Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Death Of Comedy

I was informed of the death of comedian George Carlin the other day while at work. I was listening to the Free Beer and Hot Wings Show while they discussed whether or not Carlin was a genius (which he certainly was). While playing his famous monologue Baseball Vs. Football, the jack-off with the sound effects board kept hitting the "not funny" sound bite mixed with the Homer Simpson "Be more funny" sound bite. That's talent, that's intelligent, that's genius, that's groundbreaking, that's....lame. For the show exemplifies what "comedy" has become these days: insults of celebrities in the news mixed with insults of people who do stupid things topped off with abuse of willing idiots who'll do anything for money, attention, or both.
George Carlin was a genius, but he never throw it in your face, or seemed to demand special acknowledgment or treatment because of it. He used language, sometimes scatological, sometimes intelligent to remind us all that we are all a bunch of morons who deserve to die and that's why we do. He tried to make you think, rather than try to bludgeon you with rapid fire jokes. He always questioned everything, rather than accept what he was told at face value.
I was first exposed to Carlin in the seventies, back when I was "experimenting" with pot, and the fact that he did some stoner humor was appealing to me. Plus, he swore, which you would never hear on my father's Bill Cosby records, but mostly he was poking holes in the establishment, while never fully embracing the alternative, either.
I have a couple of his books, which I picked up, like most things I own, second hand, and I keep them on a nightstand along with my collection of vintage Mad books. Sometimes you need to laugh. I also picked up a couple of his records last summer, and showed them to, and played them for my kids, who only know him as Rufus in the Bill and Ted movies. Most of the stuff was over their heads, while the rest was inappropriate (which I didn't play for them). Someday, when they're older, they may dig them out and discover what comedy really is.
What it isn't is Last Comic Standing a "reality" show where comedians compete against each other in order to win the chance to, I don't know, make a bad movie or have their own lame sitcom. In this show, you can see the differences between good comedy and the current crap. While some comedians are absurd, Carlin used his talent to point out the everyday absurdities we all go through on a daily basis. None of them have the command of the language that Carlin does, and while he exhibited wit, most comedians on this show revel in their own witlessness.
Some comedians make you laugh, very few of them make you think, for Carlin to be able to do both is a measure of his true genius.


Graeme said...

He was a brilliant man.

Tom Harper said...

Yes, George Carlin was great.

I heard about John Belushi's death (in 1982) in a similar way. I was at a comedy club, and there were several people up on stage. One of them made a joke about John Belushi, and somebody else "hey, come on, show him some respect." And somebody else said "oh, come on, he would've wanted it this way." And I'm thinking "Huh? WTF?"

I remember George Carlin's baseball-football monologue; that was a riot.

Kathy said...

Carlin was definitely brilliant. I often wished he had been offered a late night TV show to either host or run as he pleased, something along the lines of the old Dick Cavett show with edge. I dunno know, maybe he was in the later years when cable got to be common. He would have been a welcome addition to the lousy TV we have today.