I have had few “a-ha” moments in my life, moments when something that’s been kind of tickling at the outer reaches of your consciousness suddenly snaps into focus and you are forever changed. George Carlin provided me with one of those moments.
In 1990, my friend Ben Garant and I were traveling the country together, and while on the road Ben purchased a George Carlin cassette at a truck stop or something. I had certainly heard of Carlin before, and was probably even aware of his famous “Seven Dirty Words” bit, but I had never sat down and listened to a George Carlin album.
Ben popped it into our in-dash cassette player (it was a very fancy car), and we listened to it straight through. There was one line he had on that album that had us both in stitches. He was talking about God and said, “God is so powerful He can throw a boat over a hedge.”
A boat over a hedge.
We probably listened to that one line ten or twelve times, laughing every time. The specificity of that image just made us howl and it changed the way I think about comedy. It was the combination of the completely grounded and completely absurd that transformed the way I looked at writing comedy, and is more than a little responsible for the kind of stuff I write to this day.
I never met George Carlin, and only saw him perform once, a couple of years ago at the Aspen Comedy Festival. That night he did about an hour of new material, explaining throughout the show that he was still developing much of what we were seeing, and so it wasn’t as polished as it would be a few months hence. Time and again, he returned to his notes, which he had onstage with him, and which seemed to be hand-written on index cards and pages from legal pads. I would be lying if I said it was the funniest show I’d ever seen. It wasn’t: some of the new material was good, some of it not so good, and a few things were just bad. Even so, I thought it was a great show. Not because of the material, but because here was a guy, almost seventy years of old, sweating it out on stage, working.
Once comedians reach a certain age, I imagine it must be very tempting for them to rest on their laurels. How easy it must be to stroll onto the stage filled with an audience of admirers, reach into the grab bag, and start pulling out the same old dusty gags. Nobody begrudges those comics because after decades of honing their acts, they’ve earned it. But Carlin never did that. Carlin never stopped writing, never stopped touring, never stopped pushing the envelope, never got sentimental and never grew up. George Carlin never stopped being relevant.
Rest in motherfucking, shit-eating, titty fucking, cock-sucking, cunt-licking peace, George.