George Carlin, R.I.P.
May 12, 1937 - June 22, 2008
The world lost a comedic genius with the passing yesterday of George Carlin. Like Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, Carlin was a comedian with gravitas - he had the jokes, but there was socio-political truth embedded in the humor. A little song, a little dance, a little veritas in his pants. And like Bill Hicks, no one was better at holding the sideshow mirror up to the fallen American Empire, home of crazy fat people, shopping mall culture, dumb NASCAR-and-Reality-TV-watching automatons and hypocritical leaders. As he said in an appearance last year on MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olbermann, we've settled for crumbs - all our little electronic gizmos (cell phones, HD TVs, Blackberrys) and conspicuous consumption toys (Hummers, anyone?) spoon-fed to us by our elected officials and corporate robber barons as a distraction while they lead us down a path of no return. In other words, Carlin told Olbermann, "Everyone's got a cell phone that makes pancakes, so no one wants to rock the boat."
Here're two of my fave Carlin bits showcasing his skewerings of American media. They're taken from his essential debut LP, 1967's Take-Offs & Put-Ons. The other essential Carlin records were 1972's FM & AM and Class Clown, which contained his "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" (aka "The 7 Dirty Words") skit.
WONDERFUL WINO (1967)
Many obits have been written for George Carlin, but I think the best was the one that appeared in today's New York Times Op/Ed page by Jerry Seinfeld: "Dying Is Hard. Comedy Is Harder." I especially liked Seinfeld's observation that when Carlin tackled a subject, he usually nailed it in a way that left nothing for other comedians to improve upon. "He was like a train hobo with a chicken bone," wrote Seinfeld. "When he was done there was nothing left for anybody."