RIP, George Carlin

He passed away from heart failure yesterday, at the age of 71.

He was my favorite comedian to come out of the late 60s and early 70s. He resembled that uncle who smoked too much pot back in the day but still had more than enough brain cells to spare for long, amusing, rambling asides that after the fact you realized had a point — and a really good one. I started liking him early — I impressed the entire family at 12 years old by memorizing most of Carlin’s A Place For My Stuff! album, which probably tells you something about my family — and kept liking him since. I even saw him live once, in Fresno, where he said one of the more sensible things I’d ever heard, which is that we really ought to combine cemeteries and golf courses, because both are such a damn waste of space. I remember wishing I’d thought of that first, but then, there’s a lot of stuff Carlin said I wished I thought of first. It’s part of what made him one of my favorite comedians.

I also liked the fact that he was the catalyst for one of the more important Supreme Court free speech rulings of recent times; it’s not every comedian whose work makes work for the highest court in the land. Having your own landmark court case is much better than a Grammy, if you give it any sort of thought.

To be utterly honest about it, Carlin lived at least 20 years beyond what I would have expected him to live, given his life history. Which means, really, that every thing he wrote or did after the mid-80s just feel like a gift, something extra you get for free, because sometimes life is good to you that way. But I still think he’s gone too soon.

45 Comments on “RIP, George Carlin”

  1. 5 AM on the west coast, decided to pop in to see what’s going on and BAM.
    I just said the 7 words, in memorial of one of the funniest things I had heard at that point in my life. Then I heard George’s voice in the back of my head reeling of the rest of that whole bit. Almost like it was the mid 70’s, and I was hearing again for the first time.
    It may be too early to tell, but I think George will be remembered for long after today. Some of his rambles are timeless and will be laughed at forever. Like Will Rogers, George took a look at the world around him and saw funny things about the way we live our lives and how we treat ourselves.

    Man, that dude was funny.

  2. FM & AM
    Class Clown
    Occupation: Foole

    These, more than any music I can think of, saw me through adolescence. His lines were part of our daily conversation in school, and I remember the night he hosted the first Saturday Night Live like it was just a couple years ago.

    He had that curmudgeonly, Mark Twain, to-hell-with-the-damned-human-race thing going — and I don’t for a minute believe it wasn’t sincerely felt. But when Brain Droppings came out in 1997 he did a signing at my wife’s bookstore in Cleveland, and despite a line that went around the block, and repeated warnings that he would sign only the book, he met every person in a warm, almost courtly, manner and gladly signed T-shirts, album covers, concert programs and VHS copies of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure for hours.

    Truly one of the best and already sorely missed. I’m going to listen to “Bi-labial Fricative” on the way to work.

  3. I know I read an essay at least ten years ago on the cemetery/golf course issue. I want to say it was Nicholson Baker, but I can’t swear to that. I’m pretty sure it was a writer who was well known for two books of essays, and this was in the second one. I can even picture the cover — mostly black with a small white graphic on the top third.

    Just got it (thanks brain!): Thomas Lynch.

  4. Ah, so it goes. He was hilarious. And brilliant. I knew I was on to something when I stole a copy of “Toledo Window Box” that friends of my parents had given my dad and snuck it into my first grade class to play it on the record player there (couldn’t work the one at home. To complicated).

    Endlessly funny and astoundingly insightful.

  5. I was a big Carlin fan back when I was a teenager, even into my mid-20’s. Then he just got to the point where his comedy was all just ranting and complaining, and he lost me.

    I still have the fondest memories of watching “Carlin on Campus” with a buddy of mine on New Year’s Eve, when we snuck into his neighbors’ house (the neighbors with the satellite dish) while the they were on vacation (don’t worry, my friend had a key, they were keeping an eye on the house for the neighbors).

  6. I loved him as the hippy dippy weather man back on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. . . “Tonight’s forcast…dark. Continued mostly dark tonight turning to widely scattered light in the morning.”

  7. Every now and then someone comes along, pushes the envelope and finds — maybe to his own surprise — that the envelope is made of stretchy stuff… and so he pushes some more. And when he’s done, he leaves his sticky fingerprints everywhere.

    Godspeed, George.

  8. I’m old enough to remember George from the early sixties when he still looked sort of square.
    So long ,George!

  9. “Passed away”? He’d be pissed to know he didn’t die! With an exclamation point and everything.

  10. I am so sad to hear this. Though, I loved his edgy material….one of the silliest things he ever said made me laugh hardest. It was all about going up stairs and thinking there’s one more step when there isn’t. It was silly, but I had never laughed harder at his “bits” than that!
    Another good memory I have thanks to Mr. Carlin – I read “Napalm & Silly Putty” on a flight. It was laugh out loud hilarious….I am sure my fellow passengers were just thrilled hearing me chuckle and snort the whole time.

