George Carlin (1937-2008) one of the most profound, creative, insightful and deeply funny comedians in American history died June 22 at age 71. Satirist, linguist, raconteur, social and cultural critic, actor, political gadfly, atheist, and fierce public advocate and defender of free speech Carlin was, along with fellow comedic legends Lenny Bruce (1926-1966) and Richard Pryor (1940-2005) one of the most iconic and influential artists in modern comedy who, like his fellow highly innovative contemporaries, revolutionized and fundamentally transformed the very form and content of standup comedy. Possessing a scathing and deadly accurate quick-fire wit as well as a fearlessly perceptive and ruthlessly honest take on human and social behavior and institutions, Carlin was an unsurpassed master of the complexities, ambiguities, and absurdities of language as well as an adroit and very shrewd observer of its liberating and deceptive uses in society. Many of the targets of Carlin’s highly barbed, often furious, and yet sometimes paradoxically gentle and empathetic wit were the ignorant, corrupt, and dishonest mythologies and lies embedded in the endlessly destructive distortions and manipulations of history, religion, and political/cultural ideology. Taking an excoriating and gleeful all-holds- barred approach to the social and cultural questions of race, class, sex, gender, and identity, Carlin not only relentlessly and hilariously attacked all forms of racism, sexism, class domination, and homophobia in his act but he also absolutely refused to let anyone (including himself) off the hook when honing in on the flaws, foibles, pretensions, hypocrisies, idiocies, insecurities, poses, delusions, and deceptions of human beings in general in any given social or historical context. It was this absolute refusal to privilege or cater to the egos and/or bigotries of any one group or individual when making his comedic observations and analyses that made Carlin (again like Pryor, like Bruce) one of the truly most fearless and scathingly honest performers in the history of the demanding art of comedy. Carlin was never afraid to say what he thought or mean what he said in any setting and it was and is this bedrock integrity and foundational sense of independence in harmony with an extraordinary intelligence and a quintessentially blues and Jazz based prophetic understanding and appreciation for the intricacies and demands of experience in all of its many dimensions that made Carlin one of the most important and consistently laugh-out-loud-till-you- can’t-do-anything-but-cry-and-wonder-why comedians to ever rock the mic. To say he and his powerful legacy of public truth telling will be sorely missed yet surely never die as long as the human species can still laugh and simultaneously dig what the laughter means is not only a great understatement but a seemingly absurd paradox that George Carlin would have both understood and happily and derisively laughed at. Thanks for everything Mr. Carlin. You were a straightup genius. You were also, as Miles and many others throughout the globe would say, “a very funny muthafucka.”
June 24, 2008 George Carlin, Comic Who Chafed at Society and Its Constraints, Dies at 71 By MEL WATKINS and BRUCE WEBER
New York Times
George Carlin, whose astringent stand-up comedy made him an heir of Lenny Bruce, who gave voice to an indignant counterculture and assaulted the barricades of censorship on behalf of a generation of comics that followed him, died on Sunday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 71 and lived in Venice, Calif.
The cause was heart failure, said his publicist, Jeff Abraham. Mr. Carlin, who performed earlier this month at the Orleans hotel in Las Vegas, had a history of heart problems.
“By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth,” read a message on Mr. Carlin’s Web site, GeorgeCarlin.com, and he spent much of his life in a fervent effort to counteract the forces that would have it so. In his always irreverent, often furious social commentary, in his observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, and in groundbreaking routines like the profane “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” he took aim at what he thought of as the palliating and obfuscating agents of American life — politicians, advertisements, religion, the media and conventional thinking of all stripes.
“If crime fighters fight crime and firefighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?” he asked in a 1980s routine, taking a jab at the Reagan administration’s defense of the Nicaraguan Contras.
During a career that spanned five decades, Mr. Carlin emerged as one of the most popular, durable, productive and versatile comedians of his era. He evolved from Jerry Seinfeld-like whimsy and a buttoned-down decorum in the ’60s to counterculture hero in the ’70s.
By the ’80s, he was known as a scathing social critic, wringing laughs from the verbal tics of contemporary language like the oxymoron “jumbo shrimp” (and finding another oxymoron in the term “military intelligence”) and poking fun at pervasive national attitudes. He used the ascent of football’s popularity at the expense of the game he loved, baseball, to make the point that societal innocence had been lost forever.
