« on: June 25, 2008, 11:07:10 AM »
There are things you just remember. And I remember exactly where I was when I first heard George Carlin. I don’t know how old I was, but I was too young to be listening to most of Carlin’s work. My father, though, recognized my interest in comedy, and had to introduce me to his Baseball/Football routine sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, when I was just a kid. We purchased a cassette tape of Carlin’s album An Evening with Wally Londo, which he originally recorded in 1975.
This was a cassette tape, so we couldn’t just scroll wheel our way to the track we wanted to hear. We did fast forward through the worst of it, I’m sure, but I remember listening to the first track, New News. I don’t even need to listen to it to remember some of the jokes:
A scientist was awarded a nobel prize today after he discovered a new number. That number is bleen! He says it goes between six and seven.
California was the scene of a freak accident today, when six freaks in a camper hit three freaks in a van.
Silent film star Mike Smith died today. He didn’t have any last words, however he did make several gestures.
I could quote the joke “A Philadelphia man was arrested today after he tried to make an unauthorized deposit in a sperm bank,” before I even knew what it meant. At some point I got a hold of the album myself, and listened to it again and again. I remember listening to him talk about girls sliding down the banister, and teenage masturbation, and had no idea what he was talking about. I would skip past it, it wasn’t funny. I didn’t totally get how you could be “high on the plane” in three different ways either, but this was, at least, funny. I memorized it word for word. I loved his bit on bodily functions. I think I shocked my mother the first time I ran with the “I’m going to take a *&^%,” “don’t take one of mine” routine.
The album is full of jokes I still have memorized, long before I could understand them and long after I’ve forgotten most of what I learned in high school and college.
In the last few days, I’ve watched as people have remembered Carlin for the Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV. It would be a real shame, though, if that was the only thing he was remembered for. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason I wound up at law school, deep down, came from learning for the first time from George Carlin about the importance of language. His comedy, he always said, came from three places. From words and language, from small things that we have in common, and from big issues. Seven Things is a “words and language,” piece - he looked at the words you could never say, not the words you could only say occasionally (”you can prick your finger, but don’t finger your prick”). But it wasn’t his best.
Carlin’s fascination with words lead to ten of the best minutes of comedy ever. Every comedian has a bit on flying — they do it too much to not have something to say about it. Carlin, in his special Jammin’ In New York, tore apart the airline safety lecture, sentence by sentence, word by word.
“The next sentence is full of things that piss me off: ‘Please check around your immediate seating area for any personal belongings you might have brought on board.’ Well - - let’s start with ‘immediate seating area.’ Seat! It’s a god damn seat. Check around your seat. ‘For any personal belongings.’ Well, what other kind of belongings are there? Public belongings? Do these people honestly think I’m traveling with a fountain I stole from the park? ‘You might have brought on board.’ Well. I might have brought my arrowhead collection. I didn’t. So I’m not going to look for it! I’m going to look for things I brought on board! Seem to increase the likelihood of finding something, wouldn’t you say?”
George Carlin taught me the most important thing that someone going into law could learn: the importance of words. The importance of every single word. And the words before and after them. He taught me to slow down and look at everything. He taught me how to slow down and see the world that was happening underneath the world that everyone else saw. He taught me how important it was to keep asking questions; to keep asking why. When I write something, I’d be well served to put it through the filter that George Carlin put the airline safety lecture through. When I think about an issue, I’d be well served to see it from a perspective as skeptical and inquisitive as Carlin’s.
George Carlin was responsible for teaching me a lot (a f-ing lot!) more than the seven dirty words. That we’ll never hear a new idea or observation from him is a real loss.