360 Thursday Artist : George Carlin
This week our artist is not a painter, not a musician, but a comedian. I know what you might be thinking : “comedian’s aren’t artists”, but in this case, believe me, he is, and one of the greatest one’s at that.
A boy named George Denis Patrick Carlin was born May 12 1937, he was of Irish decent and was Roman Catholic. His religion and decent would become a subject of his comedy routines, but we’ll get to that a little later. Carlin had somewhat of a troublesome childhood : his father left at a very young age and he ran away from home when he would have disagreements with his mother, that and he was also removed from at least 1 high school. Soon thereafter, Carlin went into the air force becoming a radar specialist, he never finished though, being discharged because he seemed to be slacking off or was deemed “unproductive”. This is where Carlin started his career though as he was a disc jockey for KJOE in Louisiana during his stay in the air force.
In the late 50’s early 60’s George Carlin and Jack Burns formed a radio/comedy tandem known as the “Wright Brothers”. They practiced their material at KDAY a California radio station where they had gone to hoping to make it big (after leaving New York). They would be together only a few years before going their separate ways.
Carlin started doing stand-up, earning spots on “The Tonight Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show”. As time went on, Carlin became very popular on the tonight show in particular, turning into a regular performer and also a guest-host on Jack Paar and Johnny Carson’s show. One night, a man named Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity. As they asked the audience questions Carlin was also questioned and asked his ID. When he told them he didn’t believe in government Identification they arrested him and brought him to prison in the same car as Bruce.1 This must have had an effect on Carlin because his career soon took a whole other direction.
The George Carlin that had the short hair, the clean cut look and the proper cloth was gone. This new George Carlin took some heat for it though loosing some gigs by changing to this awkward style, but slowly regained that popularity for the same reason, he was different. His routine “seven words you can never say on television” was maybe his most popular and definitely one of the most controversial ever.
Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war.
—George Carlin, Class Clown, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television
In July of 1972 Carlin was arrested for obscenity. The judge however ruled that Carlin language was indecent but that it did not upset or disturb anyone. Another case came to be in 1973 with a similar routine causing the FCC (federal communications commission) to send a citation to the “Pacifica Foundation”. It went to the supreme court where in a 5 to 4 vote in favor of the FCC, the ruling read “indecent but not obscene”, which meant the FCC could take off the broadcasts when they felt children could be watching.
Carlin was the first-ever host of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, on October 11, 1975. (He also hosted SNL on November 10, 1984, where he actually appeared in sketches. The first time he hosted, he only appeared to perform stand-up and introduce the guest acts.) The following season, 1976-77, Carlin also appeared regularly on CBS Television’s Tony Orlando & Dawn variety series.
Carlin unexpectedly stopped performing regularly in 1976, when his career appeared to be at its height. For the next five years, he rarely appeared to perform stand-up, although it was at this time he began doing specials for HBO as part of its On Location series. His first two HBO specials aired in 1977 and 1978. It was later revealed that Carlin had suffered the first of his three non-fatal heart attacks during this layoff period.2
The 80’s saw the return of a performing Carlin. With the release of “A Place For My Stuff” and “Carlin at Carnegie” (a t.v. special). Carlin also got into some acting, appearing in a serious supporting role in the Bette Midler and Shelley Long comedy hit “Outrageous Fortune”. Two other films Carlin appeared in was “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and the sequel “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”. Carlin was later involved in a few kids show’s such as “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “Shining Time Station”.
In the 90’s George Carlin then went into writing books, his first, “Brain Droppings” sold over 750,000 copies. He had kept doing HBO specials every year or every other year since the late 70’s but slowed down a little during the latter part of the 90’s.
In 2001, Carlin was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Annual American Comedy Awards.3 As Carlin continued to perform regularly (MGM Grand) his routines started to have more dark subjects and more speeches about death, beheadings and other similar materials. Soon after, Carlin was fired because of an altercation with the audience. George Carlin went to rehab after his firing for drug and alcohol addictions. He then went on tour in 2006 supporting his 2005 HBO special called “Life is Worth Losing”. Much of the same darkish themes appear but in what is a tamer version than in some of the pre-rehab routines. In 2006 he was casted for the movie “Cars”, playing a hippie VW bus named Fillmore. Carlin’s last HBO special “It’s Bad For Ya” was aired in 2008 after playing many concert hall’s practicing his material. Another award was on the horizon for Carlin, the “Mark Twain Prize for American Humor”, but it had to be presented posthumously because on June 22 2008, George Carlin passed away du to heart failure, after surviving 3 heart attacks throughout his life. Carlin was true to his words in his routines though: as he often talked about religion and stating that he did not believe in God, Carlin was cremated and there was no religious ceremony of any kind.
The award was awarded november 10th 2008 and many comedians (Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Lewis Black among others) payed their respects to a man that opened so many doors for them, who pushed and broke the boundaries of what could be said and then pushed some more. Jerry Seinfeld wrote a great article two days after Carlin’s death which you can read here.
Here were some of George Carlin’s most popular themes:
-dirty words (seven words you can never say)
-reasons and reasoning
-taboo subjects in general
I’ll leave you this clip of Carlin talking about religion…
May you rest in peace George Carlin, because your work is over, but your insight and influence will live forever…