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All Hail George Carlin, Dead at 71

There will be no state funeral for George Carlin as there was for Tim Russert. There willcarlin.jpg be no long line of dignitaries, pols, power brokers, media bigwigs or other assorted bloviating fools and hucksters eulogizing his sudden passing Sunday night. There will be no gaggle of the high and mighty publicly blubbering over what a warm and generous soul he was. There will be no hour after hour of uninterrupted "news" coverage on CNN about the death of America's most fearless social critic. And, frankly, if Carlin were to find out that any of these jokers, indeed, had the gumption to actually show up to pay him their final respects, I have no doubt he would awake from the dead and cut one last fart right in their faces. Or he'd simply pop right up at out of the box, stare them in the eye, and let loose with a full-throated "Go fuck yourselves!" With some strange symmetry, Carlin shared much of Russert's same background. A working class Irish boy from the ethnic hatcheries of the East Coast. But there was one big difference between the two: Russert was a courtesan to the powerful. Carlin, a sworn atagonist, hated, reviled, denounced and verbally tortured them. You could learn more about the world from any five minutes of any Carlin routine than from watching five years worth of Meet The Press. Long, long before packs of half-witted wankers invented shock jock radio and Potty Mouth Talk, it was only Carlin (along with Lenny Bruce) who -- at great personal and career risk-- was boldly challenging the puritanical and hypocritical strictures of America's electronic media. And it was about a lot more than him defiantly broadcasting the words: "Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, CockSucker, MotherFucker, and Tits" George Carlin was all about, quite literally, speaking truth to power. He didn't flinch from calling it as it is, mercilessly blasting the deceptions, denials and lies that grease and fuel the system -- and our own personal lives. I'm truly devastated by his loss. But at the same time I am quite privileged to have seen what was one of his last few performances. Just nine days ago, I had the extraordinary honor of watching him from quite literally front row-center as he did his latest routine at the Orleans show room in las Vegas. Carlin was at his sharpest last week. Absolutely relentless in his blistering attack on all things religious, superstitious and on what he called the "bulllll-shiittt" of the American business ethic, the constant hustle, come-on, and sales pitch that defines so much of our lives. I also count myself lucky to have been able --back in 2001-- to have done a full hour interview with him. There's a version of that Q & A here. And here's a snippet of my chat with him:
Q: How cynical or pessimistic are you about politics in general? Carlin: I'm certainly a skeptic. I always quibble with people. I like to split hairs. And I quibble with people who say, "Well, you're cynical." And I know there's a second and third definition of cynical where my stuff fits. But to me the cynics are the ones in the boardrooms with the reports from the focus groups. And the belief that there's a man in the sky watching us, watching everything we do, is so ingrained: First thing they do is tell you there's an invisible man in the sky who's going to march you down to a burning place if he doesn't like you. If they can get you to believe that, it's all over. Before you're six years old, they've got you thinking that, they've got you forever on anything else they want. There's no real education. It's an indoctrination training little producers of goods who will also be consumers of goods. Some will be on the producer side, and more will be on the consumer side. But you're all being trained to be a part of this big circle of goods being pumped out and everyone buying them and everyone going to work to help make more of them for other people to buy. I've given up on the whole human species. I think a big, good-sized comet is exactly what this species needs. You know, the poor dinosaurs were walking around eating leaves, and they were completely wiped out. Let the insects have a go. You know, I don't think they'll come up with sneakers with lights in them, or Dust Busters, or Salad Shooters, or snot candy. Q: But a comet, say a big Arizona-sized comet smashing somewhere into the Pacific Ocean, would be pretty bad for business, wouldn't it? Carlin: It would be terrible, and it would be wonderful. Just to see it all, you know. I only wish there were some way I could live out on the moon and watch it all on CNN. And just see the whole thing happen, see the big splash. Or have it hit land and this big cloud erupt. That would be fun to see. I'm just a fan of big disasters. And that is as big as they get. Let 'em go. I just want to describe the mess. But, you know, life is dual. If you'll scratch a cynic, you'll find a disappointed idealist. And the fire never goes out completely. And that part of me that made my mother say, "You have a lovely nature," is very true.
That last couple of lines is quite revealing. Yes, Carlin vaunted himself as a raging misanthrope, a cheer-leader for humanity's obsession with self-destructiveness. But even as he admits, all that rage was but a symptom of a severely betrayed optimism and hope. Carlin wanted to see the best in people, but they sure as hell made it hard to do. That's about all I'm gonna say because anything more would be disrespectful and way beside the point. George Carlin knew there was no afterlife and that's why he lived every one of his days so damn ferociously, still staging 80 or 90 road performances per year at age 71. His pleasure came from rippin' everyone a new one a couple of times a week -- not from imagining some moment when he would be reunited with his dreaded family somewhere up in the sky. Carlin despised all religious thought and I am sure that his final wishes include his remains being ground up into dog food. I will think of him every time I pop open a can of Alpo, because that is the way George would have wanted it. All hail George Carlin. A true American treasure. Now back to regular programming.

