George Carlin died at about 6 pm last night in Los Angeles. He was the first comic I ever became obsessed with. I will miss him. My heart goes out to his family and friends. No doubt, their loss is much greater than my own. Rest in Peace, George. Thank you for introducing me to stand-up comedy. Thank you for everything.
I’ve known since the launch of Punchline Magazine nearly three years ago, that I should’ve banked tons of B-matter on George Carlin so that we could’ve gone live with an exhaustive retrospective of the master comedian the day we got the news he had died. But sometimes, my psychoses and my odd views of superstition steals the control away from my journalistic responsibilities. I knew he was old; I knew he had a history of heart problems and drug use; I knew that he spent some time in rehab just a few years ago; I knew that it was probably pretty amazing he was as strong as he was, still touring and cranking out HBO specials. Still, I didn’t really want to start writing his obit and thinking about his past achievements while the man was still so much in the present. Fuck that.
So here I am, tapping away on something that will no doubt post much later than the other online tributes. And surely, this will be nothing groundbreaking or incredibly moving or even vaguely informative. Like me, you’ve already read the countless giant news organizations’ pieces on the life and times of George Carlin. I’m not going to pretend I could compete with them. All I could do, really, is acknowledge the death of one the greatest American minds –and not just in the business of stand-up comedy — by writing a few lines about what the man and his work meant to me.
Bill Cosby Himself, when it was aired on HBO a few years after the album version’s release, was the first time I was ever exposed to stand-up comedy. However, it wasn’t until I was 13 that I realized how powerful the art form could be. It was 1990, the year Carlin’s Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics aired on HBO; when it aired, the network called it Doin’ It Again. I was floored by what Carlin — unknown to me at the time — was doing. He was making me laugh (hard and consistently) as much as he was making me think. I’m sure there have been times that I’ve laughed to the point where I had to stop to catch my breath. I realize that imagery has become cliche; it’s pretty rare anyone literally laughs so zealously that they can’t breath. When I hear someone say it, I call bullshit. But I remember it happening twice to me. Once, the first time I watched Parental Advisory and then many, many years later when I first saw Brian Regan’s Comedy Central Presents.
Parental Advisory became my first stand-up comedy long-term love. It’s what I would compare all other comedian performances to. Now, at the age of 30, I have a few more references so I’m not relying on that one performance for a control comparison. But I still go back to it.
In eighth grade, my friends Mike, Joe and David enjoyed reciting lines from the special during class. (Mike actually texted me early Monday morning to let me know Carlin had died. And I have to admit that through Mike’s father having actually attended school with Carlin in the Bronx, I always felt I had a half a percent closer relationship with George than most. Completely stupid, I know. But when you’re 13, you think stuff like that is super cool). So at a very young and somewhat inappropriate age — I imagine Carlin’s main demo at the time was not 13-year-olds — my friends and I bonded over the words of a man born 40 years before us. We especially liked, “Right, right, I know! See what I’m gonna do is, I’m gonna have my testicles laminated!”
At home, my older brother and I began collecting every Carlin album and video we could get. When he graduated high school in 1993, next to his photo in his yearbook, there was the quote: “Life is a series of dogs,” another line from Parental Advisory. While his classmates in our all-boys Catholic school were including quotes from classic authors, my brother was quoting three-year-old stand-up comedy material from a guy who anchored a huge part of his career to verbally destroying Catholicism. Incidentally, my brother is now a veterinarian, so life for him, is, indeed a series of dogs.
My brother, our friend Bill (now the design director and webmaster for Punchline Magazine) and myself — all huge Carlin fans — eventually formed a band called The Llama Project, a metal outfit wherein most of the lyrics were a series of non-sequiturs or otherwise made very little sense. It was comedy metal. We played in my parents’ basement; the walls were covered with Anthrax, Kiss and Metallica posters as well as one with the large heading, “An Incomplete list of impolite words: 2,443 filthy words and phrases compiled by George Carlin.”
We recorded crappy cassette demos in that basement; the finished product would include audio from Parental Advisory between many songs, which I had sloppily inserted. Off hand, I remember using Carlin’s phrases, “What, are we fuckin’ stupid?” and “Get yourself a fuckin’ bowl of broccoli.”
So that is where and how my fascination with Carlin and stand-up comedy began. Maybe you don’t care. But as someone who chose to launch an online publication that covers nothing but stand-up comedy, I thought it somewhat relevant to explain why I didn’t launch a site about music, or dragons.
Over the years I’ve developed an amazingly strong attachment — by-way-of-their art — to a handful of younger comedians. That is to say, I enjoy the work of dozens of contemporary comics, but there are few that invoke the same kind of emotional response that Carlin offered me. I’m looking at you, Marc Maron, Greg Giraldo and Greg Proops.
I’m glad I found George so early in life; it’s been a pleasure being his fan for the last 17 years.