Smile Politely

Remembering George Carlin From C-U

George Carlin died on Sunday, which you certainly already knew before you visited this site. Carlin, a groundbreaking comedian and social commentator, passed away from heart failure at the age of 71. He appeared three times at the Assembly Hall: in September 1973, November 1993 and September 1995.

Joel Gillespie remembers Carlin, after the jump.

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, my friend Mike dug out his Mom’s old vinyl copy of Take Offs and Put Ons. It was, as I recall, in amongst Sgt. Pepper’s, Cheech and Chong’s Los Cochinos (the one with the car on the cover which opens to reveal baggies of pot inside the car door cavity; there may be nothing funnier that I saw as an 11-year-old), and Gordon Lightfoot’s Summertime Dream (with “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”). Mike’s mom and mine were in the same high school class in the same tiny Iowa town, but our house certainly didn’t hold such treasures. In reading Carlin obituaries over the past couple of days, I’ve learned that Take Offs and Put Ons was from his safe, pre-counterculture period, but it was plenty racy enough to keep me interested at the time. I’m sure I didn’t get half of the jokes at the time, either. We quoted the hippy-dippy weather man (“Tonight’s forecast, dark…”) back and forth endlessly.

Up to that point in my life, the comedians that I had been exposed to were Bill Cosby and Ray Stevens (“Mississippi Squirrel Revival”), so you can see what a revelation George Carlin was. I’ve listened to Cosby’s Himself album in the last couple of years, and it holds up about as well as most of the movies that I liked around that time (Cannonball Run, anyone?), and Stevens was a guilty pleasure before I even knew what that meant. Carlin, on the other hand, is probably funnier to me now than he was when I was a kid.

Carlin was a comedian that made you think about things from a different angle, forcing you to confront your assumptions and get to the root of where our societal norms come from. That’s why his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” makes a deeper impact than the cheap thrill of the dirty words, even as some of them have become more commonly used in the last 35 years. He’s able to mine laughs from the discomfort that we feel when artificial boundaries are crossed, which is a tough line to toe without crossing over into making statements purely for shock value. He will be sorely missed.

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