Some brief words on the passing of George Carlin.
Last week, it was announced that The Kennedy Center was to award George Carlin with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor; the greatest award that a humorist can receive, and only the 11th recipient of the award overall. This was to recognize his 50+ years of performing and contributions to the world of Comedy. Despite the nature of his act, I know without question that Mr. Carlin would have been gracious and humble to accept it, and it was a shame that he passed away before the ceremony.
From a personal standpoint, I consider George Carlin to be one of my greatest influences. Not necessarily concerning comedy, writing or performing, but my personality and outlook overall. Carlin made me realize that everything needed to be questioned, authority didn’t have to be respected, religion didn’t have to be believed and the freedom of speech needed to be upheld. The traditions and iconic figures (including Carlin himself) that we hold so dear need to be held up to the microscope and examined, in the hopes of finding the true meaning of life; that we’re here to enjoy the show. Be nice to those around you and do what you can to make a better life for yourself and your loved ones, but don’t fear judgment and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
George Carlin made me realize that the greatest comics do so much more than tell jokes. As a 12-year-old, I remember discovering 70’s Carlin material by rooting through my uncle’s record collection while visiting my cousin for a weekend (along with Steve Martin and Rodney Dangerfield, among others). His pinpoint delivery and borderline-slapstick mixed with social commentary, one right after the next, absolutely blew me away. It wasn’t the profanity and occasional ‘obscene’ nature of Carlin’s work that impressed me so much as a kid, it was the way that he did everything so seamlessly, had a specific point of view and had a brilliant way of making people understand the absurdity of our own existence. Carlin was a true genius.
At the age of 70, a point where most men would be happy (and fortunate enough) to live a healthy life of quiet retirement, Carlin recorded his 14th HBO comedy special, which turned out to be one of his best in a decade. When fans of Carlin’s work silently worried that the old man had lost his edge and social relevance, he once again defied expectation and created a fitting and astoundingly brilliant final masterwork. The drive and intelligence of this man was astounding; we should all be so lucky to continue to form new viewpoints and remain so current and bright at the age of 70.
One of the things that I’ll miss about Carlin was his off-stage demeanor. Critics state that Carlin was a grumpy old man; a reformed addict that pushed his atheist agenda to the point where it was no longer funny. However, every time we saw Carlin interviewed or accepting yet another award for his achievements, we all were able to see Carlin for who he truly was; a humble, sweet, brilliant and intelligent performer that always knew exactly what he was doing at all times. Anyone who negatively judged Carlin based on his stand-up persona was missing out on a huge portion of who he was as a man. I humorously remember the first time I saw Carlin on The Tonight Show; I had fully expected some tongue-lashing tirade about the English language or the current President, but instead, I was met with an interesting, logical, calm and quiet discussion. He always surprised me.
George Carlin has made me more intelligent. Harder. More angry at the world. More accepting of human beings but continually frustrated by the groups that they attach themselves to. George Carlin has allowed me to accept that there are certain things completely out of my control that I cannot allow myself to worry about. George Carlin reminded me to sit back and enjoy the show. To continually evolve and never accept what people tell me is right. To trust my gut. To make it a personal goal to make at least one person laugh every single day of my life. For all of this and more, I cannot thank him enough.
When Kurt Vonnegut passed away last year, the big joke among his fans was to state “He’s up in heaven now.” This was in reference to the following passage in God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian:
“I am honorary president of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great, spectacularly prolific writer and scientist, Dr. Isaac Asimov in that essentially functionless capacity. At an A.H.A. memorial service for my predecessor I said, “Isaac is up in Heaven now.” That was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. It rolled them in the aisles. Mirth! Several minutes had to pass before something resembling solemnity could be restored.”
In many ways, I considered Mr. Vonnegut and Mr. Carlin to share similar worldviews, and I cannot help but think of this quote now that we’ve lost them both in a little over a year. And it makes me laugh. Hard. And much like Vonnegut, part of me thought that this day might not ever happen, that these heroes would live forever and continue to shine through the garbage until the end of time.
I won’t say that Carlin is in Heaven now, but if there is one, he’s there.
Thank you so much for everything.