55 Responses to “All Hail George Carlin, Dead at 71”

  1. David Says:

    “You could learn more about the world from any five minutes of any Carlin routine than from watching five years worth of Meet The Press.”

    Not sure about that…I calculate 80% jokes about excrement, farting, bathroom practices…15% jokes about human semantics/play on words, and maybe 5% about anything substantively about the world. But the five percent was gold.

  2. David Says:

    “Long, long before packs of half-witted wankers invented shock jock radio and Potty Mouth Talk, it was only Carlin (along with Lenny Bruce) who — at great personal and career risk– was boldly challenging the puritanical and hypocritical strictures of America’s electronic media.”

    Only? Excluding Mort Sahl (blacklisted for his coming out against JFK), and Dick Gregory?

  3. Grumpy Old Man Says:

    Carlin was funny, with the vices (and virtues) of a hipster. His sallies into words and their misuse were particularly clever. Rest in peace.

    You go too far to make him a culture hero, or to idolize the rather sad and unfunny Lenny Bruce. As for Russert, despite the Buckwheat-has-been-shot overkill, he seems to have been a decent guy who was out of sync with you politically. Well, so what? So is most of the world.

    But I’ll miss George Carlin.

  4. reg Says:

    “a decent guy who was out of sync with you politically”

    Yeah, he was even to the left of Marc…never had a kind word for turbocapitalism or anything remotely connnected with the rightwing. A lot of clueless Free Republic types quoted him occasionally, totally misunderstanding his utterly misanthropic global warming lampoons – but he would have eaten these dipshits alive – as a tiny appetizer before breakfast – if confronted with their whining, idiotic bullshit.

    Also, he dearly loved his late wife so far as I could tell, so I doubt his entire family was “dreaded” were he to be miraculously “reunited” with them from some mythical vantage point where he could watch that comet.

    And Lenny Bruce may have ended on a sad note of addiction and obsessions about his legal woes – but he was funny as hell when he wanted to be.

  5. Woody Says:

    One of Carlin’s last funny skits compared baseball and football. After that, he depended upon being obscene, which is a crutch for comedians losing laughs. If the profanity and obscene comments didn’t bother you or if you thought that they were funny, then it wouldn’t hurt for you to get closer to the head guy “up in the sky.” Unfortunately, Carlin is discovering that now.

  6. Dan Kowalski, Austin, Texas Says:

    May all our compasses be set on hope.

  7. Sergio Says:

    Go fuck yourselves!

  8. Rob Grocholski Says:

    Unfortunately, the non-religious amongst us can not prove there’s no life after death, and the godly will never know their wrong.

    Probably only a notch below Pryor and Bruce, Carlin was awesome. Without question an American treasure that put a little teeth in the First Amendment.

    In honor of George Carlin, I’m flipping the finger to any vehicle sporting the yellow diamond: “Baby on Board.”

  9. jcummings Says:

    I’m devastated. Seriously. Carlin (and the Grateful Dead) was what got me through my depressed high school years. I felt like someone “understood”…so to speak.

    The masturbation/confession routine is probably the all time great “Thas OKAY man! Trey Santa Maria!”

  10. Dan O Says:

    I’m lucky that I got to see Carlin live once. It was a great show.

