In the late 1960s, when the America culture began to change, when The Ed Sullivan Show – the old one-liner comics were looking pretty irrelevant and tired to the younger generation that usually experiments with hard drugs and always protest the war in Vietnam, George Carlin was the greatest stand-up comedian then. He later died of heart failure at the age of 71. Unfortunately, the great change and transformation he brought about in stand-up comedy, is now so ingrained that it is difficult to think of George Carlin as one of America’s best and famous artists, which he was before.
George Carlin started his career in stand-up comedy in the early ’60s. His career was fashioned successfully by the middle of the decade. He always wore skinny ties. He is popularly known to his audiences for his fast-talking DJs, sharp parodies of commercials and a “hippy dippy weatherman.” During the time of the protest marches in the late ’60s, George Carlin was influenced by the new spirit of a counterculture, then he realized that he was entertaining the wrong audience, so he decided to change his whole attitude and act.
George Carlin grew a beard and long hair and began to do various types of material — about hard drugs, sex, Vietnam and US uptight attitude toward language. George Carlin’s new attitude was not well received by his old fans. He was thrown out of Las Vegas twice because of his material. During one of his performances at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, he riled up a conservative audience with his Vietnam jokes so much that he almost caused a riot. At some point, he was banned as a Tonight Show guest by Johnny Carson because of his reputation as someone that abuses the drug.
In the early ’70s, George Carlin made a remarkable change. He helped to redefine an art form by opening a new stand-up comedy for the audience. Like Lenny Bruce, whom he always emulate and who supported him to get his first agent, George Carlin saw the stand-up comedy as a social commentator and truth teller. He tweaked the hypocrisies of middle-class America and challenged conventional wisdom. He made fun of the outrageousness of the society over drugs, for example, he always points out that the problem of the drug extends to the middle-class Americans, as well as the coffee freaks at the workplace to housewives that is hooked on diet pills. He talked about Muhammad Ali’s injustice banishment from boxing because he refused to engage in the draft — a man who was trained to beat people up losing his means of livelihood because he didn’t accept to kill people: Mohammed Ali stated; “No, that’s where I draw the line. I’ll beat ’em up, but I don’t want to kill ’em.’ And the government replied him by saying; “Well if you won’t kill people, we won’t let you beat ’em up.’ ”
The famous George Carlin spoke about the “7 words you can never say on TV. While his brazen repetition of the “dirty” words result to a sensation (this prompted a lawsuit that eventually got to the Supreme Court, leading to the “family hour” creation of network television), his intention was to question our illogical fear of language. “There are no bad words,” George Carlin said.
George Carlin always uses fuzzy thinking and language as his favorite topics. He finds oxymorons like ” military intelligence and jumbo shrimp” to be marveled. He also pointed out the uses of euphemism socially; “When did big house trailers become mobile homes?, When did toilet paper become bathroom tissue?”. He reminisced about his Catholic upbringing and class-clown antics in the New York Rough Morningside Heights section.
In the 1970s, George Carlin sold out college concerts. He released best-selling records (his album spent over 34 weeks on the Billboard charts, leading to the revitalization of the comedy business that had fallen apart). In 1975, NBC introduced a new late-night comedy show called Saturday Night Live. George Carlin was the first guest comedian host. And when HBO started to roll out its influential comedy series of “On Location” concerts, George Carlin was one of its most famous stars, with a headline of record 14 one-man show for the network.
George Carlin was a counterculture era product both in comedy and in lifestyle. His heavy use of the drug began in the mid-’70s and this affected his health (he suffered a severe heart attack in 1978) and his career adversely. George Carlin stated some years later, “I was not being as creative, so I lost years. I would have liked to be a pole vaulter in those years, and instead, I was doing hurdles.”
In the early ’80s, after George Carlin kicked his drug habit, he revived his comedy career, while becoming a curmudgeon uncle, with an aphoristic style and a small-bore “observational” humor. Then, in the ’90s, he tacked back to a hard and controversial political material, railing against all that is from the middle-class obsession to the environmental movement with golf. In his late 60s, George Carlin was as perceptive on the buzzwords and cliches of the era as ever. He said, ” I’ve been inputted and outsourced, I’ve been uplinked and downloaded, I know the downside of upgrading, I know the upside of downsizing, I’m a high-tech lowlife. I’m a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge, bicoastal multitasker, and I can offer you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.”
George Carlin’s material became increasingly dark in his later years, to the point where that he was cheerleading for ecological disaster and mass suicide. “I felt like giving up on this whole human adventure a long ago,” he said some few years later. “Disengage myself from it emotionally. I think the human race has misused its gift, and I think America has misused its promise. The people of this country were very cheap for cheeseburgers and sneakers. And this is not fixable.”
George Carlin’s comedy career was anything but a downer. He was so unique among stand-up comic of his era. He remained a top-drawing comedian for over 40 years, with virtually no support from TV or movies sitcoms. His influence is seen all over, from the observational comedy of Jerry Seinfeld to the political rants of Lewis Black. He demonstrated that nothing was off-limits for good comedy. And he helped in bringing stand-up comedy to limelight in the American culture.
The video below is his 7 Dirty Words routine, Viewer discretion is advised. 🙂