Monday, June 23, 2008

Breaking News: George Carlin dies at age 71

Whoa! This really caught me by surprise. It seemed like he was still going strong.

NYTimes Alert (via email):

George Carlin, the Comedian, Is Dead at 71

George Carlin, the Grammy-Award winning standup comedian and actor who was hailed for his irreverent social commentary, poignant observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, and groundbreaking routines like "Seven Words You Can Never Use on Television," died in Los Angeles on Sunday according to his publicist Jeff Abraham. He was 71.

More as I find it.

Update via Reuters:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian George Carlin, a counter-culture hero famed for his routines about drugs and dirty words, died of heart failure at a Los Angeles-area hospital on Sunday, a spokesman said. He was 71.

Carlin, who had a history of heart problems, died at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica about 6 p.m. PDT (2 a.m. British time) after being admitted earlier in the afternoon for chest pains, spokesman Jeff Abraham told Reuters.

Known for his edgy, provocative material, Carlin achieved status as an anti-Establishment icon in the 1970s with stand-up bits full of drug references and a routine about seven dirty words you could not say on television. A regulatory battle over a radio broadcast of his "Filthy Words" routine ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sad. He just made the news last week for being awarded the Mark Twain Prize for lifetime acheivement in comedy.

He will be sorely missed here at Uncertain Times.

When I was a kid, the first 'dirty comedy' you usually listened to was Cheech & Chong. Then, after you'd absorbed, mastered and memorized that, some kid's older brother turned you on to George Carlin. For a lot of us kids of that time, we were attracted to Carlin because he swore. Bottom line.

You have to remember, back in the early '70s there were only five (limited) forms of media: print, i.e. books, magazines and newspapers (cutting edge ascension from MAD to National Lampoon plus Playboy and Kurt Vonnegut), TV (four whole channels of it), radio (mostly AM), movies (that took three years to make it to TV, so if you missed it at the theater, it was a long wait) and records. On next to none of these, except for a handful of records and a few movies, could you hear a real live F-bomb. And the people usually dropping them were Cheech & Chong and George Carlin. In this overly F'ed up and out world, the novelty is long lost and rendered down to a dusty film, but in those days saying "fuck" or even "shit" on some form of mass media was really out there.

The difference with Carlin was, while you were reveling in all the curse-wordage, at some point he started to make you think. Then you started to realize that there was a point to all of this besides exploring forbidden verbiage. We didn't know much about the supreme court battle but we knew all about the "7 dirty words." In the process we learned a thing or two about hypocrisy, lies and taboo. That was the whole cloth from which George Carlin crafted his wares.

Back in 1980, I saw George bomb on Saturday Night Live and felt sad and thought that he might be washed up. Over the years, he continually surprised me. However, he never was so relevant and funny as he was over the last 10 years. A great example is the video I posted titled "Life is Worth Losing." It's almost surreal in its import to the time and the current moment. Take the time to watch it, or bookmark it for later, and be amazed.

4 comments:

Alan Evil said...

I saw him at the beginning of a tour right after 9/11. Some of his material fell flat but he was still great. I wonder if I still have any of his old vinyl...

My favorite Carlin story is about a show he did where he simply walked out on stage and stood perfectly still and expressionless at the edge of the stage for 20 minutes and then walked off. Apparently the crowd was roaring with laughter the entire time.

I know what you mean about comedy records. I've always been more than a bit of a stand-up fan so I was listening to Richard Pryer, Nat'l Lampoon, Red Foxx, Steve Martin, etc. back then and would always stay up late to catch my favorites on Johnny Carson. I bet I could still quote the entire "Class Clown" album verbatim.

Don Rickles is still doing it! I need to see him live before he kicks it.

John M. said...

I had every Cheech and Chong record memorized, up to The Wedding Album. At age 11 I could even do all the voices, perfectly.

Pryor and Steve Martin came later for me, but I did have some Redd Foxx and Bill Cosby records. Some of Cosby's old stuff was pretty funny. Couldn't stand him after Uptown Saturday Night.

john salisbury said...

Playboy Magazine was awesome in the 70s

John M. said...

'60s too, I think some of their best graphic design was from the '60s to the early '70s. Robert Anton Wilson wrote for them back then, too.

Though back in those days, I mostly looked at the pictures ;}