Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin, Dead at 71

The great, and lately late, comedian and genius George Carlin has left us. He died of heart failure yesterday (June 22) at the age of 71. I could go on and on about how much he influenced modern comedy, even influencing (via his "Seven Words" bit) the legal history of free speech vs. broadcasting in the United States. What matters is that he was a true thinker who made us think, and by making us laugh, kept us thinking.

A few things you rarely hear about: Carlin was present at Lenny Bruce's arrest for obscenity. According to legend the police began attempting to detain members of the audience for questioning, and asked Carlin for his identification. Telling the police he did not believe in government issued IDs, he was arrested and taken to jail with Bruce in the same vehicle. He was the very first host of Saturday Night Live. And oh by the way, he still holds the highest score ever recorded for his exams as an electronic technician at the Air Force Academy in the 1950s.

Of course you'll want to hit his website, which has the best intro I've seen. You might want to read what he has to say about all the "crap" (his word) emails that have been sent around attributed to him (Andy Rooney has the same problem). And really, his whole website, because there are some real gems in there (well duhhh, it's Carlin!).

In some ways, he reminds me of another influential thinker, sci-fi master Robert A. Heinlein. Both were obviously Mensa material. Both made profound impacts on their fields. Both were a bit crusty and cranky, but would've been amazing dinner guests. But dear God, the fireworks that would've ensued if they were both dining together! Politically, socially, quite opposite on a lot of things - then again, quite similar in their views of rugged individualism, and their disregard for the lives of idiots.

(Unrelated side note: did you know there's a half-million-dollar Heinlein Prize for "practical accomplishments in the field of commercial space activities"?)

I'm really sorry to see George go, but I'm sure glad he was here. Generations of sharp-witted observational comics like Lewis Black and Carlos Mencia are his legacy, as are The Daily Show and Colbert Report. He taught (some of) us the nearly forgotten skills of critical thinking, and examination from several angles, and by making us laugh, will keep us thinking for years to come.



George Carlin was always a favorite of mine, I always loved the bit where he says people say that Americans are not given enough credit for their intelligence but he thinks we are given too much credit....then goes on to list all the stupid things we American do. Did you catch SLN last weekend? They replayed the first ever SNL (1975) which Carlin hosted. Hard to believe it has been 33 years.

GeorgePrice said...

I did see that episode this week, thanx to Tivo, but I already have the Season 1 set on DVD. It all looked so primitive, compared to the modern shows - I guess over 30 years of practice, and technology, had the desired effects. The sound of the live bands was awful, the show seemed rough, even the awful mistake in the intro narration, the "Not Prime Time for Ready Players". Carlin himself was not up to form - he clearly had clearly been allowed only so many seconds to jam his best lines in until told to stop, when the "applause" light can be seen frantically flashing. The effect was jarring. Much of the whole show barely seems funny now, but one not only has to remember that our tastes in comedy change pretty quickly, but that back then we were soooo stoned late on a Saturday night.

I didn't see the first episode live at the time, I remember learning about it because a certain young lady left my band's show (at a Portland Holiday Inn, if I recall right) to go watch this new show upstairs. I went upstairs on my break and saw Leon Redbone, who remains a favorite to this day.