The world will laugh a little less now that one of its best troublemakers, George Carlin, is dead at the age of 71. The saddening news came Sunday night after the iconic iconoclast checked himself into a Los Angeles area hospital due to chest pains. Hours later, Carlin died and the spotlight will no longer shine upon him on stage. He was a trickster sage of the working class and is without a doubt my favorite comedian of all time. I took it upon myself to see the master at work twice in the past year. Carlin performed as recently as May 18th of this year at the Grove of Anaheim when I had great seats to his Sunday matinee show. I had no inclination that it would be the last time I would see him on stage and one of the last times anyone, anywhere would have the privilege of being in his audience. Death is fucked up like that and, like Carlin’s comedy, it makes you think…
I try to be as vulgar, absurd, observant, irreverent, insightful, and humorous as I can be thanks to George Carlin’s example as an exemplary comedian. All of his qualities spoke to me as a fan much more so than even the culturally relevant comedy of the likes of George Lopez. Carlin was the family favorite! He was one thing my working class family could agree upon. My father, a refinery worker, enjoyed Carlin as he lambasted assholes in power. My mother, a homemaker who grew up in a lead laden smeltertown along the U.S. – Mexico border, loved his jokes for exaggerating points to sift through the bullshit and get to the unspoken truths. Shit, my parents together even bought me one of Carlin’s books, “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops” for Christmas! Never mind the irony!
It is my brother, however, that deserves the most credit, above all, for introducing George Carlin’s comedy to me at the right time. As a young teenager, I became instantly and forever hooked on his comedic craft when my brother brought home two videotapes of Carlin’s concerts. After watching “Jammin’ in New York,” and “Doin’ it Again,” I was reduced to tears of laughter as Carlin took on everything from the Gulf War, to the human potential movement! So, when I first got a pair of tickets, last minute, to see him perform at the Grove of Anaheim on April 7th, 2007, out of sense of reciprocity, I had to take my brother to see Carlin. As soon as he took the stage, I rose up along with everyone else to deliver a standing ovation out of respect to the master. Carlin didn’t disappoint as his opening jokes are like grenades that blow everybody to shits before they realize what happened to them.
Carlin: How’s everybody doing tonight??
Audience: *Screams* *Applause*
Carlin: Yeah? Well, FUCK YOU!
Carlin: I’ve got all new material for you all tonight. If you like my new material than good, but if you don’t, I really don’t care because the way I see it, I’m here for me, you’re here for me, and NOBODY is here for YOU! So FUCK YOU!
Who else but Carlin could roll out opening jokes like that? Over the course of the next hour and a half, Carlin took on empty slogans like “God Bless America,” invited us to imagine our grandmothers in hell, and told us that at 69 years of age, he’s an old fuck! The craftsman that he was, Carlin had a desk with papers of the new material that would be tested out on us and then finalized into what was to become his last HBO special, “It’s Bad for Ya.” As Carlin concluded his stage work, the crowd once more arose in applause. And with that, I was relieved to have been finally able to say that I had seen George Carlin perform live at least once.
But, being the greedy fuck that I am, I saw him once more at the Grove of Anaheim the following year. Then, at the age of 71, with a little more than a month of life left to live, Carlin perhaps was prescient about his own mortality as he spoke of death often. He ranted against the notions of our dearly departed “watching over us,” and “smiling down on us from up there,” taking on once more how we bullshit ourselves. He spoke about erasing deceased friends from his contact book and how best to do it etiquette wise. Carlin said the computer age now afforded us the ability to “delete” our dead friends into the trash bin. Aside from his classic dark humor, Carlin dissected American society relentlessly for the next hour reminding us that “It’s all bullshit, and it’s bad for ya!” In that vein, Carlin expressed the frustrations of the many by scrawling a raspy “FUCK DR. PHIL!!!”
Sadly, for me, there will be no more third, forth, fifth, or sixth time of seeing George Carlin on stage joking away. I’m happy to have had the two concert experiences and would have been filled with the deepest regret had I not gone to see him last month. I am filled with regret, however, as with those two shows, I tried my hardest to secure an interview with my hero. The first time around, Carlin’s publicist said he wasn’t giving interviews. The second time around, he was open to something for print. Unfortunately, my deadline had passed before the publicist gave me the green light through the Grove of Anaheim. I wanted to do an on-location interview at the Grove, but that was off the table. FUCK!!! That “FUCK” is for all eternity now…
My work in radio will always be influenced by Carlin, in any case, even if I didn’t have the opportunity to bring him to the airwaves. When I started working for Pacifica, everyone knew the WBAI, Carlin’s 7 dirty words Supreme Court Case fiasco. It was the reason that, decades later, I had to recite “Carlin’s 7” to guests on the program I produced in order to avoid FCC fines. I know them forever by heart and they have a lyrical way of rolling off my tongue: Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits! Try starting a new job and having to recite those words in a cautionary, professional tone to, say, pleasant old ladies who will be appearing on your show!
The FCC’s bullshit brings me to what really sums up George Carlin in his own thoughts and *dirty* words. From the preface to “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops”
“I’m an outsider by choice, but not truly. It’s the unpleasantness of the system that keeps me out. I’d rather be in, in a good system. That’s where my discontent comes from: being forced to choose to stay outside. My advice: Just keep movin’ straight ahead. Every now and then you find yourself in a different place. “
Wherever George Carlin is now, he was sure that this day would not see him “watching over us,” nor “smiling down on us from up there.” We, on the other hand, will surely miss him for a long time to come. Who else is going to come along and compose brilliantly vulgar poetry:
Rat shit, bat shit, dirty old twat/ sixty-nine assholes tied in a knot/ hooray for lizard shit/ fuck!
Only George, only George…