Tuesday, July 1, 2008
A Great American
In a perfect world, George Carlin would have been president, for he possessed far more intelligence and honesty than any actual candidate. Carlin's incisive wit peeled away the layers of bullshit that the government, organized religion, big business, and everyday idiots heap on the world, exposing human foibles with the visceral precision of a forensic pathologist.
Yet, as Carlin demonstrated time and again, this is anything but a perfect world.
My introduction to George Carlin occurred circa 1977 as I watched an airing of Saturday Night Live. He walked on stage and stared blankly at the audience, not uttering a word during his entire routine. At first confused, the crowd's reaction slowly turned to pockets of giggling, until, after two or three minutes, the audience couldn't contain itself and bubbled over in torrents of laughter as an expressionless Carlin eyed them silently. I was about ten and too young to grasp the courage of such a routine. But Carlin had the courage to say and do what he believed, whether it be his infamous "seven dirty words" or his diatribes on the fallibility of religion and our leaders. Sometimes he made his audience squirm because they were among the characters and ideologies he lampooned—but he made them laugh as they squirmed, and he made them think with his wonderfully constructed routines. Carlin's rapid-fire wordplay fell from his acerbic tongue so eloquently that how he said it almost overshadowed what he said. And when he microscoped the mundanities of everyday life, such as on A Place For My Stuff—one of the funniest comedy albums ever recorded—Carlin created timeless humor that will remain forever relevant.
In one of his many HBO specials, Carlin claimed, "I'm not a very good American, because I like to form my own opinions. I don't just roll over when I'm told to." His all-too-accurate knock on Americans' sheep-like proclivity aside, George Carlin was, perhaps, the ultimate American. Anyone can waive Old Glory and proclaim America "great"—it is the courage to question (and when necessary...denigrate) the highly suspect actions of those in power that constitutes the rarefied essence of what it means to be an American.
The Supreme Court ruled Carlin's "seven dirty words" routine "indecent, but not obscene," but Carlin, watchdog as well as comedian, highlighted life's true obscenities in its iniquities, prejudices, and idiocy. He never mellowed with age or grew complacent with fame, maintaining to the end his prolificacy and dissatisfaction with the state of the world. Carlin is one of the few people about whom I can honestly say that our world is a lesser place without him, because—if you'll consult his seven dirty words—George Carlin was one funny #6.