The first time I saw a George Carlin performance was probably when I was between the ages of 12-15. I cannot recall exactly how old I was, but I know for sure that it was his HBO special at Carnegie Hall, which he filmed in 1982. For the record, I was only 1 year old in 1982, so I most certainly saw it in rerun. The whole special is great, but at that age the thing that I found most appealing was the end of the special which featured his unabridged list of filthy words you cannot say on tv. The bit was born 10 years earlier on his record “Class Clown” and the original list was only 7 words long (shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker & tits). To pare down a story that happened well before my time, Carlin’s original seven word list was a catalyst that lead to the FCC cracking down on what is and isn’t appropriate to be broadcast over open airwaves. Seeing as how I grew up my entire life under these FCC regulations, getting to see someone on tv swearing up a storm and using words that I dare not say and words that I didn’t even know at the time* was unbelievably exciting for me.
As I grew older and became more capable of independent thought, Carlin’s stand up comedy took on a whole new meaning for me. I came to realize that he was more than a guy who did funny voices and funny faces who said a lot of swear words. George Carlin was a philosophizer. He was a brilliant man who was taking monumentally big ideas about religion and politics and language and the human condition and not only making them understandable to the average American, but also making them interesting and exciting to someone who would otherwise have no interest or exposure to such topics. George Carlin’s righteous anger, questioning of authority and arrogant cynicism shaped the way I viewed the world around me and effected the way I feel and think more than any other single person I’ve ever known. He is as close to a personal hero and role model as I ever found.
His juxtapositioning of such heavy and important thoughts through a flippant and matter-of-fact delivery has not and never will be replicated. George Carlin has made me laugh harder and more than any comedian or movie. He has raised more interesting and important questions than any great mind of his time and many that came before him. He has made me think harder and more deeply than any teacher or book, and he made more salient and logical points than any politician or man of the cloth. His words and thoughts resonate with me and I will certainly mourn the loss of this one of a kind, astoundingly funny and intelligent man.
It was obvious in his last two HBO specials that Carlin was not long for this world. His body and his memory had begun to show the signs of not only his age, but his years of hardcore substance abuse. His mind, though, was as sharp as ever, as his most recent material was some of the most scathing and biting commentaries he has ever offered up.
My cousin Ed, with whom I had the pleasure of seeing George Carlin perform live about 8 or 9 years ago, put it best when he said that Carlin was a man who “fulfilled his life’s mission.” Although I think he could have continued to be atop the mountain of stand up comedy for many years to come, he did more with his 40 plus years in the public spotlight than hacks like Dane Cook could do in 10 times that.
He will be missed.
Life is Worth Losing
*While posting, I remembered one term that was buried in his long list that I did not even know the meaning of until I wikipediaed it today…daisy chain.