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RIP: George Carlin

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Everyone may have Post-Convention blahs (or more accurately, Tired of Reading Internet Rumor blahs), but it would be bad to not take a moment and reflect of the loss of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time, George Carlin.

Carlin, who died Sunday at age 71 from heart failure, saw his career go through a number of phases: from clean-cut comedian to counter-culture thinker to kid’s show sidekick, arguably belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Comedians. Your mileage may vary, but let’s say the other three were Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart (with Eddie Murphy being oh-so-close to making the list).

You may not remember, but Carlin was the first guest host of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. He also had a great gimmick for the longest time of only appearing in one movie a decade, which stopped in the 90s, thanks largely to Kevin Smith, who used him to wondeful effect in DOGMA and JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK.

I first discovered Carlin in the early 1980s, in what people call his “observational humor” phase, where he did classic bits like “Baseball and Football” and “Ice Box Man.” One of the benefits of getting cable in the late 80s and early 90s was getting to see the Yearly Carlin HBO special. And then, he got really great when he became the “angry, ranting comedian” years before Lewis Black did it on the Daily Show. I was so effected by Carlin’s “shell shock” routine during the Gulf War that I typed out the whole bit and posted it on my college dorm room door.

Thankfully, after five or six years ago, I got to see Carlin perform live. Since I rarely go to concerts and such, I often have regrets about never seeing Performer X or Band Y perform, after they have broken up or passed away. But I was not going to miss Carlin, my favorite comedian of all-time. And the show was wonderful. I don’t remember any of the bits, but it was just so great seeing him in person.

Goodbye to the Hippy Dippy Weatherman. Goodbye to the Man who made the Seven Dirty Words remembered forever.

Posted by Mark Coale

  1. I loved Carlin. I’d like to think that he’s having a drink with one of my idols, Lenny Bruce, right now. Sorry, I’d have to put Lenny on Mt. Rushmore before Pryor (Without Lenny, there would have been no Carlin as we know him) but Hell… Let’s have five faces. Why the Hell not? Here’s to George.

  2. Lenny Bruce is “before my time,” so I don’t usually think of him.

    From a purely personal POV, I would probably add Tom Lehrer and remove Cosby, as I seemingly “grew out of” my love for the Cos when I was a teenager (but I loved his albums as a young teen).

  3. I found Carlin around the same time, Mark. I saw him in concert twice, but didn’t see him the last two times he came through my area; once because my lady didn’t want to go and another just because I forgot to buy tickets in time. Somehow, that feels a little bit like the “didn’t get to see them…” deal, especially since his routines were markedly different from what I had seen back in the day (more observational stuff).

  4. I discovered Carlin in the early 70s when the only way for a teenager in the Hinterlands could hear him was to buy his comedy albums. Class Clown was the first I brought home — I knew the material was “edgy” so I waited for the ‘rents to go out for the evening, then played that album three times.

    It was one of the Five Things That Changed My Life Forever.

  5. I saw Carlin live as a teenager in the early 80’s. My best friend somehow convinced his parents to take us to see him while we were on vacation in S. Lake Tahoe. Completely blew my mind and immediately vaulted him to Pryor/Murphy/Martin status as a stand up comedian.

  6. Tonight’s forecast: dark.

    Truer words never spoken :( [that gag still gets me though, just felt more poignant since sunday]

  7. If there was a Mount Rushmore for socially relevant comics, Carlin would be up there with Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks. He opened up an incredible amount of territory for those that came after him.

  8. Rushmore? Mark Twain. Lenny Bruce. George Carlin. Richard Pryor.
    George Carlin was a Renaissance comedian. He held up a mirror to Society and made us laugh at ourselves. His use of language was such that his books were bestsellers. He was a fine actor.
    As for being the first host of SNL, one should note that the show did not “lose its baby teeth” until halfway through the first season.
    Missed, but fondly remembered.

  9. I was very sad we lost Carlin. I know this will sound grim, but at least he had a long life and we got so much out of him. Mitch Hedberg died much younger and never really got to develop his potential. I think there’s something dark about the comedy career, because it seems like a lot of guys in it develop drug problems that cut their lives short. Thankfully, Carlin got to have a full career.

  10. I never had the pleasure of seeing him live, for which I’ll always have a tinge of regret. I loved, loved, LOVED George Carlin– he was my favorite comic of all time. I think I may have been introduced to him through either CARLIN AT CARNEGIE or CARLIN ON CAMPUS, not sure which. But he’s been a constant for me since I was about 12 or 13.

    When all of us here at the studio just had all of our desks in one big room together in the early days and we were pulling all-nighters, I’d put in one of my Carlin CD’s. I’m not sure sure if it helped or hindered, but boy, did we howl. Even when we weren’t listening to him, we were doing Carlin bits for each other just to get a laugh.

    R.I.P., Foole.

  11. Seems as though Rushmore is getting crowded up. Let’s have a single statue of Carlin,…maybe out in New York Harbor,…holding a torch to light the way for other lovers of freedom and seekers of truth.

  12. Whenever a list is made, you’re always doomed to these reflections. Your list is good, Heidi, but Bruce goes up there before Carlin… if you’re game plan is to sort of represent the breadth of stand-up. Newhart probably comes down if you can put Steve Martin up there in his spot, but it’s all debatable.

    And I’ll always mourn Bill Hicks most of all. As annoying of these listing conversations can get, I sort of love them.

    Carlin was good, though. He was real good. He deserves his place at the table.

  13. Please note, the Carln tribute was supplied by Mark Coale. I loved Carlin too, but Mark had to step in to post because I’ve been swamped with other stuff.

  14. It was very late when I read Mark Coale’s Carlin tribute and I didn’t realize he made his own Mt. Rushmore suggestions in that post. (So much for me having an original thought.) At any rate, Mark’s list was of “great comedians” and debating that down to a final four would be virtually impossible. As Mark said, “Your mileage may vary.”
    My own list specified “socially relevant” comics. Mark Twain was certainly socially relevant but he wasn’t a stand-up comic. Bob Newhart , Bill Cosby and Steve Martin certainly deserve their accolades, but I’m sure they’d all agree they didn’t make a nightly practice of pissing off the right people and challenging audiences to question authority.
    Lenny Bruce. George Carlin. Richard Pryor. Bill Hicks.

  15. I’m old enough to have watched Carlin on TV back in the mid-1960s and then watch him transform himself several times over the decades. I was in high school when he first did his routine on the Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television – believe me, it was mind-blowing at the time! Wow! My husband (a pastor) still quotes some of Carlin’s stuff from Class Clown, about going to Catholic school and going to confession … it’s still so funny. I’ll definitely miss him.

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