I heard the very sad news on the way in this morning that George Carlin has died.* He died of heart failure, not, it turns out, from "swallowing small amounts of saliva over a long period of time." He was only 71.
Carlin's album A Place For My Stuff was one of the most hilarious comedy albums ever released. I'd heard bits of it - with the cuss words bleeped out, of course - on Dr. Demento at least every other week on the Loop, WLUP, 97.9 on Sunday nights before I got a hold of my own uncut copy at Rainbow Records in Park Ridge (long since closed - it's location now holds a boutique and a yogurt shop). I'd even memorized "The Icebox Man" in its entirety to present, edited to FCC regulatory standards, as a monologue to my drama club.
My parents tried to steer me towards Bill Cosby, they really did, but though Cosby was brilliant, Carlin was masterful in walking an edge that I still find really appealing. Sometimes, okay often times he "crossed a line!" from funny into cynical/nasty - especially about 10 years ago when I saw him live; but when he was on, He. Was. ON. He took risks in trusting his audience to be shocked and appalled, emit shocked laughter, then find themselves appalled for laughing. Then they'd start to think....about trickle-down economics, politics, war, the wealthy, the myth of the American Dream, abortion, why planes stay in the air, the importance and strength of words, religion, whether vegetarians can eat animal crackers, the suckiness of the status quo, whether infants enjoyed infancy as much as adults enjoyed adultery....He wanted people to THINK. He trusted his audience to have working brains and he encouraged them to use them, not to be led like sheep, not to take things for granted, not to be complacent, not to believe that those with the power were necessarily smarter or always had their best interest in mind.
Sometimes he was silly and other times he was too cynical to stomach, but he had guts. He also his own definition of comedy, and the brains to pull it off from the first episode of Saturday Night Live to his role as Cardinal Glick in Dogma, to a stand-up stint in Vegas only week ago. It was a combo of Carlin, Monty Python, Richard Pryor, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, and Eddie Murphy (all despite my mom's strong protests, I'll note!) that made me come to the realization that comedy was an art, and the one art I most hoped I'd discover I had a gift for.
"Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist." I try to keep that in mind, George, when I'm feeling cynical, and the cynicism starts spiraling and getting ugly. Please don't take offense, but I saw your ugly-cynical side live and I keep that in mind whenever I'm feeling cynical. I think, "man, that was NOT funny. I don't want it to take me over like that," and I try to do something positive and proactive. I try to let my inner idealist take over, naive though she may be; and to "think off center."
Rest in peace, George. I hope you're not stuck on the roof!
*I'd originally written "passed away" but some bright, conscientious, vigilant, clever and charming (and, of course, Anonymous!) reader called me a "shithead" for doing so. S/he kinda has a point, though - Carlin went in with some pain in his chest and came out dead. You could hardly call that "passing away." Besides:
"....Thanks to our fear of death in this country, I won't have to die...I'll pass away. Or I'll expire like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital, they'll call it a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it as negative patient-care outcome. And if it's the result of malpractice, they'll say it was a therapeutic misadventure. I'm telling you, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe not vomit. Makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill." - George Carlin