Tuli Can't Stop Talking

These are just my thoughts on contemporary issues and an attempt to open up a dialogue.

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A citizen who cares deeply about the United States Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin


1937 – 2008

Here is Farhi’s appreciation:

A Comedian With Two Faces
For Carlin, There Was Angry George and Gentle George. Both Were Memorable.

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 23, 2008; 3:54 PM

Two personae always seemed to be in uneasy coexistence during George Carlin's preposterously long and fertile comic career. Both George Carlins could amuse and both could be trenchant, but they came at their targets from wildly different angles.

Angry George was the bearded iconoclast of the 1970s who shot to heroic counterculture status by picking up Lenny Bruce's mantle as a scathing social critic. During the Vietnam War, Angry George left no hypocrisy unturned. He sprayed comic acid on whatever moved across the front page: religion, politics, feminism, sex, manners, environmentalism, drugs, death.

Gentle George trafficked in small things. He was the absurdist, the semanticist, the wordplay artist. Gentle George's most memorable works are tributes to Carlin's keen powers of observation and Swiftian ear for the English language . This side of Carlin produced "The Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV," "Baseball and Football" (his ingenious dissection of the differences between our national pastimes), and the more recent "Modern Man," Carlin's verbally acrobatic piece of spoken-word art.

"Seven Words," which remains accurate to this day (if you don't count cable), is one of the most famous "blue" comedy routines ever performed. Shocking though its subject matter is -- or at least was, when he debuted it in 1972 -- Carlin's treatment of the material is so relentlessly cheerful that it now seems almost impossible to be offended. Compare Carlin's riffs on profanity (especially the passage in which he compares one of the words to a snack food) with any blunt-force "shock jock" or less-talented stand-up of the past few decades.

Carlin, who died last night in Los Angeles at 71, was at his least funny when he let his anger and natural anti-authority streak lapse into nihilism. Once, on a tour that came through Washington in the early 1990s, Carlin proposed that "anything could be funny," even rape. He then launched into a cringe-inducing monologue about female victimization. It could essentially be read as an attack on political correctness -- a common theme for Carlin -- but whatever it was, it wasn't funny in the least.

Then there was his genuine anger at other pastimes. Golf courses, he once suggested, should be turned over to homeless people (Carlin had a lifelong hatred of golf, having been fired once in Las Vegas after an audience of golfers complained about his cursing).

His subject matter ran the gamut of the sometimes socially verboten. In one of his HBO specials, Carlin's topics included yeast infections, autoerotic asphyxia, an all-suicide TV channel and revolting involuntary bodily functions.

It was fascinating to watch the nearly-70ish Carlin -- wizened and weakened by years of heart trouble and a cocaine habit -- pushing miles beyond the interplanetary boundaries of good taste. But so much of the material invited not laughter but a thunderstruck "wow" at the aggressiveness with which he pushed into darkness.

It was easier to love the Carlin who delighted in pointing out the absurdity of the trivial, and the simply absurd -- the kind of humor that clearly inspired the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Steven Wright.

There were Carlin's ever-growing list of oxymorons -- "plastic glass," "holy war," "military intelligence" -- and redundancies, such as "raw sewage" ("Do some people cook the stuff?").

As much as Orwell, Carlin saw in language the power not just to obscure, but also to twist and pervert. "I can remember when I was young that poor people lived in slums," he once riffed. "Not anymore. These days, the economically disadvantaged occupy substandard housing in the inner cities. It's so much nicer for them."

And he once asserted: "If honesty were introduced into American life, everything would collapse."

Days ago, it was announced that Carlin -- whose breakthrough album, "FM & AM," was recorded at the Cellar Door in Washington in 1971 -- would receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The Kennedy Center announced this morning that it will go ahead with the award on Nov. 10, when it hosts an evening of tributes for Carlin.

As an UCLA student in the late-'70s, I interviewed Carlin for the school paper. He arrived in an exquisite dark-blue Bentley, which shocked me. Wasn't Carlin supposed to be a proto-hippie, the man who railed against America's consumer culture?

The man who emerged from that magnificent vehicle, though, did look the part. With his stringy long hair, tangled beard and T-shirt and jeans, Carlin could have been the much elder brother of the kids striding around campus. We spoke for perhaps two hours, sitting on the grass under a tree. Carlin was by then a comic superstar -- only the original "Saturday Night Live" cast members and such rising absurdists as Steve Martin and Richard Pryor, were as big -- but he was so modest, quiet and understated that his presence barely registered on campus.

I like to think that I caught Carlin right at a critical fork in his career: the phase between anger and light. He said then that he was in transition, moving from commenting about "things that divide us" (war, religion, sex, foul language) to "things we have in common" (such as the fact that there always seem to be two pennies in the tray in the long middle desk drawer). By that, he meant the comic epigrams, absurdisms and language bits that would find their way into his best-selling books ("Braindroppings") and onto a thousand Web sites. Stuff like, "If you can't beat them, arrange to have them beaten."

But instead of becoming one kind of comedian, Carlin did something more interesting: He became two. Gentle George was then in gestation; Angry George survived and matured until Carlin's ailing heart gave out Sunday night.

"You live 80 years and at best you get about six minutes of pure magic," he once said.

Carlin's time was shorter, but he produced many more minutes of magic for everyone else.

Update: Bullshit:

And as a gift to the Bullshit Supremes:


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