    I always found him to be a bit hit or miss, but when he was on, he really was on. And those characteristic strung-together adjective and adverb laden punchlines after the long setup were awesome. I have a soft spot for fiery indignation especially when intelligently delivered, and he was the master.

    Incidentally Woody, the “obscenity” was political in origin. Of course the politics of it changed over time, but that’s where it came from–a finger in the eye of official, and hypocritical, propriety.

  11. jcummings Says:

    “He had a routine in which he would say: Why are Palestinian commandos called terrorists, and Israeli terrorists called commandos? And I remember that the audience would look confused when he would say that.” From Angry Arab.

  12. Chris Hundley Says:

    Well written, Marc. You ably described one of the pop culture figures that has done the most to dent the hypocrisy of society.

  13. jim hitchcock Says:

    Talk about irony. Right above the story about Carlin’s passing on the L.A. times website is an article stating that some 92% of Americans believe in a `higher power’.

  14. Carlin fan Says:

    ” . . . shiiiiit . . . .”

  15. Greg Jacks Says:

    One of my heros is dead, and I’ve very few left. Thanks Marc for introducing him to me many years ago. Tom Waits here in Paris on the 25th of July will be my consolation . . .


  16. Stu DeNimm Says:

    the world’s a little more fucked up today

  17. Mike Sheppard Says:

    Carlin better *hope* there’s no afterlife. I think he’s learning that God is the real comedian… and his punchlines are killers. Laugh it up, George.

  18. Virgil Says:

    I can truly say when I heard this I went on my porch and tried to hold back the tears. Here is what I think George should be remembered for (one of the primary reasons) –


    We were not too far off from each other on this.

  19. Virgil Says:

    By the way Marc, a little off the subject. Tell me, how are those lawsuits doing against the telecommunication companies? You remember the conversation we had about this (maybe not)? I can assure you it is closer to the scenario that I depicted it would come to (spot on). Some are still waiting for those checks and balances to kick in, not necessarily you Marc.

  20. reg Says:

    I’m not a big fan of the Capital G “GOD” vs. Capital A “Atheism” discourse – but it’s arguable that guys like Carlin are proof of some kind of merciful “god.” Without them we’d be hostage to the assholes who claim to speak for “Him.”

  21. David Says:

    One of my favorite bumpersticker slogans I have ever seen: “God, save me from your followers.”

  22. Suzi W Says:

    Beautiful Marc, I knew you would write something that hit it just right. I count myself lucky to have met George the day you interviewed him, and I watched that interview from the other side of the glass. But you are wrong on one count — there have been nicetributes from all the news organizations, replays of interviews (on Tavis Smiley) and more. He is celebrated as a comic icon. I’m glad Greg commented too, we listened to Carlin tapes together, commenting on how he (Carlin) got the bizarre culture here exactly right. Another indispensable mensch has gone. Course is set on hope indeed (with a tip of the hat to Victor Serge).

  23. JMc Says:

    “But, you know, life is dual. If you’ll scratch a cynic, you’ll find a disappointed idealist. And the fire never goes out completely.”

    I love that sentiment, and I think that questions the statement that he’d “given up on the species.”

    I haven’t seen much of him recently, but when i was a kid he was a big fave of mine on the late night shows. I always credit SNL as ushering in a new era, but really, he was SNL before it was.

    Long live anarchy, and though it’s contrary to his views, I can’t help thinking he and Luis Bunuell are up there having a good laugh,

  24. AC Says:

    Carlin was brilliant. It wasn’t that he was controversial, or edgy. It was that he was willing to be unpopular, willing to alienate his audience, will challenge them. In my mind he was incredibly brave.

    Thanks for this beautiful post Marc.

  25. Michael Dempsey Says:

    The comments posted here suggesting that George Carlin, because he was an atheist who made sharp comments about religion, is surely and deservedly being punished by the Deity (does this mean he’s roasting in endless hellfire along with, say, Adolf Hitler?) are a perfect example of why so many have had the good sense to abandon religion.

  26. Jim R Says:

    “…because he was an atheist who made sharp comments about religion…”

    And other tight asses Michael. Here’s George getting some laughs at the expense of enviromentalists:

  27. Jim R Says:

    And the big ‘electron’ he spend just a little while on, before being brushed away by it like a flea.

