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Cranky Old Cuss

When I awoke Monday morning and heard George Carlin had died, I had a piece all written out in my mind:

"Seven Words"

George Carlin. Heart Attack. He was 71.

Kevin beat me to it, so I tossed it on the heap and moved on.

But this morning, the Boston Herald has a tribute to Carlin. In brief, Joe Fitzgerald says as great as he was, he would have been greater had he simply toned down the profanity.

Well, with all due respect to Mr. Fitzgerald, fuck that shit.

When I was growing up, I had almost no social skills. I was lucky, though; I discovered standup comics, and learned a hell of a lot about interacting with people -- and thinking -- from them. In particular, three of the Masters shaped my way of thinking.

First was Robin Williams. He taught me how to think quickly, on my feet, and respond first and think afterwards. He also taught me that by changing my voice tone and pitch, I could slip into different personas and say things that I normally would never say -- and get away with it.

Then there was Steven Wright. His incredibly bizarre perspective on the world showed me how to look at things sideways, to take how everyone else sees things and give it a good twist, to challenge the customary perceptions and draw my own connections and conclusions -- and share them.

And then, finally, there was George Carlin.

As strange as it may sound, Carlin was a huge influence on my language. When I was younger, I absolutely avoided cussing. Then, for a short while, I went through a very potty-mouthed phase. Then I discovered Carlin.

From him, I learned that swearing is neither something to utterly avoid or utterly embrace. Those words are very powerful, very potent, and should be used with care. They should be saved for special occasions, used only deliberately. They should not be tossed off casually; the overuse of them dilutes their power, and there are times when we really, really need that. We have grown far too inured to swearing, both in hearing and uttering them.

Carlin's lesson extended far beyond cuss words. He had a love of the English language, and loved words and phrases. The best part of his act was, in my opinion, when he would just play with them, twisting and combining and exploring every nuance out of the words we took for granted every day. "Get on the plane." "Fuck you, I'm getting IN the plane!" "Why do we park in the driveway, and drive on the parkway?" "You can prick your finger, but you can't finger your prick." (On TV, of course.)

I had a friend who claimed that he had "given" Carlin a line: "Why do we say 'take a shit?' You don't take it, you leave it!" I never got proof that my friend was indeed the source of that idea, but I heard Carlin use it -- and expand on it. "'I've gotta take a shit, Bob.' 'Well, don't take any of mine. I only have three left, and the weekend's coming up.'"

In his later years, Carlin grew bitter and angry, and let his politics (which I absolutely do not share) and fury dominate his performances. He still was brilliant, but he let his genius be obscured by his rants.

Like me, Carlin didn't have any faith in a supreme being. But where mine is expressed as a benign agnosticism (I don't know, and I won't challenge anyone else's beliefs unless they assail mine), he was openly and hostilely atheistic.

Well, he's got his answer now. And I'm willing to bet that he's probably not in a better place.

Unless, of course, God needs a class clown.

Rest in peace, George.

In your memory, I'm going to go jump on some sofa cushions and free some captive farts.


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Comments (11)

George was at his best when... (Below threshold)

George was at his best when he could look at life from afar. He saw things in a way no one else did, and that was funny as hell, a casual observer if you will.

As he got older, seems like he grew more bitter, hsi agenda became more and more of his act, and, it not only became not funny, it became stupid.

I always enjoyed Carlin fro... (Below threshold)

I always enjoyed Carlin from the early sixties when he wore a tie and jacket on Carson. I couldn't bear to watch him in the last ten years. I never felt entertained or humorous. Just uncomfortable. He was a very bitter older man. ww

In the early 90's I saw Cos... (Below threshold)

In the early 90's I saw Cosby do a show for a private large audience. He was very bitter about his kids and it was very unfunny. After the death of his son, he now seems to have mellowed. I wonder if Carlin would have ever mellowed had he lived a little longer? My guess is not, and that may be part of the reason the giant hook pulled him from the stage.

The early years were funny,... (Below threshold)

The early years were funny, the last several years were not. Like Mark Twain, bitterness seemed to be his only companion.

It's kind of sad how Robin ... (Below threshold)

It's kind of sad how Robin Williams gets utterly panned these days; the man's an a genius of improv. And I agree, Wright's act is bizarre and takes dry wit to the ultimate. But Carlin was one of those comics who influenced a generation of comics after him, like Lenny Bruce. Carlin's influence can be spotted in Seinfeld's observational humor, for example--though Seinfeld isn't nearly as funny. Andrew Dice Clay's (can't stand the man) foul mouth act is a Carlin/Lenny Bruce influence, though more adolescent. And he influence lesser known comics, too.

Finally, one of my favorite comics, Richard Pryor, was a bit of a Carlin disciple, but spun off on his own societal-brand of humor.

RIP, Mr. Carlin. Of course, you're a resting in peace because you're fucking dead. How else is he suppsed to rest? In chaos?.... (Yeah, lame on my part...)

I didn't care for Carlin, b... (Below threshold)

I didn't care for Carlin, but I adore Robin Williams despite disagreeing with some of his general philosophies on life. I DO think he's a genius (anyone here seen his interview on "Inside the Actors' Studio"). I'm pretty sure his brain operates in a higher level than most individuals. To me, that's very sexy. Nevermind that the man looks like he's smuggling a fur coat under his t-shirt and has no lips. His brain is very HOT!

Steven Wright:"I j... (Below threshold)

Steven Wright:

"I just love Jewish cowboys, what's your name?

"Bucky Goldstein"

George Carlin as Al Sleet, the hippydippy weatherman:

"The weather tonight.....Dark, lighter towards morning."

Ah to be young again.

>>When I was growing up, I ... (Below threshold)

>>When I was growing up, I had almost no social skills.

What's different now?

The early years we... (Below threshold)
The early years were funny, the last several years were not. Like Mark Twain, bitterness seemed to be his only companion.

I like the comment I read over at LGF:

"May the God he didn't believe in give him peace."

Amen to that.

i viewed a clip of some of ... (Below threshold)
Chris G:

i viewed a clip of some of Robin Williams pre-Mork and Mindy fame (Around the same time as Rowan and MAartin's Laugh In)... and was literaltely streched out on the floor.

He is probaly one of the most UNDERRATED and UNAPPRECIATED comic geniuses of our time.

I saw him two years ago (th... (Below threshold)
John S:

I saw him two years ago (the wife insisted) and is probably good that I did since he's gone. But I don't think I cracked a smile through the 2-hour show. He was angry and prone to rants. Given his history with drugs, he's lucky to have lived as long as he did.






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