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June 23, 2008

Rest in Fucking Peace, George Carlin

Georgecarlinl1_3 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.

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Sean B.

I think somebody needs a hug. I sort of felt that way when Mitch Hedberg died, except without the relevance and old part.
Strangely enough, this was the opposite of what I thought of when my grandpa died, he stopped being relevant completely. And then for three weeks he became relevant again, but that was only when we noticed there was a gas leak in his room.

We should set a date for a hug.

Severed

I LOVED George Carlin. He was my favorite comedian and now that hes gone only Michael Ian Black is left. ;~; I hope he doesn't die of a heart condition too.

I wish Carlos Mencia would of died a tragic death instead of George Carlin.

Chief Fever Nuts

The world loses a true, fierce, original soul. I only owned three comedy albums for years and the one I wore out was Carlin's.

This was a truly appropriate and affecting tribute.

Chief Fever Nuts

@ Severed -- Mencia would just lift his manner of death from another famous comedian, anyway.

Matt S

George Carlin changed the way I think too. It sounds strange to say it now, but even 20 years ago, you NEVER saw someone on TV questioning the existence of God or the validity of organized religion. Before Carlin, anyone saying these things was basically portrayed as a nutjob, at least on all the TV I grew up with.

Hearing him talk, not just in his comedy, but on Larry King of all places--made me feel like maybe I could have those thoughts myself and not be a societal leper my whole life. I can't think of a public figure who had a bigger influence on my the person I've become.

Even though we're both 99% sure you can't hear this, thank you George.

Nickel Jean

I was hoping you would post a blog about George Carlin! When I was 11 years old I saw one of George's specials on HBO; prior to that, my only experience with stand-up comedy was that bullshit show hosted by Rosie O'Donnell on VH-1. He definitely influenced my taste in comedy today. I love how he could be so absurd, yet so intelligent. I share his love of the English language and agree with his saying, "Fuck common usage!" I cannot sing "Old MacDonald" with my children without thinking that "E-I-E-I-O" is actually a gross misspelling of the word "farm." And he's definitely my favorite narrator on Thomas the Tank Engine.

Reen

Rock on Michael.

I admire courageous people who tell it like it is, as they see it. It doesn't matter if I agree or not, I'm going to listen. And remember. And if their argument is persuasive enough, I may even change my mind.

George changed a lot of minds. Angry and hilarious, he really has been crashing through barriers for decades. He will be sorely missed.

When an intellectual comedian like George was, or you are, finds a way to spoon feed the sweet mixture of raw honesty, out of the box thinking, and side splitting humor - I'm eating.

So thanks George - for all the happy meals.

And just because I too, enjoy an envelope pushing on occasion, I beg to disagree with Matt S. I think George *can* hear us now. And with wild eyes and a crazy grin he's saying to himself - "Well, fuck me!"

Susanna

I'm really gonna miss that cocksucker.

Nicole

Aamen

Erika

That was a really nice tribute. Thanks, Michael.

Camille

Lovely tribute.
I think I first saw him on SNL and thought ,"wow-he's going to piss alot of people off". A true revolutionary.

George C.

Hey guys.

julie

That was lovely what you wrote here, Michael. Very well-written. Great description of him during that show. I had a lump in my throat, pardon the sentimentality. I've been watching a lot of his stuff on Youtube in the last few days and he really was incredible. You actually feel smarter after watching/listening to one of his performances. He was such an artist. But more than anything, he was hysterically funny. And in the spirit of showing appreciation for people, I just have to say--what you guys did with Stella is really a gift. Thank you for all the genuine side-splitting laughter you've given me. I consider it a generous, free gift that you offered to people. It's a real joy to make people laugh.

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