I was saddened this morning to learn of George Carlin's death from heart failure.
As a college student in the 1970's (with a major in Radio-Television-Film and a minor in Journalism), I was a big fan of George -- both for his brilliant comedy and for his fight for his First Amendment rights of freedom of speech. Of course, I had watched him perform traditional standup comedy on his many appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. But I got hooked as an 18-year-old, when I got to see him live at a show in Pauley Pavilion.
He had me with a routine he did on Oxymorons... like JUMBO shrimp... and MILITARY intelligence. (This was at the tail end of our involvement in Vietnam.)
I'm not good at remembering jokes, but 34 years later, I still chuckle ruefully at that observation. Too bad it still rings true.
In February 1975, one of my college instructors announced that Carlin would be appearing on a TV show taping at NBC in nearby Burbank, and anyone who wanted to be in the audience could watch for free. I gathered a few of my friends together and we showed up at NBC -- only to discover that I was supposed to have RSVP'd, or something -- the show had begun and the guard would not let us in.
He did, however, let on that Carlin had just left the building for a moment and would return, and if we wanted to stick around for a few minutes, we might be able to ask him for an autograph. In the meantime, he told us stories about how he moonlighted as a security guard on Bob Hope's estate (and that Bob never went anywhere without a golf club).
We were about ready to pack it in when Carlin returned, with a man I assumed was his manager. They both reeked of marijuana.
He did not give us his autograph... but instead, he did about five minutes of his comedy routine --just for us, by the security desk at NBC. We left Burbank feeling stoked, as this personal encounter was way better than being part of an audience for a TV taping.
Several years later, I briefly worked with George's older brother Patrick as a writing partner. We never finished the spec sitcom script we were attempting to write - the chemistry just wasn't there. But Patrick was a lovely person -- and (in the opinion of some of the Tonight Show guys, who had arranged our introduction) even funnier than George. I learned a lot about the rough and tumble way the Carlin boys grew up. And I gained a more nuanced look at the way they approached comedy.
George Carlin is most famous for the "Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say on Television," which was the subject of obscenity arrests and a major FCC ruling. Times have changed - but even if the words no longer carry the same shock value, the rhythm of the routine - and George's expressions and body language - illustrate perfectly why he's mentioned as an influence on so many comedians today.
(This clip is the most profane thing I've ever had on this blog - but funny as hell. Play at your own risk!)