An irreverent comic, Carlin showed that nothing — not the most sensitive social issues or even the absurdities of everyday life and language — was off-limits for smart comedy. With a comedy career that extended more than 40 years, he’s probably best known for his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine (Warning: No surprise here, this one contains some colorful language), which prompted a lawsuit that eventually made it to the Supreme Court.
“There are three ingredients in my comedy,” he said in a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Those three things which wax and wane in importance are English language and wordplay; secondly, mundane, everyday observational comedy — dogs, cats and all that stuff; and thirdly, sociopolitical attitude comedy.”
Admittedly, I’m too young to provide any personal anecdotes of how Carlin inspired me or to give first-hand insight into how he shaped not only stand-up comedy but also a changing generation. This piece in Time does a better job than I could hazard.
I was introduced, though, to Carlin’s comedy in college and immediately found something I could appreciate, no matter what generation I was born: biting social commentary. From religion to politics, Carlin tackled it all fearlessly; in the beginning, often getting kicked out of clubs. While I may not agree with his takes on much of it, I appreciated his ability to at least make us question our everyday assumptions – all while eliciting bellyache-inducing laughs. It’s a form of commentary I hope – and doubt – will ever die.
So, here’s Carlin’s take on death. Just don’t offer to “do anything you can to help” at his funeral…
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