When I heard the news last week I thought, oh boy. Sad, sad news about a happy, hippy, funny guy. RIP, George Carlin.
I once saw him live, at the old (beautiful, ornate) Lyric theater in Baltimore. The opening act was Leon Redbone and a small combo. What a night! I never laughed so hard in my life. So hard, in fact that, about half-way through my stomach began to ache, as if I’d done 1,000 sit-ups, and I decided I had to limit my laughing to only the really-really funny bits. A losing proposition, if there ever was one.
Even after more than 20-plus years, I can still remember most of the jokes. His only prop on stage was a small, h-frame wooden chair, like the kind you sat on in grade school. One gag that resonated with this then-new driver was the observation (weren’t all his jokes simple observations?) that, in traffic, every person in front of you who drives slowly is an idiot, and everyone who passes you is an asshole. He sat in that little chair and acted out the reactions to the drivers, waving his fist at each and looking around, confounded, angry, bemused, as he delivered his rubber-faced monologue. I think of this routine nearly every time I’m on the highway.
When I saw the notice about his death, I uttered his classic joke, “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”-shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits! His full standup routine, as recorded on Class Clown, was my litany growing up. I knew the whole LP by heart and recited it to myself often. If you don’t know it, I recommend you seek it out. The CD is available in stores and on iTunes.
What I liked most about him is that he was a word lover. So many of his jokes, long and short, were based on his (often revealing) interpretation of what words mean and how often we ignore or take them for granted. Check out the aforementioned “words” joke to see what I mean, for instance. Or consider these gems: “If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?” Or, “What if there were no hypothetical questions?” Or, “If the #2 pencil is so popular, why is it still #2?” Or his equally famous stand-up routine about the differences between baseball and football.
Very sad to see him go, for sure, especially when so many less funny bastards, like Dick Cheney and F Castro, carry on. Carlin was a Mencken in a blue collared shirt. He had an ear for language and its nuances and an eye on all of us and our foibles and follies. He said, “How come when it’s us it’s an abortion, but when it’s a chicken it’s an omlette.” He said, “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” He said, “Scratch a cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.” He will be missed.