Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Goodbye George

George Carlin was one of those entertainers I thought would be around forever. He has always been around since I knew what a comedian was. When I first heard Class Clown, and he talked about drinking milk and having it come up your nose, I laughed so hard I thought I’d break a rib.

Can you call a comedian a genius? Maybe a comic genius is appropriate. I think Carlin was one. He was fearless and often hysterically, gut wrenchingly funny. Was he also indecent, as the government claimed. Well, yeah, by most of our standards, but that was his point. Paraphrasing him, these are just words and we give them what meaning we will and make some “bad” and some “good” even though there is nothing wrong with them in themselves.

His genius lay in his word play, his prodigious memory and his ability to see inside our frigid culture bound souls and point out the absurdities. I make no bones about it, some of his material was too much more me and I had to turn the channel. Too many secretions and bad smells. But, admittedly, people like me were his target, those of us hung up about bodily functions. Although I laughed ‘til I cried during the bean scene in Blazing Saddles because of its irreverence, normally bathroom humor just didn’t do it for me and my own normally offensive language is free of rectal references (basically, I’m a “fuck” guy). Despite this, I would still put Carlin up near the very top of stand up comedians. He was original, he was insightful and he was just funny.

Not only was he near the top, but he was up there for about 40 years. Though that is clearly not near the record (how long did Bob Hope and George Burns do it?), most comedians, once successful, left it for the higher paying movies and tv work. Carlin did a little of that – one tv show I remember of which I cannot remember the name (was he a cab driver?) and little bits like in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Oh, and there was his miniature train conductor on a kids show about trains – Shining Time Station.

I just saw this on the web, originally uploaded (from where?) by someone named Kevin Armstrong:

"I want to live my next life backwards:
You start out dead and get that out of the way.
Then you wake up in a nursing home feeling better every day.
Then you get kicked out for being too healthy. Enjoy your retirement and collect your pension.
Then when you start work, you get a gold watch on your first day.
You work 40 years until you're too young to work.
You get ready for High School: drink alcohol, party, and you're generally promiscuous.
Then you go to primary school, you become a kid, you play, and you have no responsibilities.
Then you become a baby, and then ...
You spend your last 9 months floating peacefully in luxury, in Spa-like conditions - central heating, room service on tap, and then...You finish off as an orgasm.
I rest my case."

Carlin was so original, and his own style so distinctive, that I have often seen iconoclastic humor posted on the web falsely attributed to him and I can only hope that the material the above is his.

My favorite Carlin bit has to do with children (taken from http://harmful.cat-v.org/society/children/ fuck_the_children). Living in New York, where children are raised with the presumption that they are royalty, the following bit just hit the spot. I not only laughed the whole way through, but was mentally saying “yes, yes, yes” the whole time. Comedy may be funny for many reasons, but one reason is when someone says something true that no one wants to say outloud. Not too many comedians would have the courage to go here. Penis and girlfriend jokes are just much safer. Since it's stand up, there is more than one version, but here's one (to which I replaced a few lines the site took out):

“Something else I'm getting tired of in this country is all this stupid talk I have to listen to about children. That's all you hear about anymore, children: "Help the children, save the children, protect the children." You know what I say? Fuck the children! They're getting entirely too much attention. And I know what some of you are thinking: " Jesus, he's not going to attack children, is he?" Yes he is! He's going to attack children. And remember, this is Mr. Conductor talking; I know what I'm talking about. And I also know that all you boring single dads and working moms, who think you're such fucking heros, aren't gonna like this, but somebody's gotta tell you for your own good: your children are overrated and overvalued, and you've turned them into little cult objects. You have a child fetish, and it's not healthy. And don't give me all that weak shit, "Well, I love my children." Fuck you! Everybody loves their children; it doesn't make you special. : : : John Wayne Gacy loved his children. Yes, he did. That's not what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is this constant, mindless yammering in the media, this neurotic fixation that suggests that somehow everything--everything--has to revolve around the lives of children. It's completely out of balance. Listen, there are a couple of things about kids you have to remember. First of all, they're not all cute. In fact, if you look at 'em real close, most of them are rather unpleasant looking. And a lot of them don't smell too good either. The little ones in particular seem to have a kind of urine and sour-milk combination that I don't care for at all. Stay with me on this folks, the sooner you face it the better off your going to be. Second, premise: not all chidren are smart and clever. Got that? Kids are like any other group of people: a few winners, a whole lot of losers! This country is filled with loser kids who simply...aren't...going anywhere! And there's nothing you can do about it, folks. Nothing! You can't save them all. You can't do it. You gotta let 'em go; you gotta cut 'em loose; you gotta stop over-protecting them, because your making 'em too soft. Today's kids are way too soft. : : : For one thing, there's too much emphasis on safety and safety equipment: childproof medicine bottles, fireproof pajamas, child restraints, car seats. And helmets! Bicycle, baseball, skateboard, scooter helmets. Kids have to wear helmets now for everything but jerking off. Grown-ups have taken all the fun out of being a kid, just to save a few thousand lives. It's pathetic. It's pathetic. What's happened is, these baby boomers, these soft, fruity babyboomers, have raised an entire generation of soft, fruity kids who aren't even allowed hazardous toys, for Chrissakes! What ever happened to natural selection? Survival of the fittest? The kid who swallows too many marbles doesn't grow up to have kids of his own. Simple stuff. Nature knows best! Another bunch of ignorant bullshit about your children: school uniforms. Bad theory! The idea that if kids wear uniforms to school, it helps keep order. Hey! Don't these schools do enough damage makin' all these children think alike? Now they're gonna get 'em to look alike, too? And it's not even a new idea; I first saw it in old newsreels from the 1930s, but it was hard to understand, because the narration was in German! But the uniforms looked beautiful. And the children did everything they were told and never questioned authority. Gee, I wonder why someone would want to put our children in uniforms. Can't imagine. And one more item about children: this superstitous nonsense of blaming tobacco companies for kids who smoke. Listem! Kids don't smoke because a camel in sunglasses tells them to. They smoke for the same reasons adults do, because it's an enjoyable activity that relieves anxiety and depression. And you'd be anxious and depressed too if you had to put up with these pathetic, insecure, yuppie parents who enroll you in college before you've figured out which side of the play pen smells the worst and then fill you with Ritalin to get you in a mood they approve of, and drag you all overtown in search of empty, meaningless structure: Little League, Cub Scouts, swimming, soccer, karate, piano, bagpipes, watercolors, witchcraft, glassblowing, and dildo practice. It's absurd. : : : They even have "play dates", for Christ sake! Playing is now done by appointment! But it's true. A lot of these striving anal parents are burning their kids out on structure. I think what every child needs and ought to have every day is two hours of daydreaming. Plain old daydreaming. Turn off the internet, the CD-ROMS, and the computer games and let them stare at a tree for a couple of hours. Every now and then they actually come up with one of their own ideas. You want to know how to help your kids? Leave them the fuck alone.”