    Thanks a f–king lot for all the laughs George. RIP.

  28. Just Tom Says:

    GOD! I love people who say things I wish I could articulate.

    George Carlin was a guy I truly wish was a friend of mine.

    I will always listen to his “stuff” when I need to be picked upped from all the bullshit in the news.

    George was special.


  29. bunkerbuster Says:

    Wherever, whenever Carlin’s clarion voice could be heard, I listened.

    I would hear snippets of his comedy on the radio, catch a bit here and there on TV and now and when the Internet made it easy enough, I started downloading everything I could find.

    My father liked him and quoted him, which was a bit odd because my father drew most heavily from his vast reservoir of disapproval for “hippies,” which he typically thought of as anyone with long-hair or the wrong clothes or the wrong music or the wrong politics, wrong race or wrong religion.

    While my father is the typical redneck moral narcissist, insisting on taking offense at “bad words” like the seven Carlin was most famous for, or in people who attack Christianity, he found something irresistible in Carlin’s slashing cynicism.

    The more I listened to Carlin in recent years, the more I could practically hear my father saying exactly the same things. Both reveled in nothing more enthusiastically than puncturing pretension. Both saw themselves as the very last person who could ever be played for a fool.

    Carlin never felt he needed to take the easy out of making fun of himself. His laser blast was always aimed outward at the bullseyes he painted on fast-moving targets camoflaged targets — every speck of pretension and absurdity the rest of us had somehow overlooked.

    It wasn’t always pretty. If you ever took the time to read through all of one of his books, you could see his formula start to fall into familar grooves of hyperbole and withering scorn.

    I actually stopped reading “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops” because he had visited his art upon too many innocent victims in a row, so even I was prepared to revoke his comedic license.

    I will miss him and, much worse, the world will.

  30. Michael Balter Says:

    I’ve got a couple of classic Carlin routines up on my blog:

  31. reg Says:

    Sorry Grumpy – I realize that “more than a little bit stupidly” I missed your insertion of Tim Russert into the thought about “out of synch with you politically”

  32. GM Roper Says:

    Bunkerbuster, that is the BEST review of Carlin I’ve read to date. Thanks!

  33. David Says:

    I laughed at a lot of what Carlin did, but I am glad that I never paid money to see him. A couple of years ago, I believe it was Michael B., who said that Stephen Colbert and John Stewart were responsible for turning off regular, red state type people who perceived them, right or wrong, as demeaning their values. George Carlin fit this to a tee: his patronizing of people of different faiths seemed to almost border on a frenzied intolerance, which I found unfunny. Bill Maher, like Carlin was, is a non-believer, but Maher seems to come across as not offensive in that regard – he is in fact good friends with some religious figures, including Bob Larson, the late Jerry Falwell, etc., and has always been willing to listen to their views, and respect them and their points. It is too bad for Carlin that he couldn’t, which is why, unlike Maher, Carlin never seems to rise above mediocrity as an important political and social critic (but again, frequently funny).

  34. kendali Says:


    Why would anybody listen to Jerry Falwell and respect their views? Do you think he respected alternative points of view? Don’t be ridiculous! I wouldn’t respect someone’s point of view if they said that they believed in the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus. Carlin picked on people who believed in God because it is childish and superstitious. Maher is probably just being kind to people like Larson and Falwell; maybe he feels sorry for them.

  35. Sergio Says:

    Thanks for the Carlin tributes, guys, especially as they will lead to more bickering and revolting human behavior.

    I “paid money” to see George Carlin live 11 times over 20 years.

    And I’ve seen Bill Maher live also, and he is far more of a corporate-militarist accomodator than George.

    David, go fuck yourself.

  36. David Says:


    Comedy has deep roots in satire: Satire as practiced in Greek, and later, Roman culture. Unlawful stage dramas, and graphic depictions, were utilized by the powerless and poor masses against the few powerful and rich elite in ancient and medieval times. That is what true satire constitutes today, and has been one of the most powerful – if not the most powerful – tool used by common people against the privileged classes.