“Baseball is a 19th-century pastoral game,” he said. “Football is a 20th-century technological struggle. Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park! Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.”
Through the 1990s and into the 21st century, Mr. Carlin, balding but still pony-tailed, prowled the stage — eyes ablaze with intensity — as the comedy circuit’s most splenetic curmudgeon, raging over the shallowness of a “me first” culture; mocking the infatuation with camcorders, hyphenated names and sneakers with lights on them; lambasting white guys over 10 years old who wear their baseball hats backwards, baby boomers “who went from ‘do your thing’ to ‘just say no’ ” and “from cocaine to Rogaine”; and foes of abortion rights. “How come when it’s us it’s an abortion,” he asked, “and when it’s a chicken it’s an omelet?”
George Denis Carlin was born in New York City on May 12, 1937. His mother, Mary, a secretary, separated from his father when he was an infant, and he grew up with his mother and his older brother, Patrick, on West 121st Street in Manhattan.
“I grew up in New York wanting to be like those funny men in the movies and on the radio,” Mr. Carlin said. “My grandfather, mother and father were gifted verbally, and my mother passed that along to me. She always made sure I was conscious of language and words.”
He dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force, and while stationed in Shreveport, La., he worked as a radio disc jockey. Discharged in 1957, he moved to Boston for a radio announcer’s job, then to Fort Worth, where he was a D.J.
Along the way he met Jack Burns, a newscaster and comedian. They worked together in Fort Worth and Los Angeles, performing on the radio and in clubs and even appearing on “The Tonight Show” with Jack Paar. The comedian Mort Sahl, whose penchant for social commentary Mr. Carlin came to share, dubbed them “a duo of hip wits.”
Still, the Carlin-Burns team was only moderately successful, and, in 1960, Mr. Carlin struck out on his own.
He made his first television solo guest appearance on “The Tonight Show” in 1962, in the interim between Paar’s departure and Johnny Carson’s arrival; the host that night was Mr. Sahl. His second wasn’t until 1965, when he made the first of 29 appearances on “The Merv Griffin Show.”
At that time, he was primarily known for his clever wordplay and reminiscences of his Irish working-class upbringing in New York. But there were intimations of an anti-establishment edge. It surfaced, for example, in a parody of television newscasts, for which he invented characters like Al Sleet, “the “hippy-dippy weatherman”: “Tonight’s forecast: Dark. Continued mostly dark tonight turning to widely scattered light in the morning.”
Mr. Carlin released his first comedy album, “Take-Offs and Put-Ons,” to rave reviews in 1967. He also dabbled in acting, winning a recurring part as Marlo Thomas’s theatrical agent in the 1960s sitcom “That Girl” and a supporting role in the 1968 movie “With Six You Get Eggroll.” He made more than 80 major television appearances during that time, including on the Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”; he was also regularly featured at nightclubs in New York and Las Vegas.
He was one of America’s most popular comedians, but as the convulsive decade of 1960s ended, he’d had enough of what he considered a dinky and hollow success.
“I was entertaining the fathers and the mothers of the people I sympathized with, and in some cases associated with, and whose point of view I shared,” he recalled later, as quoted in the book “Going Too Far” by Tony Hendra (Doubleday, 1987). “I was a traitor, in so many words. I was living a lie.”
In 1970, Mr. Carlin staged a remarkable reversal of field, discarding his suit and tie, as well as the relatively conventional and clean-cut material that had catapulted him to the top. He reinvented himself, emerging with a beard, long hair, jeans and a routine steeped in drugs and insolence. A backlash followed; in one famous incident, he was advised to leave town when an angry audience threatened him at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wis., for joking about the Vietnam War. Afterward, he temporarily abandoned nightclubs for coffee houses and colleges, where he found a younger, hipper audience that was more attuned to both his new image and his material.
By 1972, when he released his second album, “FM & AM,” his star was again on the rise. The album, which won a Grammy Award as best comedy recording, combined older material with his newer, more acerbic routines.
One, from “Class Clown,” Mr. Carlin’s third album, became part of his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” with its rhythmic recitation of obscenities. It was broadcast on the New York radio station WBAI. Acting on a complaint about the broadcast, the Federal Communications Commission issued an order prohibiting the words as “indecent.” In 1978, the Supreme Court upheld the order, establishing a decency standard that remains in effect; it ensnared Howard Stern in 2005, precipitating his move to satellite radio.
