Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tonight's Forecast: Dark -- On George Carlin

We weep with those who make us laugh. Recently stand-up comedy lost one of its pioneers and brightest lights. George Carlin logged in close to 50 years as a comedian. According to Wikipedia, Comedy Central names him as the second greatest stand-up comedian, after Richard Pryor and before Lenny Bruce. I would agree with his place in the comedy hall of fame. Wikipedia also mentions that his employers at the radio station he got his start at referred to Carlin as an “unproductive airman.” We have at least that much in common.

I've been watching Carlin since I was a little kid. My only real complaint, and this is true of most comedians, is it seems as comedians age, they become more political. To do political humor, it seems necessary to elevate yourself and claim to be wiser and more intelligent than the politicians and those who elected them. It can really be a shame, b/c a lot of comedians begin their careers with self-effacing humor. This is especially true of Jewish humor, which is not a quality typically found in Carlin’s routines. Probably the most popular comedian who embodies this is Jon Stewart. The following link is Carlin at his apolitical best.


Carlin’s comedy can often sound like a poetry slam. He had an ear for the harmonious rhythm of language, regularly taking notes on his material immediately after leaving the stage. His routine had a distinct sound to it, sometimes spraying the audience with the marked punctuation of an Uzi. The comedy itself was just as cutting. Comedy is one of the few art forms which have virtually no censor, and Carlin was unafraid of addressing taboo subjects.“I like to piss off any group that takes itself a little too seriously.”What I took away most from Carlin is his ability to elucidate on provocative advances and views of emerging “soft” sciences and postmodern thought. For instance, he demonstrated how people think in language, and to control language is to control people. He was also a popularizer of various psychological theories, including the Freudian-influenced idea of blaming of war on insecure and compensating men.


His acts never lost the zeitgeist of the 60’s. To the end of his career he reiterated a distrust in authority (from God on down), cynicism, contempt for the polluters of the planet, the intellectual lethargy and consumerism of the American populace, government’s disenfranchisement of their people (the last person Carlin voted for was George McGovern), and a demonizing of most or all controlling agents in society.“It’s called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”Admittedly, I miss a younger Carlin; a man who could point out the quirks of humanity, things universal and apolitical. My vote for the funniest sketch of Carlin’s goes not to “The Seven Words You Can’t Say,” a barely noticed milestone in popular American culture, but to his act telling us about “Stuff.”


George, you and I may have gone separate ways, but you will always hold a dear place in my heart for being the first to teach me the beauty of words, the necessity of laughter, and to never stop thinking for myself. The number of people who are now entertainers because of you probably reaches triple digits, maybe more. We all reach for our brow, for it is our glory and to where we must always return, and because we don’t hesitate to tip our hats.

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