George Carlin’s influence will be felt in comedy, politics and language for generations to come
I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but I find it hard to write about someone who’s had such a lasting influence on me. It’s hard not to be impressed by someone who one minute is ripping into conservative talking points and then telling fart jokes the next. For decades, George Carlin did it smarter and funnier than everyone.
I still remember the first CD I bought of his. Growing up in the 1980’s, I listened to a lot of punk and heavy metal music. I was politically aware already and was greatly concerned with Tipper Gore and the PMRC’s attempt to censor music. I knew little of George Carlin at the time, but in 1990 at 15 years old I bought Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics just based on the title and album cover.
The album was political in a social sense, but not in the way I thought it would be, he didn’t mention the PMRC at all. Instead, the record was more about the language we use in society. Euphemisms, feminist language, political correctness, etc. I was instantly hooked regardless.
“By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.”
Since then I’ve heard and seen every act of his dozens of times. His ability to talk about social issues and language with such originality and clarity was second to no one. The fact that he did it with absolute hilarity, to me was just a bonus.
George Carlin means something different to everyone, depending on your generation. People growing up in the seventies will remember his arguably most famous bit “seven words you can never say on television.” Those who got into Carlin in the nineties might cherish his take on “abortion” or the environment “the planet is fine.” Regardless of your favorite era, not many doubt that he came of age in the seventies or that he got better with time.
Although Carlin was clearly center left when it came to political opinion, he was by and large apolitical and always chose logic when it came to his opinions. He was anti-government to a certain extent, he was also anti-religion and pro-choice (not just with abortion). He did love to pick on conservatives because let’s face it, they lacked the logic he spoke from. Still, he never shied away from going after liberals when it was deserved, especially the language they use.
“I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death”
George Carlin died in 2008 after more than 50 years in the business, 25 comedy albums, 15 HBO specials and half a dozen books. His status as a comedy legend will never be disputed and neither will his influence on the army of other comedians who have followed in his footsteps.
If Carlin had never existed. We might not have John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Chris Rock, Lewis Black, Louis C.K., or even Jay Leno. They might still be comedians, but they wouldn’t be quite the same. In short, if it weren’t for Carlin and the comedians he influenced, I might have been reduced to watching the mainstream nightly news at 11:00pm (yikes!).
My motivation for this article didn’t come strictly from my love of Carlin’s material, I had another motive. There are people coming of age now in their teens and early twenties who have never heard of the man. My hope is; the youth who checkout this article through Facebook or Twitter will see Carlin for the first time and like him enough to share him with their friends.
Like he did for me, Mr. Carlin just might make kids both angry and happy enough to want to change things in this country. George Carlin was much better at that than I’ll ever be.
“I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don’t have as many people who believe it.”