Mr. Carlin refused to drop the bit and was arrested several times after reciting it onstage.
By the mid-’70s, like his comic predecessor Lenny Bruce and the fast-rising Richard Pryor, Mr. Carlin had emerged as a cultural renegade. In addition to his jests about religion and politics, he talked about using drugs, including LSD and peyote; he kicked cocaine, he said, not for moral or legal reasons but because he found “far more pain in the deal than pleasure.”
Three of Mr. Carlin’s comedy albums of the 1970’s — “Class Clown,” “Occupation: Foole” and “An Evening With Wally Lambo” — sold more than a million copies. In 1975, he was chosen to host the first episode of the late-night comedy show “Saturday Night Live.” And two years later, he found the perfect platform for his stinging and cerebral, if sometimes off-color, humor in the fledgling world of cable television: the first of his 14 HBO comedy specials, “George Carlin at U.S.C.” was aired in 1977, the last, “George Carlin: It’s Bad for Ya,” in March.
During the course of his career, Mr. Carlin overcame numerous personal trials. His early arrests for obscenity (all of which were dismissed) and his problem with cocaine were the most publicized. But he also weathered serious tax problems, a heart attack and two open-heart surgeries; his health problems cost him five years of productivity between 1977 and 1982. Though he had been able to taper his cocaine use on his own, he said, he continued to abuse alcohol and also became addicted to Vicodin. In December 2004 he entered a rehabilitation center.
“Stand-up is the centerpiece of my life, my business, my art, my survival and my way of being,” Mr. Carlin once told an interviewer. And while it did always take center stage in his career, Mr. Carlin also acted in films, among them “Car Wash” (1976), “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989), “The Prince of Tides” (1991), and “Dogma” (1999).
He also wrote books, expansions on his comedy routines, including “Brain Droppings” (1997), “Napalm & Silly Putty (2001) and “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?” (2004), all published by Hyperion. A 1994 sitcom, “The George Carlin Show,” lasted a single season. He also did a stint narrating the children’s television show “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.”
Mr. Carlin won a total of four Grammy Awards. He was recently named the recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which he was to receive in November at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. The Kennedy Center said Monday that the prize would be given posthumously and that the evening would be a tribute to his life and work.
In addition to his brother, Patrick, Mr. Carlin is survived by his wife, Sally Wade, and a daughter, Kelly Carlin McCall. His first wife, Brenda Hosbrook, died in 1997.
Mr. Carlin’s most recent work was especially contentious, even bitter, full of ranting against the stupid, the fat, the docile. But he defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society.
“Scratch any cynic,” he said, “and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”
Anahad O’Connor contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 25, 2008
Because of an editing error, an obituary on Tuesday about the comedian George Carlin misstated the location of the Playboy Club where he angered an audience by joking about the Vietnam War. It was Lake Geneva, Wis. (There is no town named Lake Geneva in New York.)
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
George Carlin: A Funny Man in an Unfunny World By Amy Goodman
King Features Syndicate Posted on June 26, 2008, Printed on June 28, 2008
The world lost one of its great comedians this week with the death at age 71 of George Carlin. Carlin had a career as a stand-up comic that spanned a half-century, in which he continually broke new ground, targeting those in power with his wit and genius. He impacted our culture, our media and our nation with a stream of material that skewered institutions of the left and right, from government to business and the church. He released 22 comedy albums, earning him five Emmy nominations and winning four Grammys. He was the first guest host of "Saturday Night Live," in 1975, and appeared on "The Tonight Show" 130 times. He starred in 14 HBO specials and authored three best-selling books. He also left an indelible mark on the radio station where I got my start in broadcast journalism, Pacifica station WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City.
On Oct. 30, 1973, WBAI broadcast Carlin's "Filthy Words" routine. Carlin wrote on his Web site, georgecarlin.com: "Lone professional moralist complains to FCC which issues a Declaratory Order against station. Station goes to court." That court battle would last five years, end at the U.S. Supreme Court and set the standard for broadcast indecency laws that are hotly debated to this day. It was neither accident nor coincidence that this iconoclastic comic would have some of his most controversial material broadcast over Pacifica Radio's WBAI. The Pacifica Network was founded in Berkeley, Calif., in 1949, with KPFA as the first truly listener-sponsored radio station.
Back then, radio was so overwhelmingly commercial that Pacifica founder Lew Hill and others found it worthless. As Hill wrote in his "Theory of Listener Sponsored Radio," "If we want an improvement in radio, the basic situation of broadcasting must be such that artists and thinkers have a place to work -- with freedom."
On July 3, 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission could punish WBAI for its broadcast of Carlin's routine, arguing that words relating to sex or excretion (i.e., piss) when children might be listening were prohibited. Supreme Court Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall dissented, noting the court's "depressing inability to appreciate that in our land of cultural pluralism, there are many who think, act, and talk differently from the Members of this Court, and who do not share their fragile sensibilities." Remarkably, 30 years later, the same issues are before a decidedly more conservative Supreme Court.
Recent episodes of "fleeting expletives" from the mouths of celebrities like Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie have prompted the FCC to seek enhanced power to punish broadcasters. George Carlin pointed out what in our society was truly indecent: the behavior of the powerful.
Yes, he spiced his delivery with expletives. He was angry. He, like Pacifica, gave voice to essential, dissident perspectives that have been almost entirely blocked from mainstream media. He said: "We were founded on a very basic double standard. This country was founded by slave owners who wanted to be free. Am I right? A group of slave owners who wanted to be free, so they killed a lot of white English people in order to continue owning their black African people, so they could wipe out the rest of the red Indian people and move west and steal the rest of the land from the brown Mexican people, giving them a place to take off and drop their nuclear weapons on the yellow Japanese people. You know what the motto of this country ought to be? You give us a color, we'll wipe it out."
His prolific output will continue to inspire for generations to come.
Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!
© 2008 King Features Syndicate All rights reserved
.View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/89551/
HBO plans encores programs of George Carlin comedy Tue Jun 24, 2008
Carlin began giving performances on HBO as far back as 1977, almost since the network's inception, and the network will air the first "George Carlin at USC" as well as the final "It's Bad for Ya."
Sister network HBO2 will show 11 of his specials over two nights.
"Because HBO has had such a long and close relationship with George Carlin, his passing is like losing one of our own," HBO Entertainment Senior Vice President Nancy Geller said in a statement. "No performer was more important to helping our network define itself in its early years."
Carlin was 71 years-old when he died of heart failure on Sunday in a Los Angeles-area hospital. He had enthralled the country for nearly 50 years with his provocative humor.
In 1978, a radio broadcast of Carlin's routine "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television," fueled a battle with the Federal Communications Commission over indecent language on U.S. airwaves.
The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that Carlin had used words that were indecent, and that the FCC could ban them from being aired when children were listening.
Still, Carlin continued with his no-holds-barred style of comedy that inspired several generations of young comedians to push the boundaries of what audiences considered funny.
"(No) performer was more committed to the ideal of freedom of speech, a principle he embodied for the 50 years he performed with his trademark wit," Geller said.
Apart from presenting 14 shows on HBO, Carlin wrote three best-selling books, won four Grammy Awards, and recorded 22 comedy albums.
The John F. Kennedy Center recently announced Carlin the winner of the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which he was to receive in November this year.
Award-winning comedian George Carlin dies
June 23, 2008
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- George Carlin, the influential comedian whose routines used profanity, scatology and absurdity to point out the silliness and hypocrisy of human life, has died. He was 71.
George Carlin, here in 2007, kept up a busy schedule, performing as recently as last weekend in Las Vegas.
Carlin, who had a history of heart trouble, died of heart failure Sunday, according to publicist Jeff Abraham. Carlin went to St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica on Sunday afternoon, complaining of chest pain, and died at 5:55 p.m. PT.
Carlin performed as recently as last weekend at the Orleans Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, and maintained a busy performing schedule, which included regular TV specials for HBO.
"He was a genius and I will miss him dearly," Jack Burns, who was the other half of a comedy duo with Carlin in the early 1960s, told The Associated Press.
Carlin was "a hugely influential force in stand-up comedy. He had an amazing mind, and his humor was brave, and always challenging us to look at ourselves and question our belief systems, while being incredibly entertaining. He was one of the greats," actor and comedian Ben Stiller said in a statement. Slideshow: The life of George Carlin »
Carlin was often quoted, his best lines traded like baseball cards. "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" began one famous routine. Another pointed out the differences between the pastoral game of baseball and the militaristic game of football: "Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park! Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium."
