Last month marked five years since the world lost the voice of the people that was George Carlin. In remembrance, I present my column from the July 2, 2008 edition of The Hammonton Gazette.
“You just put up a big sign, or say it loudly on the air. You say, ‘Gee, he was just here a minute ago.” That’s the way I want to be remembered.”
George Carlin, who passed away on June 22, uttered those words in a June, 1997 interview with AP Radio, and they speak volumes about the man.
By far, Carlin was one of the most influential and one of the greatest comedians of the last 40 years. A conventional comedian at the start of his career, Carlin quickly achieved world-wide fame and notoriety with his no-nonsense anti-establishment diatribes and his gleefully morbid views on mankind’s impending doom.
Like many of my generation, I grew up watching and listening to George Carlin. For as far back as I can remember, he has always been there, ripping on the government, religion, politics, war and environmental upheaval.
His views on both Dick Cheney and Colin Powell and their involvement during the first Persian Gulf conflict echoed constantly in my mind during the current administration’s incursion into Iraq.
His early routine about growing up as an Irish Catholic and how that colored his confession penances tickles my brain every time I think about entering a confessional.
And, thanks to George Carlin, I learned, at a very early age, seven magical words that I could never use in polite company.
It was that list of seven words that helped springboard Carlin into the national limelight. Those words got him arrested in Milwaukee in 1972, and led to a Supreme Court ruling in 1978 allowing the FCC to ban their use during hours when children may be listening.
Rather influential for a comedian, wouldn’t you say?
But such was George Carlin.
It’s nigh impossible to sum up his career and his influence in the confines of the space provided. There is so much to include.
Take, for instance, his foray into motion pictures. While he had notable roles in films like Outrageous Fortune and The Prince of Tides, and his character Cardinal Glick from Dogma was Carlin as his satirical best, he will probably (and sadly) best be remembered for his portrayal of time-travelling mentor Rufus in both Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its sequel, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. (Truth be told, I believe that Excellent Adventure was my first exposure to him.)
George Carlin also did several projects for the small screen. Besides his own forgettable sitcom, Carlin provided the narration for “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends” from 1991 to 1998, and played Mr. Conductor on “Shining Time Station” from 1991 to 1993, a role he reprised for three subsequent specials.
(I know, I know. George Carlin on a children’s show? Inconceivable, right? Consider this, though — the children who grew up with Thomas the Tank Engine were probably floored when they first heard their precious Mr. Conductor utter his usual profane lexicon on one of his stand-up specials. Which, you know, is probably why he did it.)
Carlin was also the first-ever host of “Saturday Night Live,” was a frequent performer and guest host on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”
Yet it is his inimitable stand-up comedy for which he will be remembered.
It is difficult for me to believe that George Carlin is actually dead. I find it utterly incomprehensible that a voice like his has been silenced forever. Illogical and irrational though it may be, I always figured that George Carlin would live forever. I wanted to hear his take on the upcoming election. I wanted him to lambaste the next president, whoever he may be, and I wanted him to point out each and every inevitable folly the next administration will perpetrate. (Can you imagine the field day he’d have with the NSA spying on everybody? –Ed.) I wanted to laugh with him as the environment worsens, as the Doomsday Clock ticks ever-closer to midnight, as the economy continues its downward spiral, and as the next natural or man-made disaster captures the attention of the planet.
Because I need to laugh with him, you understand? I need a man like George Carlin to be able to make me laugh at catastrophe. Because if I can’t laugh at it — if I cannot find the humor in it all and must actually devote serious thought to all of it — well, that alternative is utterly unthinkable.
George Carlin simply can’t be gone. I mean, he was just here a minute ago…