Carlin had a great comic voice, and maybe this is funnier with his gruff sarcastic tones. So better still, here's a link with him doing it himself. I just listened twice and it doesn't get old fast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niQ73ZlDxuI

Goodbye, George. You will not get the send off that Tim Russert did, but he, and no shot at him, was safe, maybe Mr. Safe. Carlin became famous by getting arrested for telling the truth in a way that made most people laugh, but made others uncomfortable. Dangerous. When Russert's kid did his eulogy he pictured his dad up in heaven interviewing Hamilton and Burr. I picture Giordano Bruno, Bob Hope, Mark Twain even Jesus and Buddha and all the other iconoclasts sitting around cracking up listening to Carlin doing his seven dirty words routine. "This guy gets it".


  1. Anonymous8:12 AM

    I suppose if you are going to pander to anyone,Carlin is the guy. I think the level of disillusionment he had at the end made him less funny. His last few years he just sounded mean. But that doesn't wipe out the first forty, which were hilarious.

  2. Pander schmander. Just for that abuse, here's my top ten all time stand up comedians, really written because otherwise I have to start working today. Solo acts only and obviously tilted towards our time.

    1. Bob Hope. So funny for so long and without bad words. Amazing.

    2. Richard Pryor. His only flaw was some of the characters he would do, but otherwise, no one was funnier.

    3. George Carlin. Possibly the most original and impressive, if not alsways as funny as Hope, Pryor and some others like the next guy.

    Rodney Dangerfield. Just one after another. I can't get no respect. My wife used to like to talk after sex, so she'd call me on the phone.

    4. Eddie Murphy. One word. Raw. As funny and hour and whatever as I have ever spent in my life. But, it is just an example of his brilliant career. Would he be quite the same without Pryor before him. Not sure, so he gets rated a little lower, although he is just as funny.

    5. Myron Cohen. Some of you never heard of him. When I saw him he was already old, but hysterical. Dirty without being dirty.

    6. Bill Cosby. Another original. A story teller who could be consistently funny whether you were 8, 48 or 81.

    6. Jackie Mason. A modern day Myron Cohen. Last of the vaudevillians in a sense.

    7. Robin Williams. Not the sappy actor who almost always makes me look for the exit signs. The young, frenetic, endlessly original comedian, so talented, he made everything seem like it was adlibbed at lightning speed.

    8. Don Rickles. The greatest insult king who ever lived. I'm not sure political correctness would allow his stuff on tv anymore, but he was the king.

    9. Henny Youngman. The original Rodney Dangerfield. Take my wife . . . Please.

    10. Robert Klein. Underrated. His HBO specials in the early years of cable had me rolling around my bedroom. Even his stupid can't stop my leg routine was great.

    Runner-ups with my apologies: Woody Allen, Steve Martin, David Letterman (he was funny once), Sam Kinison, Dice Clay, Jim Carrey, Johnny Carson, Steven Wright, Ellen Degenerous, Buddy Hacket, Roseanne, Dennis Miller, Flip Wilson, Lewis Black, Red Buttons, Bob Newhart, David Brenner, Joan Rivers and I'm sure others I've just forgotten. Definitely not on the list -- Dane Cook, Bobcat Goldthwait, Chris Rock (sorry, I don't get him), Milton Berle and especially Jay Leno (nice guy, just not funny).

  3. Anonymous3:23 PM

    You don't like Jay because people say you look like him!!!

    Otherwise, very good post.

  4. Well, that's true, but he's also not funny.

  5. Anonymous11:37 AM

    You forgot Dave Chapelle. He's not as funny as a stand up as his show was but still pretty good. Also Mitch Hedberg. Google video him. Very unique, sadly passed away from an overdose.



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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .