I’ve been missing George Carlin lately. I’ve been wondering what his take would be on our current state of affairs; on Libya, on Japan, on Wisconsin….and on life in general. George could be funny, insightful, vulgar, offensive, clever and righteous, and oftentimes was all these things in the same performance.
I loved the way he hammered religion, even though I’m a religious kind of guy. Interestingly enough, he once talked about the nuns at his childhood Catholic school, who would come to see his shows and who loved his stuff. He said he felt a little odd about it, and even warned them once or twice not to come because of the material he was going to bring. But according to George, the nuns would come anyway. One told him that she thought he was doing very important work, and I think more than a few of us would agree with her.
Here’s the first Carlin clip that came to mind; a bit of an obscure one, I’ll grant you, but one where, near the end of his life he calls it as he sees it, no varnish or frills attached:
George tended to get a bit more angry and bitter in the performances of his later years. But I think you could chalk that up to his keen awareness of history and culture; and also to his nimble and critical intelligence, which could strip the veneer off ugly truths in ways that left you laughing and marveling at the same time. And George saw truths so ugly that not even our best myths could hope to cover them up.
His true gift was his mastery of the English language; up until the very end he composed comedy routines by using words as if they were notes or chords of music; they could race and dance and hit crescendos, then drop you like some steep roller coaster does before whipping you around the bend and on to the next part of the ride. His memory must have been phenomenal to deliver such tightly crafted routines, with each word and its paced delivery so crucial to the overall effect.
This next clip is George at the height of his career, much younger and with the complete package of word-craft abetted by a mental agility and a clownish physical delivery that a lot of us found irresistible:
In honor of the 2011 baseball season, here’s George talking about baseball vs. football:
And here’s George in a guaranteed-to-offend-someone riff on saving the planet.
Thanks for dropping in to stay with us a while, George. Your teachers at that Catholic school did a pretty good job of not only educating you, but giving you a good, healthy dose of Biblically-based righteousness to boot. You may have played off it and against it, but it sure seems to be the foundation for a lot of your material. You’d insist that you didn’t go anywhere when you died; but I’m hoping you did, and that it’s a very good place.