor. The award was to be given out in November.

Carlin’s first wife, Brenda, died in 1997. He is survived by his second wife, Sally Wade; daughter Kelly Carlin McCall; son-in-law Bob McCall; brother Patrick Carlin; and sister-in-law Marlene Carlin.

George Carlin checked himself into a hospital near his home in Santa Monica on Sunday morning complaining of chest pains. By Sunday evening, he had “passed away” from heart failure. Even that final act was contemplated by Carlin saying, “Thanks to our fear of death in this country, I won’t have to die. I’ll just ‘pass away’. Or I’ll ‘expire’ like a magazine subscription. If it happens in a hospital, they’ll call it a ‘terminal episode’.”

The world of comedy is a little less funny today. One cannot help but wonder what Carlin would say about all this attention.



About the Writer

D. E. Carson is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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5 comments on Counter-culture Icon George Carlin Dies

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By 'Mean' Mike Duffau on June 23, 2008 at 04:07 pm

yeah, i heard about his passing last night. thanks for sharing. he will be missed. R.I.P.

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By Edward on June 23, 2008 at 04:33 pm

No more Jesus and Pass The Porkchops :(

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By Sharlene Hardin on June 24, 2008 at 07:16 pm

Thank you for writing a nice tribute.

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By D. E. Carson on June 26, 2008 at 02:12 am

I was rather hoping for Jerry Seinfeld and Carrot Top myself...

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By Lady D on June 27, 2008 at 12:00 am

He was one of my heros, because he cared enough to try and wake people up. He will be missed.

"We made it all up."- George Carlin

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