    I will miss him. Goodbye, George. I vow not to name a son Kyle ;0)

  11. I had just pulled out Bill and Ted the other day to put on the stack to watch soon. It’s at the top now.

    When I heard it on the radio alarm clock and they mentioned the 7 words, I turned to my love, looked him tenderly in the eye, and told him those 7 wonderful words that so warped me at the age of 11 when I snuck the album out of it’s sleeve at 2am, listening with headphones on, and stifling my laughter so my parents wouldn’t know I was listening to the verboten. Ah. Good times. Good man.

  12. Oh, fuck. I mean, I was kind of waiting for it to happen, but still…. His routines have gotten me through a lot of crap. I suppose they still will. There just won’t be any new ones.

    At least I got to see him live once.

    Bye, George. And thanks.

  13. “I resembled”? Do you mean “He resembled”?

    Anyhow. Now, if the sun wasn’t the right thing to worship, he’ll get to find out…

  14. “It could be meat. It could be cake.”

    It looks like…meatcake!

    My favourite Carlin routine. I remember first hearing it on the Dr Demento show when I was about 9 years old.

    BTW, don’t look up Meatcake on wikipedia. Just Don’t.

  15. Having the first comedy album you own be Class Clown (which mine was at the ripe old age of 15) is tantamount to playing your first round of golf at Pebble Beach.

    I loved the Seven Words, but my all-time favorite was “I Used To Be Irish Catholic,” which, despite me never setting foot in a Catholic school, hit my 13-year-old heart in just the right way despite hearing it 14 years after its release.

    “I used to be Irish Catholic. Now I’m an American. You know, you grow.”

    ::shaking head:: To say this makes today suck is an understatement of grand proportions.

  16. I loved George Carlin, and will miss the scathing insight he applied from the space he occupied that was turned 90 degrees from nearly everyone else’s view.

  17. NO! NO! NO NO NO! Damn. FUCK! SHIT!
    i’ll miss you george thanks for all you left with us. I’ll watch your comedy often.

  18. I’ve been trying to think of something more appropriate to say than “that really fucking sucks”, but you know what… I think it fits. The man made a contribution. Not an easy one to define or explain unless you’re one of the lucky ones who benefitted from that contribution… and if you are, then you already know.

    See ya, buddy. If there is a god, I’m gonna cherish the image of you stood there, eyes blazing demanding to know what the fuck he thought he was doing.

  19. Ooooo…Bill and Ted. Must watch.

    (I also will take a second to note that my younger sibs grew up with the Shining Time Station and the Thomas the Tank Engine shows, which George also participated in. Man had a diverse body of work, ya know?)

    I’m bummed and unashamed of it.

  20. And so the world gets a little dimmer. I learned to swear intelligently from George Carlin and my grandmother, and that talent has never let me down. I saw Carlin live once, in Valley Forge PA with Leon Redbone as his opener – my sides hurt for days after his routines. Even now, one line from that night goes through my head every time I drive anywhere (and in the midwest, that’s a lot) – “The whole point of driving is to get from point A to point B without changing the shape of any of the big iron things on the road.” Eternal wisdom. I’ll miss you, George.

  21. The only 3 comedians whose albums/CDs I ever bought:
    Bill Cosby
    Robin Williams
    George Carlin
    (Richard Pryor and Steven Wright probably also deserve to be on this list, but they aren’t as of yet.)

    Carlin is the only one I still replay. I actually like his routines that forced me to re-examine myself (Stuff) rather than re-examining society’s assumptions (7 words). I suppose for some people their own assumptions would be more challenged by the 7 words routine rather than the place to put my Stuff…

    Lots of comedians have made me laugh. Many comedians have made me wince because their humor struck so close to home. Carlin was the only comedian that was able to get me past the discomfort to be able to laugh at myself even for the uncomfortable truths.

    Mention was made that Carlin was recently announced as a winner of the Mark Twain award. This is not just a deserved honor for him. If you look at their bodies of work, the targets of Twain’s and Carlin’s satire are very similar (see “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg” for example).

    Carlin and Ringo Starr were also my two favorite voices for the Conductor character on Thomas the Tank Engine, for those afternoons/nights when my daughter insisted on a VHS marathon before bedtime.

  22. I think the true note to his talent is the fact that every weather report today, by national and local weather purveyors alike, referred liberally to the Hippy Dippy Weatherman routine…

    When I first heard “Stuff”, I nearly died laughing. I mean, George UNDERSTOOD where we, the stuffiholics of the world, were coming from.

    Hi, my name is Wendy and I have Stuff…

    think I’ll go through the bookcase stuff this afternoon and find my copy of “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?” Too bad George won’t be able to tell us the answer to that question.

    R.I.P. George, you will be missed, especially by those of us that grew up learning from your wit and wisdom.

  23. I had the honor of seeing him live at the Dodge Theatre in Phoenix, I was so sore from laughing and my nose was burning from the beer that had shot out of it a couple of times during one of his routines!!

    He was one of a kind!!

  24. Fuck, Carlin’s dead? This totally sucks. I owe a good chunk of my critical thinking skills to _Brain Droppings_, and I loved seeing him pop up in the weirdest places on the cultural landscape (e.g., Shining Time Station). So it goes, I guess, but it still sucks.

