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.