Tribute: George Carlin (1937-2008)
On this date three years ago comedian, author, and actor George Carlin died.
Those descriptors only tell part of the story, however. Carlin’s name is forever imprinted on how the U.S. views language fit for broadcast over the public airwaves. His dissection and analysis of language and the way we use it trickled into nearly every routine he shared with an audience. His social critiques were both funny and poignant, making listeners at the same time laugh and wonder what the hell is wrong with all of us.
Nothing was out of bounds in Carlin’s comedy, and that was always the point. He knew everything from the absurd to the universal and the mundane to the controversial could be funny…as long as we, the audience, were willing to laugh at ourselves.
Carlin released a dozen albums and was featured in a dozen HBO concert specials. He performed in front of countless fans over the years, won several Grammy awards, appeared on TV numerous times as both an actor and a comedian, acted in a number of movies, and wrote four best-selling books.
George Carlin has been and probably always will be my favorite comedian. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard everything he has ever recorded (and own most of them on vinyl, tape, or CD…and in some cases, all three), I’ve seen 10 of his 12 HBO specials, caught him live in concert twice, and am now starting to read his books even though I know a lot of the material in them I can recite from memory as I read.
There’s another connection here for me, too, and that’s with my dad. I have my love of vinyl records because of my dad; when I was young we’d listen to his collection all the time. Dad has three of Carlin’s earliest albums on vinyl: Take-Offs and Put-Ons, Class Clown, and An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slazso. I remember very clearly only being allowed to listen to the first album for the longest time, because it was the only one my parents thought a 10 year old kid should listen to (i.e., no bad words). Then they relented a little and let me listen to side one of Class Clown; I couldn’t listen to side two because it contained “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” But when I got a little older and started being left home alone, one of the first things I would do once I was sure my parents were really gone was pull out the Carlin records. I repaid my dad by taking him to see Carlin in concert at the Fox Theater in St. Louis several years ago; it was my second show but his first, after all those years of being a fan. When Carlin died, we talked about it on the phone like it was a favorite uncle or good family friend we had lost. I guess sadness upon knowing you’ve heard the last from a favorite, even though you never met that person, is universal—and probably one of those things Carlin would explore on stage.
So here’s to George Carlin: comedy pioneer and entertainment icon. I could probably post 100 links and videos to some of my favorite Carlin routines spanning his 40+ years in show business, but I think I’ll stick with a quickie from the old days that actually fits in with the spirit of this blog: the original (and incomplete, according to his website) version of “Baseball and Football” from the 1975 album An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo.
And, in case you’re wondering, this is one of only a couple of tracks from the album that is safe to listen to at work.