Monday, June 23, 2008

Comedian George Carlin, 1937 - 2008

Comedian George Carlin never lost his edge. Many years ago I purchased and played again and again his "FM & AM" record album, and gosh, if there were things to rant about in 1972, you can see why he continued to have a thriving career right up until his death. The state of the world never ceased to give Carlin more material than any sage and savage comedian could ever use, and he took full advantage of it. As he became sort of the elder statesman of rage comedy, his shows didn't bring as many laughs, perhaps, but instead rueful exhalations and dismayed shaking of our heads as we agreed with his often bitter but usually dead-on takes on what ails us and the world around us. (Check out this excellent analysis of Carlin's radical comedy, by John Nichols, on The Nation's site.)

Here's a clip from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson at the time of Carlin's FM & AM album --

His comedy concerts became staples on HBO, and maybe not all of us remember that he had an eponymous sitcom back in early 1994 on Fox. (You can watch some of the episodes on AOL's IN2TV.) Here's a pretty grim but dead-on bit from one of his HBO specials. It's almost hard to call it comedy, really, but at least it's a cogent political rant from a comedian, which is good enough provenance for me.

The world needs angry young men and women, and angry old men and women, and we just lost one of them. George Carlin, dead at 71.

(6/24 Update -- HBO has announced a two-evening tribute to Carlin on HBO2. This Wednesday and Thursday they'll be running a selection of his comedy specials, starting at 8pm. The first ones up date back to the late 1970s, so this will be a wonderful opportunity to see Carlin's progression as a stand-up and the growth of his political acuity. The full line-up is here.)


Jane said...

Nice tribute, Lisa! George Carlin was a brilliant observer of the absurd side of life. On the radio this morning they had one of his quotes about what he would like for his epitaph. His answer, "Well he was just here a minute ago". How true. He really died with his boots on, working on TV and on stage right up to the very end.

Dean Treadway said...

Carlin was a genius who minced no words, told no lies, and did so with insight and extreme mirth. So many memories of hearing his routines on the radio in the 1970s, watching him host the first episode of SNL, seeing him on late nite chat shows doing his Hippy Dippy weather report, hearing him on record talking about the Seven Deadly Words or A Place to Put Your Stuff. The original observational comic, he was an incredible presence and a big shaper of my worldview. I recall one routine where he talked about evvironmentalists saying that we're destroying the planet. "We're not going to destroy the planet. It's gonna be here for a long time. We're just going to destroy ourselves." Words to not destroy ourselves by...

It's a horrible pain to have to say goodbye to him.

This has been a helluva year for celebrity deaths, and it's barely half over. What next?