Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Farewell to George Carlin

George Carlin died Sunday night.

I read his bio on Yahoo and was reminded how significant his impact was on comedy:

Along with Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, George Carlin was one of the most influential, respected and controversial stand-up comics of the late 20th century. His humor was built on the vagaries of human behavior – the truth behind words and phrases, the quandaries presented in everyday life, and the hypocrisies of authority . . .

I grew up with George Carlin. No, I didn't know the man personally, but I've never known a world in which he wasn't doing routines. The guy first appeared on Jack Paar's show in 1960 when he was only twenty-three and debuted his solo act on The Tonight Show in 1962 when he was twenty-five.

When I was younger, Carlin appealed to my wide anti-authority streak.

Now that I'm older--and hopefully, a little more thoughtful--I recognize that while he used adult language in his act, he also addressed "questions about religion, societal trends, politics, and oddities in American and Western culture."

Although he dropped out of school in ninth grade, he was a literate man, a man who loved words. Listening to an interview with him, you'd hear an articulate, extremely well-read man who truly believed no word should have any more or any less value than another--they are all meant to facilitate communication.

In 1972, he got arrested multiple times for his use of "The Seven Dirty Words" in his act. Those seven words were the ones not permitted on television. Of course, teenagers were titillated and older people were scandalized. Yahoo points out that Carlin's routine, ". . . sought to nullify the words’ power by making them seem both commonplace and foolish."

Carlin emphasized the silliness of our phobia about words in his routine. "You can say 'Don't prick your finger,' but you can't say 'Don't finger your prick.' Where's the sense in that?"

There's a part of me that responds strongly to that sentiment. When I began writing erotic romance, the rebel in me enjoyed deliberately flaunting the paternalistic system that makes women ashamed to speak frankly about their bodies and their sexual needs.

  • Did you know that a man's complaint to the FCC about "The Seven Dirty Words" started a court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court? The FCC fined the FM radio station that had played the routine. The station appealed the FCC's action. According to Wikipedia, "The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC action, by a vote of 5 to 4, ruling that the routine was 'indecent but not obscene,' and the FCC had authority to prohibit such broadcasts during hours when children were likely to be among the audience."
  • Carlin made his acting debut on Marlo Thomas' That Girl television show in 1966, playing her agent.
  • Did you know that, in 1975, Carlin was the first guest host of Saturday Night Live?
  • He volunteered for military service, but was court martialed three times before earning an honorary discharge.
  • Did you know that in 2004 Comedy Central named Carlin #2 on its list of the top stand-up comics of all time? He followed Richard Pryor who was #1 and preceded Lenny Bruce at #3.
  • Carlin received his first Grammy nomination in 1966 and won his first award in 1971. Since then, he's had numerous nominations and awards both.
  • Did you know that Carlin was twice nominated for daytime Emmy Awards for his work on a PBS television show for children? His tenth HBO comedy special was also nominated twice for the Emmy.
  • Carlin first appeared at Carnegie Hall in 1972
  • Did you know his book Braindroppings was released in 1997 and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for eighteen weeks? The paperback stayed on the bestseller list for another twenty weeks. By 2001, the books had sold 750,000 copies.
  • When his wife died in 1997, they'd been together for 36 years.

Below is the comic routine that got him arrested multiple times and eventually made him a footnote in legal annals.

WARNING: Adult content. There are seven words in this video that may offend you. Watch this clip at your own risk.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

This is a wonderful tribute to George Carlin. As a teen-ager I saw him in concert and watched his skits whenever I got the chance. Thanks for posting the link to "seven dirty words." I hadn't seen that skit in many years and forgot how well-crafted it was.