Monday, June 23, 2008

Comic George Carlin Dead At the Age of 71

This morning I woke up to the sad news that stand-up comic icon George Carlin died Sunday night of heart failure at the age of 71. Even though George had a history of heart problems, his death still caught me off guard. Just a few days ago, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC announced that Carlin would be the 2008 honoree of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to be awarded in November of 2008.

As I got ready for work this morning, I was thinking of George's approach to comedy and it reminded me of one of my favorite movie lines. In the 1960 courtroom drama Inherit the Wind, reporter E.K. Hornbeck (played by Gene Kelly) said that a newspaper's job is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" and that's what George did for last 40 years. Whether he was ranting about government waste, the hypocrisy of religion or the decline of common sense among the human race, George had the ability to not only make you laugh, but think as well. In my eye, he was right up there with Richard Pryor in the stand-up comedy pantheon (he actually finished #2 behind Richard in Comedy Central's list of the 100 greatest stand-up comics of all-time).

I was fortunate enough to see George Carlin live circa 1990 when he performed at the campus of Northern Michigan University. One thing that stuck with me about George's show was his riff on golf being a useless sport, adding that we should be using the land where golf courses are for homeless shelters instead. As a non-fan of golf and a fan of common sense, I was in complete agreement with George on that one.

Right up to the end, George Carlin was still telling it like it is and railing against the system. Below is his breakdown of The American Dream.


Jessica said...

I was shocked too. :( He will be missed. I saw him live a few years back, and I'm glad I had the chance to.

Anonymous said...

I was pretty shocked myself, even knowing the health history. I'll miss his way of looking at things, becuase even when he was making you laugh, he was making you think. Most modern commedians don't have that ability.

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

This is a really nice write up on George, he was one of the greats of our time.

Anonymous said...

I was so sad to hear of his passing this morning. I like how he said, "They wipe your arm with alcohol before administering your lethal injection shot." (I heard that clip this morning)

My dad loved his irreverant humor. I saw several of his specials over the years, and always thought he was a great comedian that always made you think.

Pop Art Diva! said...

I woke up to the news. I too felt a shock, why I don't know, but it was the shock of sorrow I guess.

So many people could not see past George Carlin's profanity and they missed probably one of the most intelligent, insightful people of my generation.

If you've read any of Carlin's books you will see a thoughtful and truly genius ability to cut to the heart of the matter and "hit the nail on the head". And he did all that with a brilliant sense of humor, though tinged pretty blue.

I shall miss him, his humor and his ability to point the finger in the right direction.

pjazzypar said...

George Carlin was one of my favorites because he didn't stand up there and tell jokes for the sake of telling jokes, he was trying to make sense of a world that does not make sense at all. He just did it in a way that was very funny. Pryor, Carlin, and Bruce elevated our social consciousness. The modern day comedian in that vein is probably Lewis Black. Too bad his Kennedy Center tribute did not come last November.

X. Dell said...


I've been listening to George Carlin all day since I heard the news. One thing I noticed is that the older he got, the less funnier he got. And the less funnier he got, the more compelling and profound his stage act became. I watched the last HBO special when it first aired, and loved the frankness of it.

But now I'm thinking that maybe Carlin's approach to comedy changed before the end of his life because he had a lot to say. In a way, his last routines encapsulated many of the themes of his earlier matierial. It's almost as if somewhere, in the back of his unconscious mind, he realized his time might be limited, and wanted to make sure that everyone would understand his work and legacy.

It's almost as if he realized he didn't have time to be cute anymore.

Malcolm said...

Jessica: I don't know about you, but part of the shock for me might have been because George Carlin was one of the last major comics from his generation. It's kinda like the end of an era.

Michael T: The only two contemporary comics that I can think of who make you laugh and think are Chris Rock and Lewis Black.

Barbara: Thank you. I struggled at first to come up with the right words. Later that morning, it just fell into place.

Holly (aka Thriving At 30): I believe I might have heard that line about wiping the arm with alcohol before giving a lethal injection. I went to Comedy Central's site to see if they had any special programming to pay tribute to George Carlin. I didn't see anything. Maybe they did something yesterday, I don't know.

Pop Art Diva: Even though George Carlin used profanity liberally, it was never overwhelming to me because it didn't come off as being gratuitous.

Pjazzy: I didn't even know about the upcoming Kennedy Center Honor until I heard that George had died. That would have been really cool to see him get his due in such a dignified setting.

X. Dell: George may very well have had an inner clock letting him know that his time was limited.

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