The impact of George Carlin’s passing was clearly felt on the Internet, as websites and blogs allowed their readers to collectively mourn a great wit and a great mind. From the moment his death was announced, clips of him on YouTube were posted everywhere because we live in a time when great moments on stage can be brought back out at a moment’s notice; of course there were many great Carlin clips to be had.
And when there weren’t good enough clips, bloggers transcribed some of his best jokes, like the seven dirty words you can’t say on TV. Admirers such as comedian Jerry Seinfeld and filmmaker Kevin Smith were writing up homages and giving interviews in newspapers and magazines; it was all happening within a matter of a few days. The theme that kept coming back was that Carlin was like no other.
You’d think that, with so many voices out there, Carlin’s would have been somehow deadened by the sheer volume of competition. Strangely enough, this only made Carlin stand out all the more. Even Jon Stewart, who rarely acknowledges deaths on The Daily Show, took a few moments to honor Carlin. Carlin was an original. There have been many who attempted to do what he could do but, as Seinfeld wrote, no one could.
Seinfeld wrote in the New York Times: “You could certainly say that George downright invented modern American stand-up comedy in many ways. Every comedian does a little George. I couldn’t even count the number of times I’ve been standing around with some comedians and someone talks about some idea for a joke and another comedian would say, ‘Carlin does it.’ I’ve heard it my whole career: ‘Carlin does it’ ‘Carlin already did it,’ ‘Carlin did it eight years ago.’ ”
HBO and NBC both rolled out vintage and recent Carlin in homage this week, re-airing his live routines and his work on Saturday Night Live. He was probably not quite ready for prime time, as his monologues are dotted with those seven dirty words and when he says them, he SAYS them; there is no polite way out of it.
Revisiting his old routines on YouTube, his voice, manner, and attitude slices through so much of the measured and even whiny comedy we hear today. Perhaps this was why so many took out so much time to celebrate him and his great way of telling jokes. It isn’t surprising that he’s been chosen to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center Honors later this year; if there was one person Carlin resembled in intelligence and biting wit it was Twain.
It can’t even be said that Carlin was plucked out of the world too soon; after drug rehab and a heart attack, Carlin seemed particularly lucky to have lived as long as he had. But what seemed a bigger tragedy is that our culture doesn’t seem to be producing George Carlins anymore. Whether they are out there or not, he was far too controversial to have succeeded if he were to begin his career now. Perhaps Carlin’s passing will remind people that speech was meant to be free.
Carlin was anti-religion, something that would probably limit him somehow these days. He probably wouldn’t even want anyone saying that he went to a better place; as Bill Maher told CNN, “I bet you if he was here now, what he would be saying is, ‘Why do people say nice things when you die? That’s the stupidest thing to do. They can’t hear you, you know?’”
Tune into HBO this week to catch Carlin, warts and all.