George Carlin, 1937-2008

george_carlin.jpgThis is probably a generational thing on my part (As a colleague reminded me last week when we were discussing Steve Martin and she informed me he used to do stand-up played banjo), but I like to think you can grab any 5 people you run across today and talk for an hour about George Carlin, who died on Sunday at 71.

Entertainment Weekly said Carlin “emerged in the 1970s with a style much more reflective of the times, pushing into more sensitive areas of social observation and language, a favorite topic of his over the years. Most notably, his recorded routine ‘Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” became the center of a landmark Supreme Court case.’

Carlin, it’s fair to say, pushed the boundaries. Nothing was off-limits, as this rant on religion once showed:


The Divine Plan. Long time ago, God made a Divine Plan. Gave it a lot of thought, decided it was a good plan, put it into practice. And for billions and billions of years, the Divine Plan has been doing just fine. Now, you come along, and pray for something. Well suppose the thing you want isn’t in God’s Divine Plan? What do you want Him to do? Change His plan? Just for you? Doesn’t it seem a little arrogant? It’s a Divine Plan. What’s the use of being God if every run-down shmuck with a two-dollar prayerbook can come along and **** up Your Plan?

For baby-boomers, though, Carlin was troubling to us in his age. It wasn’t for anything he said — or didn’t — it was for what he’d become: a elderly curmudgeon. As a young comedian, he was a refreshing poke in the eye to The Establishment. In his age, he’d become another cranky old man who wanted kids off his lawn. He was still funny, but when we were young, he seemed to be making fun of someone else — The Man, perhaps. As we aged, he was making fun of us.

(Strong language warning in this video)

It was a heck of a run.

Here’s a neat slideshow from the New York Times. As you watch it, you’ll want to poke someone near you and tell them your favorite George Carlin bit. Feel free to share it below. (But keep it clean!)

  • Nick I.

    His “Screw kids” material from Napalm and Silly Putty is one of those things I rattle around in the back of my head and still laugh at. I should have it memorized by now.

    “And remember, this is Mr. Conductor talking, I know what I’m talking about!”

    Here’s my favorite stand-alone bit:

    “The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”

  • Aaron M

    A favorite of mine:

    …Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man — living in the sky — who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!

    But He loves you.

    He loves you, and He needs money!…

  • HH

    Silly colleague! I hope you have a copy of the “King Tut” single you can bring in to play for her.

  • bsimon

    It must’ve been around 1980 or so, when, for Christmas, my uncle decided comedy albums were appropriate gifts for his son & nephews (all 10-12 years old). We each received an album by Steve Martin, Eddy Murphy or George Carlin. We were surreptitiously listening to George in Grandma’s basement, with the volume turned low, trying to suppress our laughter as George made his way through various routines. We were up to the Seven Words, laughing into our pillows, trying not to get caught. Perhaps we were too quiet & thusly aroused parental suspicion. There was George, explaining why each word couldn’t be said on television, when the basement door opened. Mom appeared at the top of the stairs, just in time for George to announce “And then the word F*@$”. As it turns out, Mom did not find Mr Carlin to be as funny as we did…

  • Tyler Suter

    I don’t think it is a generational thing Mr. Collins, because at the age of 24 I am as big a fan of George Carlin as I am of any other stand-up comedian of my generation. He was the master of the rant and was never afraid of the consequences for what he was saying. One of my favorite rants was about cuss words and since I think most who love George Carlin know this rant I thought it would be ok to share it now:

    “Aruba-du, ruba-tu, ruba-tu. I was thinking about the curse words and the swear words, the cuss words and the words that you can’t say, that you’re not supposed to say all the time, ['cause] words or people into words want to hear your words. Some guys like to record your words and sell them back to you if they can, (laughter) listen in on the telephone, write down what words you say. A guy who used to be in Washington knew that his phone was tapped, used to answer, f**k Hoover, yes, go ahead. (laughter) Okay, I was thinking one night about the words you couldn’t say on the public, ah, airwaves, um, the ones you definitely wouldn’t say, ever, [']cause I heard a lady say bitch one night on television, and it was cool like she was talking about, you know, ah, well, the bitch is the first one to notice that in the litter Johnie right (murmur) Right. And, uh, bastard you can say, and hell and damn so I have to figure out which ones you couldn’t and ever and it came down to seven but the list is open to amendment, and in fact, has been changed, uh, by now, ha, a lot of people pointed things out to me, and I noticed some myself. The original seven words were, s**t, piss, f**k, c**t, c**ksucker, motherf**ker, and t**s. Those are the ones that will curve your spine, grow hair on your hands and (laughter) maybe, even bring us, God help us, peace without honor (laughter) um, and a bourbon. (laughter) And now the first thing that we noticed was that word f**k was really repeated in there because the word motherf**ker is a compound word and it’s another form of the word f**k. (laughter) You want to be a purist it doesn’t really — it can’t be on the list of basic words. Also, c**ksucker is a compound word and neither half of that is really dirty. The word — the half sucker that’s merely suggestive (laughter) and the word c**k is a half-way dirty word, 50% dirty — dirty half the time, depending on what you mean by it. (laughter) Uh, remember when you first heard it, like in 6th grade, you used to giggle. And the cock crowed three times, heh (laughter) the c**k — three times. It’s in the Bible, c**k in the Bible. (laughter) And the first time you heard about a cock-fight, remember — What? Huh? naw. It ain’t that, are you stupid? man. (laughter, clapping) It’s chickens, you know, (laughter) Then you have the four letter words from the old Anglo-Saxon fame. Uh, s**t and f**k. The word s**t, uh, is an interesting kind of word in that the middle class has never really accepted it and approved it. They use it like, crazy but it’s not really okay. It’s still a rude, dirty, old kind of gushy word. (laughter) They don’t like that, but they say it, like, they say it like, a lady now in a middle-class home, you’ll hear most of the time she says it as an expletive, you know, it’s out of her mouth before she knows. She says, Oh s**t oh s**t, (laughter) oh s**t. If she drops something, Oh, the s**t hurt the broccoli. s**t. Thank you. (footsteps fading away) (papers ruffling)”

  • Bob Collins

    My son, now almost 23, just told me that one time he was listening to a George Carlin album when he was about 13. He was listening to the “7 words” rant when his mother — my wife, of course — walked in and was appalled at the words she was hearing.

    “It’s George Carlin,” he said to her.

    “Oh, I love THAT one” she is quoted as saying.

    On another front, I suppose I should’ve inserted a poll: Who was the better conductor on Shining Time Station? Ringo Starr or George Carlin?

  • Michael Caputo

    Let’s add this question….

    Who was better Ringo Starr or Alec Baldwin as the Thomas the Tank Engine narrator?

  • MR

    Was there a more perfect movie role for Carlin than the one he played in “Dogma?”