Why I loved George Carlin

Shit. Piss. Fuck. George Carlin is fucking dead. The man changed my life. I grew up listening to his act and his listening to his tapes was a staple on my regular drives through college from Pittsburgh to NYC and back again (What am I doing in NJ being a classic as I drove through NJ). Whole minutes of his riffs on sports, including putting minefields in the outfield to ‘liven up’ baseball, were quoted verbatim between my brother and I growing up in Queens.

Despite his reputation for focusing on obscenity, he was the smartest comedian I’ve ever heard. His ability to make cynicism funny, to communicate well and comically about tough things, going to dark, true places most comedians would be afraid to go changed the way I think about what’s possible. If he can make people laugh about that, what is it I can do? What can i use humor to do for me? How can I use clarity about a tough topic to make it easier to talk about?

Through his pitch black cynicism, he helped me figure out how to be an optimist – or at least, at times, optimistic. And I can’t think of higher praise to offer a creative person than to have helped people find better ways to deal with being alive. His work has become more than entertainment – lurking in the outlines of how he constructed his work is a strawman philosophy for living: life is here, it sucks sometimes, don’t pretend otherwise, find a way to deal with it (and making fun if of it is a damn good one).

I never went to see him perform, thinking there would always be time. I’m devastated to learn today I was wrong. Rest in Peace Mr. Carlin.

“You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth. I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it. And it gets worse with every generation. For some reason it just keeps getting worse…

And we have no more old people in this country. No more old people. We shipped them all away and we brought in these senior citizens. Isn’t that a typically American twentieth century phrase? Bloodless. Lifeless. No pulse in one of them. A senior citizen. But I’ve accepted that one. I’ve come to terms with it. I know it’s here to stay. We’ll never get rid of it. But the one I do resist, the one I keep resisting, is when they look at an old guy and say, “Look at him Dan, he’s ninety years young.” Imagine the fear of aging that reveals. To not even be able to use the word old to describe someone. To have to use an antonym.

And fear of aging is natural. It’s universal, isn’t it? We all have that. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die. But we do. So we con ourselves. I started conning myself when I got in my forties. I’d look in the mirror and say, “Well…I guess I’m getting …older.” Older sounds a little better than old, doesn’t it? Sounds like it might even last a little longer. I’m getting old. And it’s okay. Because thanks to our fear of death in this country I won’t have to die. I’ll pass away. Or I’ll expire, like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital they’ll call it a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it as negative patient care outcome. And if it’s the result of malpractice they’ll say it was a therapeutic misadventure.”

4 Responses to “Why I loved George Carlin”

  1. Mark Denovich

    I didn’t suspect you’d be a fan (not that I really had anything to base that on either… but you have to start somewhere.)

    My parents were cool and I got to watch anything they did… which meant hearing George on 8-track and seeing him live in his first HBO specials (we had access to stolen cable before it was cool.)

    I’m in the same boat… wishing I saw him in person and now faced with the reality that it’s not going to happen. I saw Sam Kinison perform and I couldn’t believe how much better seeing it live with a bunch of other people made the experience. Carlin would have been amazing.

    I admired him for being smart, intellectually honest, and proud of it. The fact that he was so damn funny was icing on the cake.

  2. It Was An Act

    I’m sorry, but Carlin had an act. It wasn’t a debate. It was rehearsed, scripted.

    Did you ever seem him in a dialogue as a guest on some program like Letterman? He was a kitten. Why? Because his performances were an act. Do you get that? An act. Okay, you like the righteous indignation. Yes, it was amusing. But it was an act. It was not a debate, or even very useful except for amusement, because it was only one side of the story. Carlin act.

  3. Scott

    Mark: Yeah, not surprised. Don’t think we’ve met yet in person but I suspect I’m safer in what i write than what I say, a habit which I’d like to change: you’d think it’d be the other way around.

  4. Scott

    Dear It was an Act: I don’t understand why because someone has an act, their points are less credible than if they said those things while not performing an act. Who cares? I don’t need to marry the guy or even hang out with him – I just enjoyed listing to the things he said and respect him for the effect those things had on the way I think, act or not.


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