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Death of a Comedian: George Carlin — Overrated?

Posted by lifestyle On September - 23 - 2008

Mr. Robinson’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the management. Really, we might want to make this a standard disclaimer for this column.

Ben Robinson

I’ve read Albert Goldman’s racist, sexist, and homophobic biography, Ladies and Gentlemen: Lenny Bruce! At one point it mentioned that a young George Carlin was arrested for obscenity along with Lenny Bruce. “Wow,” I thought, “this guy must be really hardcore.” Some of my nerd-snob friends already were talking about George Carlin, quoting lines of social criticism that were quite poignant. I decided to download his discography. This was around 1999.

I started with his first albums from the 70s. The stuff was really tame. It was stoner “observational humour.” Jerry Seinfeld, if he was a hippie. For example, he has a routine about being stoned in a supermarket. I already hated Seinfeld, and hated him more now that I realized that he wasn’t truly a pioneer of that hack brand of comedy. Carlin’s early work is all observational humour. And observational humour tends to suck.

I watched an A&E Biography about George Carlin, and it described how Carlin started his career as a really square kind of comedian. Suit and tie. Playing to middle-aged people from the 60s. Not the cool 60s we remember, but the 60s that still believed they were in the 50s. The biography went on to say eventually Carlin adopted the hippie movement, lost the suit and tie, grew his hair long, and started being a radical. Listening to his albums from the 70s, I can tell you that Carlin was not that much of a radical. Just because he talked about doing drugs doesn’t mean his humour was hardcore. It was silly stoner humour.

Of course his most famous routine from the 70s is “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.” This bit is better than most of his other bits from the time, but if you get down to it, it is just an excuse to say a lot of dirty words all at once. It is also highly derivitive of a Lenny Bruce routine. Lenny Bruce arguably died to fight censorship. George Carlin didn’t even go to jail. He just got famous.

Perhaps Carlin’s greatest achievement was being an early opponent of the Catholic Church. He was raised Catholic, going to school and everything, but became an atheist. This is not such a big deal nowadays, but back in the day it was impressive to be a public figure who took this stance.

The general consensus is towards ignoring George Carlin’s 80s work (and incidentally, that of a lot of other famous artists) because he was doing so much cocaine. You don’t really get even the mild chuckles you get from his 70s work in the 80s. He’s just too messed up. He admitted it himself, and he allegedly stopped doing cocaine around the end of the 80s.

In the 90s, he pretty much became a movie star. First, in 1989 he was in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Then he was the conductor on Shining Time Station. He appeared in a few Kevin Smith movies. In all of these roles, his part is small. He plays the part of “famous dude who- OMG I can’t believe he’s in this movie!” But famous for what? I suppose one should give him credit that he had been working at a career for so long, but I think he’s a little over hyped.

In the 2000s, until he died, he focused more on standup. Suddenly he was the wise old man who disapproved of society. He was an undisputable intellect. He used big words in combination and without finesse. His big words were his new dirty words. “Oh, look at me, I can string together a bunch of important words that vaguely make grammatical sense! I am a prophet!” He was really full of himself, and his fans ate it all up. Then finally he died, of old age. What kind of social martyr dies of old age? A fraud, I tells ya.

In 1997 George Carlin was honoured by some television show. Jon Stewart was the host. Jon bowed to George’s magnificence and said nothing but good things about him. I can accept this. George Carlin was working in the business for a long time, he does deserve his gold watch. Towards the end, George Carlin turns the tables and gives his pope-like blessing unto Jon Stewart, saying that Jon will be the next torch holder. When I watched this, I was like, “What? Really? He’s alright but…”

But since then Jon Stewart has built a career that is truly respect worthy. His work on The Daily Show will make him a legend. He is already hot, already one of the big ones, but when it comes time for Jon Stewart to die (a true test for an artist), Jon Stewart should be, and I hope will be, remembered as a greater comedian than George Carlin ever was. Curse you George Carlin, I piss on your grave.


  1. Leo says:

    Have you heard George Carlin’s routine about “shell shock” being transformed over the years to “PTSD?” It’s an absolutely incendiary indictment of the mindset of military brass. Quite brilliant. I believe it was fairly recent.

  2. Benbola says:

    I haven’t heard it, I’ll look it up.

  3. Jake says:

    The shell shock routine is part of his routine on euphemisms, which is some of his best work. Although his early stuff branded him as a stoner comic, he was later rebranded as a language comic for all his bits about euphemisms and such. This stuff really is innovative.

  4. Gregg Williams says:

    Carlin had a mind for the honest reality with a unique satire. He and his sense of play on works will never be duplicate. He was a head of his time. Todays comedians have to swear all the time to get a laugh. They probably write ideas down on fast food napkins. Real comedians as the great Red Skelton got laughs and never swore. Carlin did but explained it,he had a great mind for humor.

  5. TmShady1 says:

    You have got to be kidding me. Carlin was without question one of the greatest. Stewart is good but can’t even compared.

    p.s. I’ll shit on your grave.

  6. Cody Woods says:

    Gregg Williams is a fuckin idiot.

    Just the fact that you made a blanket judgement about such a versatile art already deems everything you say as retarded. There are more clean comics than dirty.

    And just the fact that you basically imply “cussing” makes audiences laugh alone insults thousands, if not millions of people who appreciate comedy for what it is. If anything, cussing only slims your demographic.

    And no, Carlin didn’t explain shit. He cussed all the fuckin time. Yes, he had bits about vocabulary… but he cussed like a sailor cause as he put it:”It’s just spice.”

    Go fuck yourself Gregg.

  7. Seraleuad says:

    You are a bloody idiot. You may have the right to your opinion, but you are a bloody idiot. You don’t say you’re going to piss on someones grave when you don’t even know them. Much less understand what they’ve gone through. You can have your opinion but have respect for another human being. Because he was one. I may not be a fan of George Carlin but give your respect he was a human being honestly!

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