I was saddened to learn of George Carlin’s death on Sunday, June 22, 2008 at age 71. The man was quite simply a comedic genius, and there will never be another performer like him. I enjoyed seeing him on stage twice; and oddly enough on both occasions his shows were in my hometown of 62,000 people. I was a huge fan and had been following his antics for over three decades.
My first exposure to Carlin took place around 1974. A friend of mine had one of his record albums; Class Clown. We listened to it in his bedroom with the volume turned down low so my friend’s mother wouldn’t hear the rather colorful words being spoken. It was at this time when I heard the legendary Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television routine. I laughed so hard that my sides hurt. From that point on, I made sure I knew whenever he would be making a Tonight Show appearance so I could tune in. HBO came along a few years later, and I watched as many of Carlin’s special presentations as I could.
The comedic genius that will forever define George Carlin was much more than mere spouting of vulgar vocabulary. He was a master of philosophical musings that made us think. He brought situations we experience on a daily basis previously unexplored to the forefront of our collective consciousness. When he lost the suit and tie and grew his hair long in the late 1960’s, his raunchy yet intelligently orchestrated routine became as culturally significant as the Beatle’s music had a few years before.
He was a master of simple yet effective one-liners. Two of my personal favorites were as follows: A) When a letter is mailed to the Post Office, who delivers it? B) In comic strips, why do people on the left always talk first?
The simple things we take for granted such as the two examples cited above are just a small sampling of what made Carlin a genius. The man loved to dissect words and oxymoronic phrases we use in the English language. Indeed, why are hot-water heaters called hot-water heaters? If the water is already hot, why would it need to be heated? Why is it that a situation where two airliners come close to each other is called a “near-miss?” Shouldn’t it be called a “near-hit?” How can anyone talk to somebody alone?
Carlin never ceased to correct us in regard to the complex and oftentimes illogical utilization of words in our vocabulary. In regard to the infamous four-letter words he regularly used, the comedian was merely reflecting what has become for many of us he usage of standard vernacular. Offensive to some as it may be; for example, I pose this question: How many people do you know who will actually say something like, “Oh, gosh darn it, that hurt!” as they drop a 16-pound bowling ball onto their foot?
Countless standup comics have since adopted the use of colorful phrases and clever viewpoints within their routines, but only a very few will enjoy the lasting relevance of George Carlin. He will be missed and fondly remembered by many.