Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin, 1937-2008

One of the hardest things about trying to say anything about the death of George Carlin is that he has already shown the rediculousness of almost everything we say when someone dies. But here goes.

If the world seems sadder today it's because George Carlin is no longer amongst us. With Carlin's death, one of the transformative figures of American culture is gone. I know, he was just a comedian. But he influenced most of this generation of comics (including John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, the early Saturday Night Live company, Sarah Silverman, etc.). Where would we be without The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and - despite all its faults - Saturday Night Live- of which he was the first guest host? He did for this generation what Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl did for his generation.

He stood up against the stupidities of those in power. He embodied much of the protest of the sixties and seventies in a humorous form, much the way Will Rogers did for an earlier generation.

In November he will be awarded the Kennedy Center 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Unfortunately posthumously.

In 1978 he delivered his classic "7 Dirty Words" commentary, which, after WBAI ran it uncensored, led to a Supreme Court decision establishing the "family hour", which TV still follows today. Perhaps the most memorable tribute to Carlin is "The 7 Dirty Words you can't say on Television."

Notice that none of these words have anything to do with violence, but only with the two things that scare Americans the most: sexuality and natural bodily functions.

Here are two of my favorite Carlin routines:

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