I learned seconds ago that George Carlin has passed away at 71. It is an unbelievable, shocking loss. George Carlin was simply the funniest and most talented comedian of his generation. Others may say that Richard Pryor was the funniest and most talented, but I am more of a Carlin man.
To let you know how much I adored George Carlin, when I was a teenager, back in the late 80s and early 90s, I owned and would regularly listen to tapes of Carlin's standup comedy act in my car. Some of them were from the 60s before I was even born, and there, as a teenager I would spend my free time listening to them.
More than anything, Carlin's humor and his act were based on language. Not relationships between people. Not social norms. Language. What baggage did certain words and phrases carry with them. Carlin was professionally a comedian, but his hobby was linguistics. The study of language, and thinking about how language works and affects us. Of course, the classic bit was the "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television", a brilliant send-up of the almost arbitrary barriers people up to language.
Of course, since Carlin did that skit, at least 3 of the 7 words have been said on network television.
This won't be the most well-organized essay, because at this point it's been literally about 4 minutes since I learned of Carlin's death. I am just so surprised. George Carlin was probably the first really good standup comedian I ever saw do his act. I was maybe 8 years old, and we had just gotten cable television, and Carlin was doing his act. I was riveted at this ancient (to me) man who I had never seen before who was so interesting, so funny. It included his skit on "Only football, baseball, and basketball are sports".
I later found out that the act he did for that show was a deliberate departure from his usual raunchy act, because he wanted to prove to people that he could be funny without using the f-word quite so much.
His humor was vital, relevant, and like the best of comedy, it shined a light on our very serious problems and fed us hard truth in bite-sized pieces. The best comedians are able to make us think very seriously about very serious matters, while fooling us into thinking he's just "being funny". In that respect, Carlin and Richard Pryor were very similar.
What a lot of people don't realize is that Carlin got his start in stand-up comedy relatively late in life. And he didn't become a star until he was in his late 30s. Before that, he had been a radio personality.
Do yourself a favor and go to YouTube and search for George Carlin. Watch what comes up.