Alas, Dead Carlin:
You can't imagine how ballsy it was when George Carlin, as a semi-regular guest on the Ed Sullivan Show, decided to go from observational humor guy joking about the coming attractions at movies in 1967 to making genocide jokes in 1968. All the time surrounded by Peggy Lee or Helen Hayes or fuckin' Topo Gigio. By the time we get to 1971 and the dying days of Sullivan's variety show, Carlin was singing to the CBS audience, to the tune of "America the Beautiful":
"O beautiful for smoggy skies
For strip-mined mountains majesty
Above the asphalt plain
Men sheds his waste on thee
And hides the pines with billboard signs
From sea to oily sea."
(Let us also praise Ed Sullivan, who routinely went to bat against the censors to bring edgier material to America.)
Carlin's transformation from guy-in-suit comic to crazy hippie was the mirror image of the gutting and filleting of the nation in the time of near revolution. Indeed, Carlin's change caused him to lose contracts and, in one bizarro case in Vegas, nearly make an audience riot. They were expecting jokes about how crappy daytime TV was. But if tight-assed early 1960s USA helped kill Lenny Bruce, post-Woodstock America embraced Carlin like a Wall Street trader burning his ties to live on a commune to grow cabbage, smoke good shit, and fuck other fallen squares.
'Cause when he turned, he fuckin' turned, man. Going after Nixon and the Vietnam War with a savage sense of what is truly, morally right and wrong. And despising hypocrisy, whether it was in the idiotic rules of censorship in his "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine (which spawned the Supreme Court case of the FCC vs. Pacifica Radio, which you'll read about elsewhere today) or, most especially, in religion. Carlin went after religion like a starving wolverine will take down caribou.
On the first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975, forced to wear a suit by the suits at NBC (which he put over his customary t-shirt), Carlin put into the mainstream these dangerous ideas:
"Now, some religions - which are not to be confused with God - some religions will tell you that it's quite okay not to worry about your own life. Religion has a way of relieving yourself of any responsibility for your acts. It's God's will! 'Oh, I ran over the kid in the driveway, yes, but don't look at me! God's will!' Can't you see a lynch mob going, 'Let's get this guy, God! That's the fourth kid He's killed this week!'
"Religion - religion, at best - at BEST - is like a lift in your shoe. If you need it for a while, and it makes you walk straight and feel better - fine. But you don't need it forever, or you can become permanently disabled. Religion is like a lift in the shoe, and I say just don't ask me to wear your shoes. And let's not go down and nail lifts onto the natives' feet."
Carlin wouldn't appear on the show again until 1984. He had completely pissed off the Archbishop of New York, who called in during the monologue when Carlin said that God is in our image, not the other way around.
No, George Carlin wasn't the funniest of comics (at least not to the Rude Pundit). But he was brave, man, and really smart, sometimes almost too smart. If someone showed him a sacred cow, he'd fuck it. Cocaine abuse, heart attacks, it didn't stop him until yesterday. And he just didn't give a damn because he had a perspective on reality that'd scare the shit out of most people:
"There are two ways to think about this existence we have. One of them is that it's Wednesday and it's three fifteen and we're talking here in my home, and at four o'clock I have to leave for another meeting. Now, that's a reality. But there's another reality. We're in the solar system of a second-rate star, three quarters of the way out on a spiral arm of an average galaxy in a thing called the Local Group. And ours is only one of billions of galaxies, each of which has billions of stars. Some star systems are binary, and there could be a planet that revolves around a center of gravity between two binary stars. So you'd have two sunrises and two sunsets every day. One could be a red giant, the other a white dwarf; two different-sized, -shaped, and -colored suns in the sky. And there might be other planets and comets. In other words, fuck Wednesday, fuck three fifteen, fuck four o'clock, fuck the United States, fuck the earth. It's all temporal bullshit. I like thinking about being out there and not thinking about the corporate structure, not worrying about freedom, and not worrying about guns. I chose a life of ideas. That entertains me. That nourishes me."