[image-1]We were sad to hear to news his morning on the passing of veteran comedian and actor George Carlin. I first caught wind of it on 1250 AM WTMA’s Morning Buzz with Richard Todd. The host played plenty of audio clips and spoke at length about Carlin’s style, impact, and cultural significance. It made we want to pull by box set, George Carlin: The Little David Years 1971-1977 out of the pile (see pics at left).
Carlin had a history of heart trouble, He had a major scare several years ago, but bounced back, Sadly, he died of heart failure on Sunday, June 22 at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. His last performance was last weekend in Las Vegas. He was 71.
[image-2]Regarded by many as one of the last great stand-up comedians of his generation, the irascible comedian seemed as determined to call out the crap in both in the mainstream and the contemporary “counter-culture” as he is to make his audiences laugh. For over 40 years, his observational humor was equal parts sociopolitical commentary, cleverly-worded gripes about “American bullshit,” and twisted renditions and reworkings of traditional comical bits. Thank goodness.
City Paper covered Carlin in October 2006 when he visited Charleston for a concert at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, on the heels of his 13th HBO Comedy special, George Carlin: Life is Worth Losing, and the release of the album version (his 25th live album to date). He seemed rejuvenated as animated as ever.
Born in 1937 in an Irish-American family in the New York City neighborhood of Morningside Heights (or, as he tended to remember it, “East Harlem”), Carlin got his start in comedy at a young age. Fascinated by the quirks of the American-English language, odd phrases, and figures of speech, he began working on comical material while in Catholic High School. After a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force, he got into disc jockey work at a variety of fledgling radio stations.
[image-3]In the late ‘50s, he worked in Louisiana alongside radio colleague Jack Burns on a Shreveport morning show. They began performing in local clubs as the necktied comedy team “Burns & Carlin,” doing impressions and material inspired by Lenny Bruce and other cutting-edge comics. The duo eventually broke up and Carlin struck out on his own as a necktie-wearing stand-up comedian doing pretty clean-cut stuff.
By the late ’60s , however, Carlin became hip to the counter-culture rumblings happening in the big cities and reinvented himself with a new, denim-clad, bearded “hippie” image and saltier, more confrontational repertoire of jokes, musings, and observations. He became a regular on such variety show and late-night programs as The Jackie Gleason Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Flip Wilson Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. He also started recording his concerts and released a string of popular live albums. His 1967 debut, Take-Offs and Put-Ons, landed him a deal with the Little David label, for whom he recorded six albums.
Through the late ’70s and ’80s, Carlin continued to work on television, on stage, and in films, despite an increasingly serious bout with drugs and booze. He’d show up as a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, or as a host on Saturday Night Live or Fridays, but his popularity waned a bit. Fortunately, he cleaned up his act, went sober, and bounced back in 1985 with the release of Carlin on Campus, followed by Playin’ with Your Head in ’86.
[image-4]By the ’90s, Carlin began writing a published collections of essays, routines, and stories — including Braindroppings, Napalm & Silly Putty, and When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? His unique observations on the ridiculousness of modern life turned almost angry and exasperated on the microphone — as demonstrated on one of his most livid (and hilarious) albums, 1999’s You Are All Diseased.
I’ll miss his wild facial expressions, his sharp delivery, his critical spirit, and his cutthroat “non-bullshit” approach to observing life with humor.