Monday, June 23, 2008

"Gee, he was just here a moment ago."

Legendary stand-up comedian George Carlin once remarked in an interview that he’d like to have the title of this post appear as his epitaph on his tombstone. Sadly, this revelation came one step closer to reality with the news of his passing on Sunday, dead of heart failure at the age of 71.

Like many teens of my generation, I owned a worn-out LP of Class Clown—the infamous comedy album that contained perhaps his most famous routine, “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.” Sure, it was often considered risky playing it in the house (I never knew when one of the ‘rents would burst in, ready to condemn me for playing “such filthy language”) but I think what a lot of people lose sight of is that most of the LP contained autobiographical material about his childhood experiences in a progressive Catholic school in New York. Having spent the first four years of my life in such a prison, I identified with many of the individuals and situations he talked about—particularly one guy who could turn his eyelids inside out. (I had a friend who could do that, too—Robbie Bussian—“…you look like the Devil, man…”) As Carlin noted: “’Class clown’ makes it sound as if there was only one of them…if the first guy was home sick, the second banana would fill in…”

I’ve always believed that Carlin’s métier was the comedy album; he would eventually win four Grammy awards, beginning with his 1972 album, FM & AM. He was a constant fixture on HBO almost from the time the pay cable network went on the air but I’d be hard-pressed to remember anything special from the fourteen specials he produced. His movie career wasn’t a spectacular one, though he’ll no doubt be remembered for his role as Rufus in the “Bill & Ted” series (I’m personally fond of his turn as a comical Indian in 1987’s Outrageous Fortune). One medium he had difficulty cracking was television; while he made many guest appearances his own sitcom, The George Carlin Show, lased only twelve episodes on Fox in 1994—a darn shame, since I thought the series had a lot of potential.

R.I.P., George. You will be missed.

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