Downloaded George Carlin’s final book to my Kindle this weekend.
“Last Words” was the book that he had been writing (and nearing completion) at the time of his death…an over 10 year effort. I have read some of his books in the past, mostly a (albeit, still funny) regurgitation of his stand-up acts. However, this book is autobiographical in nature and *quite* revealing. It was obviously written with the knowledge that it would be his final ‘tome’.
As I read some of the chapters over the weekend, indelibly hearing the voice of Carlin as the author and laughing out loud at many passages (and feeling sad in others), I was reminded of the blog that I wrote when I learned of his death last year and thought that I would re-post it, as a renewed tribute to the man who influenced my sense of humor and critical thinking at a young age.
1937 – 2008
Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. Some People Are Stupid. Stuff. People I Can Do Without. George Carlin, who died of heart failure Sunday at 71, leaves behind not only a series of memorable routines, but a legal legacy: His most celebrated monologue, a frantic, informed riff on those infamous seven words, led to a Supreme Court decision on broadcasting offensive language that helped define acceptable free speech limits on broadcast television and radio in the United States.
The counterculture hero’s jokes also targeted things such as misplaced shame, religious hypocrisy and linguistic quirks. Abrasive, yes. Acerbic, without a doubt. Relevant and takes some getting used to, I’ll concede. However, what George Carlin brought to the world of comedy, of which spilled over into society and transcended the simple art of telling a good joke, is that he smashed conventional wisdom and thinking with a hammer and for good measure urinated on it, poured gasoline and lit a match. It does not have to be stated that his routines influenced a generation of comics, however his routines also influenced a generation of young thinkers who were influenced by his observations and fine tuned their own process of critical thinking: Myself included.
Let me take you back to when I was a young lad living in the household of a strict father, sharing my childhood between the homes of a divorced family. I would hide Carlin’s tapes (yes, TAPES…shut up) in my room and each night as I went to bed, I would grab my Walkman and headphones and listen to his routines as I went to sleep…always keeping the volume just low enough, in the event that I heard my father coming up the stairs, should I have to quickly hide the cassette player. I was living on the edge my friends, knowingly in possession of comedic contra band. A few comedic gems that come to mind:
“I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately“. – George Carlin
Those were examples of his more accessible / pedestrian observational jokes, however the routines that made an impression with me were the ones that were so aggressive and un-pc (i.e. religion, abortion, politics, sex etc), that I don’t want to add them to a tribute such as this (how often is a tribute celebrating someone’s life spattered with obscenities?). 😉
George Carlin was the architect of my own sarcastic personality and helped to unleash a dormant critical thinker through the cadence in which he delivered his jokes and the way that he saw the world and pointed out some of it’s absurdities, hypocrisies and follies. To this day, as I discuss the Pandora’s Box that is my view of religion, it is always prefaced with my favorite Carlin line, “I was Catholic until I reached the age of reason”. At a young age, he inspired me to question conventional wisdom, push for answers to questions that had long too often been assumed as truth, however after further scrutiny were revealed to be empty and hollow. As a young man who went to Catholic school, it was Carlin’s influence that prompted me to ask questions in CCD (religious youth group) about what we were being taught…he set the blueprint for looking at things a different way and realizing sometimes the most obvious questions do not have an obvious answer…i.e. How did Jonah live in the belly of a whale? If it were just Adam, Eve, Cain and Able and Cain killed his brother then found a wife in the city of Nod, where did the wife come from? Isn’t incest how we all came to be then? Are you trying to tell me that we are made of dirt and divine breath? Why does the Bible say that you can sell your daughter into slavery and that homosexuality is a sin, yet we only endorse the latter? When I go to Confession, how does the priest know exactly what penance goes with each sin? Is there a book he refers to? What if I had impure thoughts about a monkey dressed as a Nun…how many Hail Mary’s does it say I need to repeat for that? Resulting in a few raps against the knuckles with a ruler…
My point for writing this blog is to illustrate how even a comedian can influence much of how someone views the World, including laying out the first steps to developing your personality, how you approach things, your sense of humor and perhaps tapping into something that you still utilize today. Many people who know me or listen to my show, already know my sarcastic humor and way of thinking, looking at things from all angles, always quick with a (sometimes biting) response to a situation…as I learned of Carlin’s death, I recognized that he was one of the forefather’s of that process for me, all those years ago hiding under the covers with my Walkman and Carlin tapes. Other comedians, books, historical figures, teachers, music, movies, experience etc all helped to fine tune (at least) my personality…but from the standpoint of critical thinking, observational humor and questioning established beliefs…I can point to Carlin as the genesis of that process for me.
His take on politics and politicians, religious dogma and social issues, no doubt the influences of which can be heard on my show and through conversations I have with other people. Carlin is still a comedic icon, forged in the same breath as Cosby, Prior, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks and others who challenged the limits of what comedy was, intentionally crossing the line and proving that the best comedy is based in truth and usually involves the breaking of barriers to take it to a new level of Life as Comedy.
Still laughing, George.