Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin 1937-2008

Oh, George!

Oh, George.

It's interesting: when I first heard about Carlin's death, it was about 4:30 am. I was woken up by a text message. My reaction was--and has been--far different from when Richard Jeni died, which is to say I had almost no emotional reaction. In fact, I silenced my phone and went back to sleep.

Even when I was dressed and ready to go to work, when I passed the living room record player and the George Carlin record just recently purchased, I was hardly affected. And when I took out the newspaper recycling, with the article from last week's Post saying Carlin would be receiving the Mark Twain lifetime achievement prize--I was not sad.

It took me an entire morning of listening to and watching old bits to realize why I wasn't upset.

First of all, I got to see the man live twice. Twice. So unlike with Mitch Hedberg and Jeni, I feel satisfied with having shared the same oxygen as this comedic genius. (Twice.)

Secondly, the man was not afraid of death. He was comfortable with it.

But thirdly, and most importantly, Carlin died at 71. Of heart failure. In a hospital he had checked into previously.

What a relief! I mean, finally one of our cultural heroes dies a dignified death of old age (even though decades of previous drug abuse, before he went clean, definitely took a toll). Carlin didn’t die of some revolting character flaw, neither did he die from some poor decision making. He died of old age!

Besides, how upset can I be when pondering the life of a man who created volumes and volumes of brilliance? Who had the opportunity to express to the world all that he saw mistaken in it--and who never ever ever failed to take advantage of that opportunity?

No, the life of Carlin is a life to be laughed over. It's a life to be appreciated even beyond his craft. For besides the drug abuse, Carlin's personal life was as sincere as his comedic life. He writes in the introduction to one of his books that he lived a perfectly happy life--happily married and everything.

He also took a case of freedom of speech to the Supreme freaking Court!

The life of Carlin is a life to be mulled and appreciated with more than just a little incredulousness--for this is how we view his comedy.

Even at the most barbarian, disgusting, and immature levels his comedy reaches--and there are quite a few--there is always a sophisticated and intelligent undertone. If you were one of those naive listeners who turned him off after the first (or fiftieth) cuss word, counting him out forever, then you missed out.

Because unlike annoying comedians like Carlos Mencia and Lewis Black, comedians who somehow make money by screaming profanities at people, Carlin laced his controversial approach with beautiful ingenuity.

Honestly, a lot of what Carlin performed was not always laugh-out-loud funny. It was smile-to-yourself funny. Sometimes you wouldn’t even get it until weeks after hearing it, when you’d find yourself at a baseball game or a hotel room and you’d remember Carlin’s ideas of putting mines in the outfield or putting “stuff” away in hotels.

That’s what true brilliance is: creating permanent images in a creative medium that changes the way we view the world.

And Carlin’s work will always be remembered as brilliant.

(Stay tuned for more Carlin stuff this week on JJ.)

For further remembrance, here’s two other great videos (I especially love Carlin’s use of rhythm in the “stuff” bit):