George Carlin was a great man. In the formative years of my life, he taught me many things about courage, principled dissent, and the power of words. Roughly half of what I think I know about comedy, I learned from George Carlin. He was a genuine hero to me, and to the end of his life he never let me down.
I distinctly remember watching the very first live broadcast of Saturday Night Live. Carlin hosted, did some stand-up, and basically blessed the proceedings with his comic imprimatur. I remember thinking the show had no chance whatsoever. Too edgy for mainstream America - sort of like Carlin.
I played his albums at home when my mom was away. I pretty much wore out "Class Clown," which I still consider one of the greatest comedy recordings ever made. My mom knew I listened to the Carlin records - heck, I think she actually bought most of them for me - but Carlin wasn't her cup of tea. I've since come to realize how important that little gift of autonomy was to me. Thanks, mom.
Carlin told the truth. Hypocrisy drove him nuts, and he attacked it with brilliant precision. But he also had a big heart. I recall watching Thomas the Tank Engine with my son when he was little. Carlin could easily have phoned in this voiceover gig, but he read his part with softness and conviction. My son had no idea how complex Mr. Conductor really was.
A few years ago Carlin appeared on Inside the Actors Studio, and he spoke about his Catholic school education. I think his words convey something revealing about what made George Carlin tick:
I wanted people to know that the disrespect that I had for the dogmatic aspect, and for the inconsistency, and in a lot of cases the cruelty of Catholic doctrine, was tempered with an affection and a gratitude that I had for this wonderful setting that I considered like a garden ... where they let me grow ... be a creative person and think for myself there, so I kind of wanted to kind of illustrate that, and go, thanks and no thanks.
In 1972, Carlin was arrested in Milwaukee for uttering the famous "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." For old times sake, here they are again in all their infamous glory.
- Shit - The bird shit on the statue.
- Piss - I have to piss like a race horse.
- Fuck - Fuck you.
- Cunt - She has a gorgeous cunt.
- Cocksucker - Go to hell, you cocksucker.
- Motherfucker - You are a motherfucker.
- Tits - Hey, nice tits.
Thanks for everything, George. When you see that motherfucker Lenny, tell him we miss him too.