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I RECENTLY ENCOUNTERED one of comedian George Carlin’s great lines: “Have you noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster is a maniac?”
Thus encouraged, I researched Carlin. Here are tidbits about this guy interspersed with his Carlinisms, some wonderfully logical, others radically offbeat, but surely all thoughtful and entertaining.
“Dusting is a good example of the futility of trying to put things right. As soon as you dust, the fact of your next dusting has already been established.”
“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”
“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.”
George was Manhattan-born. His father was an Irish immigrant; his mother, first-generation Irish-American. His parents separated when he was two months old, his mother raising his older brother and George from then on.
George grew up in Morningside Heights, a Manhattan neighborhood he and his friends called “White Harlem,” because this “sounded a lot tougher than its real name.”
“Honesty is the best policy, but it’s important to remember that, apparently by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.”
George’s education in one or another NYC Catholic school was highlighted by expulsion. On a positive note, he was a regular winner of the Drama Award at Camp Notre Dame on Spofford Lake in New Hampshire.
“At his request,” notes Wikipedia, “some of his ashes were spread at the lake upon his death.”
George’s career as a radar technician in the U.S. Air Force followed his Catholic school patterns more than those at Camp Notre Dame. Wikipedia notes, “During his time in the Air Force, he had been court-martialed three times, and also received many nonjudicial punishments and reprimands.” He also served as a disc jockey at KJOE, a Shreveport, Louisiana, radio station.
In 1959, George formed a comedy team with another radio DJ Jack Burns. In 1960, they moved to the Los Angeles beatnik scene. Carlin had his first album, Take-Offs and Put-Ons, in 1967. He started regular appearances on The Tonight Show, initially with host Jack Paar and then with Johnny Carson, for whom he regularly substitute-hosted.
Carlin also got arrested at one of comedian Lenny Bruce’s obscenity busts. By the late 1960s, Carlin changed his image from button-downed to T-shirt and jeans.
In the 1970s, he also perfected a routine around the “seven dirty words” prohibited from broadcasting. This came about in 1973, with the Federal Communication Commission getting involved and the Supreme Court upholding its action by a 5-4 vote.
A bit of R&T heritage: About that same time, notoriety of the “seven dirty words” led the women on R&T’s staff, Wife Dottie among them, to select secretly a “Man of the Week.” Part of an ensuing ritual involved their chanting these seven words to the week’s honoree.
By the time I got there in 1979, the tradition had died out. (Or at least I was never chosen….)
On October 11, 1975, George hosted the premiere broadcast of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. In 1976, he began replacing stand-up tours with HBO specials. George later revealed that his first of three heart attacks occurred during this time.
“Frisbeetarianism is the belief that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.”
On November 10, 1984, he hosted SNL for a second time. Movie roles, The George Carlin Show sitcom, and writing occupied him as well.
Carlin was honored at the 1997 Aspen Comedy Festival and given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th annual American Comedy Awards in 2001.
“Conservatives say if you don’t give the rich more money, they will lose incentive to invest. As for the poor, they tell us they’ve lost all incentive because we’ve given them too much money.”
About this time, Carlin was battling alcoholism and prescription painkiller addiction. His heart condition worsened. George died of heart failure on June 22, 2008, at the age of 71. His death occurred one week after performing at The Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
“Here’s all you need to know about men and women: women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid.”
“Standing ovations have become far too commonplace. What we need are ovations where the audience members all punch and kick one another.”
“Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.”
In his obituary, June 23, 2008, the Cleveland Plain Dealer called Carlin “the dean of counterculture comedians.” These days, his counterculture somehow seems more mainstream. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020