Then there were the non sequiturs: "The bigger they are, the worse they smell," he observed. Watch Carlin in action »
He filled three best-selling books, more than 20 record albums and countless television appearances with his material. Time.com: How Carlin changed comedy
He appreciated the impact his words made on fans.
"These are nice additional merit badges that you earn if you've left a mark on a person or on some people," he told CNN.com in 2004. "I'd say it's flattering, but flattery implies insincerity, so I call it a compliment."
Carlin was probably best known for a routine that began, "I was thinking about the curse words and the swear words, the cuss words and the words that you can't say." It was a monologue, known as "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," that got Carlin arrested and eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The "Seven Dirty Words" bit prompted a landmark indecency case after New York's WBAI-FM radio aired it in 1973.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 that the sketch was "indecent but not obscene," giving the Federal Communications Commission broad leeway to determine what constituted indecency on the airwaves.
"So my name is a footnote in American legal history, which I'm perversely kind of proud of," Carlin said. "In the context of that era, it was daring.
"It just sounds like a very self-serving kind of word. I don't want to go around describing myself as a 'groundbreaker' or a 'difference-maker' because I'm not and I wasn't," he said. "But I contributed to people who were saying things that weren't supposed to be said." Watch the impact of Carlin's seven dirty words routine »
In November, Carlin was slated to receive the 2008 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, given by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
"In his lengthy career as a comedian, writer and actor, George Carlin has not only made us laugh, but he makes us think," Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen Schwarzman said in a statement. "His influence on the next generation of comics has been far-reaching."
In a typically wry response, Carlin said, "Thank you, Mr. Twain. Have your people call my people." Watch an appreciation of Carlin »
Carlin was born on May 12, 1937, in New York. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and joined the Air Force, where his misfit ways continued -- he received three courts-martial and several punishments.
After leaving the military, he spent a few years in radio, where he met Burns. In 1960, the pair left to pursue a comedy career in Los Angeles. Burns told the AP that the Carlin of those years was "fairly conservative," but things changed when the two saw Lenny Bruce in the early '60s.
"It was an epiphany for George," Burns told the AP. "The comedy we were doing at the time wasn't exactly groundbreaking, and George knew then that he wanted to go in a different direction."
Carlin remembered a similar feeling, he told CNN.com.
"[His career] represented a lot of such honesty on the stage, the willingness to confront a lot of sacred cows and expose them," he said of Bruce. "He did it with a great deal of irreverence and with a lot of brilliance."
Carlin went solo in 1962. For most of the decade, he was a conservative-looking presence: clean-shaven, attired in jacket and tie, making his amused observations to audiences on "The Tonight Show" and "The Ed Sullivan Show."
But as the times changed, so did Carlin. He let his hair down, grew a beard and dressed in jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts. It was this Carlin who became a hit with college audiences in the early '70s and made such albums as "FM & AM" and "Occupation: Foole."
Carlin hosted the first broadcast of "Saturday Night Live" in October 1975.
He also appeared in movies, including "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989), Kevin Smith's "Dogma" (1999) and "Cars" (2006). For the latter, he was the voice of Fillmore, the Volkswagen bus.
He starred as a cabdriver in his own sitcom, "The George Carlin Show," which ran from 1993 to 1995. He also played the character of Mr. Conductor on the PBS series "Shining Time Station" and lent his voice to two episodes of "The Simpsons."
Carlin was blunt about his own struggles. He suffered several heart attacks, one at Dodger Stadium during a baseball game. He also underwent treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.
He was relentlessly amused by humanity -- in one of his most famous lines, he pointed out that "if you're born in this world you're given a ticket to the freak show. If you're born in America, you're given a front-row seat" -- but refused to consider himself a cynic. He preferred "disappointed idealist."
It all went into his comedy. He was fascinated by language and euphemism, noting that "there's a reluctance to confront reality and a desire to soften unpleasant realities." In a different life, he said, he may have been a teacher.
Which he was, anyway.
"Part of what my impulse is with things I've said or done, I think it is an attempt to demystify these things, to take them out of the realm of the forbidden and the disgusting and the off-base, and to at least bring them into the discussion," he told CNN.com.
He is survived by his wife, Sally Wade; daughter Kelly Carlin McCall; son-in-law Bob McCall; brother Patrick Carlin; and sister-in-law Marlene Carlin. Carlin's first wife, Brenda, died in 1997.