  25. This is just too bad – he probably had a few more years of hilarity and acerbic observation in him.

    Seeing him live in Colorado Springs was a joy, and something I will always remember.

    R.I.P. George. You will be missed.

  26. The most odd casting choice EVER? Carlin as ‘Mr. Conductor’ on wholesome kid’s tv show ‘Shining Time Station’. And the other Mr. Conductor? None other than RINGO STAR! Seriously… :P My Dad always used to laugh hysterically when he saw me watching ‘Shining Time Station’ and tell me that I’d get why he was laughing when I was older. Great memories!

  27. “Did you ever notice you never seem to get laid much on Thanksgiving? I think it’s because all the coats are on the bed.”

    I read about this late last night. Although not entirely surprising, it still made me quite sad.

    I learned about Carlin around that same time, and probably from the same copy of “Class Clown.” I checked it out of the Glendora Public Library, took it home and learned every word. I can only imagine what it must’ve looked like to see an 11-year-old me, mimicking not only the language, but trying for the cadence and intonation, too. I certainly don’t consider myself a comedian, but people (Scalzi even, on that AOL blog) have said that I’m funny. Most of what I know about comic timing can be attributed to George Carlin.

    I was lucky to see Carlin live several times over the years; the first time when I was about 14 (I think.) My step-mother took me to see him at the Circle Star Theater (in Burlingame, CA?) and it was a revelation. I had learned all of the records up to that point, but his live performance just amazed me. I had never laughed so hard, or probably as hard since.

    At a critical formative time in my life, Carlin not only made me laugh, he made me think. And, continued to do so. The world is no less fucked up today, but it is less funny. Finding the humor in the ridiculousness of it all just got a little harder.

    “Now, ‘tits’ shouldn’t even be on the list, man. It sounds like a snack. New…Nabisco Tits! Cheese tits, pizza, tits…Tater tits.”

  28. There is nothing I can add to the many comments above except to state again that the world is now a sadder place.

  29. Audiobook of Napalm and Silly Putty duly synched onto iThingy. Memorial service next time I have my headphones in.

  30. Interesting that many fans appear to be relying on only one or two of the seven to remember him by today.

    There are the two multisyllabic ones that I suspect many feel a little uncomfortable even using today.

    There’s the word that got a little press recently since John McCain was accused of calling his wife it a few years ago. But I have seen it in very few posts today.

    There are the two that have gotten the most use today.

    And then there are the two that probably could be said on any radio station today at any hour without fines.”To honor George Carlin, R Kelly decided to piss on some tits today.” Someone could probably say that at noon without repercussion. (Maybe not, but times do change.)

  31. Hey, in Napalm and Silly Putty,he specifically asked to be blown up, or have his corpse thrown out of a helicopter.

    That sounds like fun.

  32. ad news, I was a fan of his since the day in high school when my dad bought for me Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics. With the admonition never to let mom here it. One of my litmus tests for people became what do you think of Carlin? If they didn’t I was always mildly worried that they were going to become offended at some innocuous comment of mine. If they did like him that I knew I’d be okay. Coming from a very religious area of Canada this is quite useful.

  33. *blows a smoke-ring at the ceiling*

    You know, with George up and dying and all, million of people are going to be inundated with his stuff. Millions of them. A noticable proportion of them will be questioning their belief systems, their mindless responses to doctrine, to witless following of orders, and they’ll think “hey- hold on….”

    … and a tiny but measurable proportion of those folk will think on. And maybe, start thinking for themselves.

    You died well, George. I could wish for as good a death. And a big chunk of how good a death that is is because of the commo systems we have now. And because his videos didn’t get pulled off YouTube under the SBCTEA and DMCA.

    Ain’t ita crazy world, that we fight in to be free?

  34. One day in 6th grade, one of the kids brought a record (a 45) of Seven Words and asked the teacher if we could play it.

    He said no, so we played it during recess.

    After recess the teacher walked in and said “OK, let’s play it”. We chorused “we already did”. So he played it again.

    I’d love to know what teacherly discussion took place during recess.

  35. I didn’t know emusic had his stuff! Figures that I cancelled my music account there months ago in favor of audiobooks… which is an awfully slim selection :(

    Back OT : I’m still feeling the loss. Carlin was a huge influence on me, and it’s sad to see him gone. Never got the chance to see him perform, sadly. The closest I came to seeing him was the university back home backed off on inviting him, saying that he “wouldn’t draw a big enough crowd” or something to that effect. Clueless idiots.

  36. I agree with Greg @12, George Carlin would not have approved of your using a namby-pamby euphemism like “passed away” to describe his death. If I remember one of his routines correctly, the preferred term would have been “cacked out.” Those regressive k’s, you know.

  37. John, which was your favorite sponsor for “A Place for My Stuff?”

    Mine was “The Society for the Preservation of Spanish Rice”

  38. I hate reading that he was “one of the greatest comedians/social commentators of our time”. What bullshit.

    He was the best. Fuck the qualifiers.

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