    But when Carlin demeans hundreds of millions of people of faith in this country (nearly all of whom make in a lifetime what Carlin made in one show), and billions more around the world, it is about as funny as Rush Limbaugh ripping into welfare mothers and their children for taking government assistance. The rich ridiculing common people is not satire, it is instead vulgar.

    But that is me. Hey, maybe I don’t have a good sense of humor (though I have been to over a dozen Lewis Black shows), and I will concede this: Carlin was onto something if he was able to have such legions of rabid fans, and have all of these tributes celebrating his life.

  37. kendali Says:


    I see your point of view, but I don’t think the point or even a main point is whether George Carlin was rich or not. You’re making a comparison between poor, disadvantaged people and people who believe in something that cannot withstand scrutiny. I’ll concede to a certain point on this, and that is that it is ignorance that leads to blind belief in something, and in that way believers are disadvantaged.

    I don’t mind if someone wants to practice what Jesus taught as far as humility, generosity, and compassion. That is a beautiful thing, but don’t try to make me believe that the ghost of someone who may or may not have actually existed (Jesus) is somewhere still roaming around and cares about me. Lots of people believe that, and that’s what really astounds me. I don’t see how it could be real.

    Carlin was harsh, but sometimes it takes that to bust through to something. Bill Hicks was even more scathing, and he was one of the most insightful social comedians I’ve ever heard. I guess I can really understand where Carlin is coming from, but not those offended by him. That shows a lack of understanding on my part but, on the other hand, I was raised as a good ol’ Southern Baptist in Tennessee so I know it from the inside out.

    I don’t think that because I can now discriminate between something that is obviously unreal (to me, at least) and things that appear to be truthful (there is no proof of God) makes me an elitist. I believe you were making this insinuation against Carlin, unless I am wildly misreading your post, and I don’t think it fits.

  38. David Says:

    I respect this well thought out, and well written response, kendali, (much more than the “go fuck yourself” guy), and you are correct in that there is no physical evidence of an existence of Christ. My own realization of Christ’s existence came through reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (not the bible), which made me reflect on every lie, theft, and deceit I had ever conceived of since childhood. Still, I will admit, no physical remains.

    But I take issue with your statement that believers who are ignorant ( I assume you mean of science, history, and reason) are at a disadvantage. These people hold out in me the hope for change.

  39. David Says:

    And I am afraid that it is and will be hard to change people who feel like they are being ridiculed.

  40. kendali Says:

    What kind of change are you talking about? If they change to become less ignorant that would be great. I just don’t see how believing in a thousands of years old fable, that is in itself based upon some other type of supernatural myth, leads to change. I wish the change would be to see what we can do to make it better here instead of holding out some baseless hope for an eternal afterlife that is supposed to be perfect. And provided that you don’t tell me what to do in the name of “morality”.

    That is interesting that you came to it through Dostoevsky. I’ll admit that when I reflect on my shortcomings I certainly would like to believe in a redeemer of some sort, but I honestly feel like that’s a cop out. No offense to you is intended.

    Ultimately I don’t think it matters much in the long run (meaning eon upon eon, millennia after millennia) what I did in this flash of an existence that I have. That is no excuse to do harm to others, but we’re pretty insignificant when you really think about it. There’s a whole other aspect to it that I don’t want to dwell on now, and that is the egocentric, self-inflating nature of religious belief. It is another form of superstition.

    Thanks for the discussion, by the way.

  41. kendali Says:

    And of course you were right about ridicule not being the best tactic for changing things, but I doubt Carlin thought he was changing things; he was just pissed off. I’m the same way when I hear, for instance, that people want to teach intelligent design or some type of nonsense in schools, or see obvious hypocrites bloviate about this or that.

  42. Emily Elzer Says:

    Cooper, I mean no disrespect. But you know I am interning at CNN International this summer and from my perspective – we are covering the hell out of Carlin. Maybe not as much as Russert, but if he didn’t like making like people making a fuss, well then he would be pissed off. Because a lot of people spent the last 48 hours busting their humps to find ways to cover his death.

  43. Marc Cooper Says:

    Emily.. that SO sucks! :)

  44. David Says:

    “What kind of change are you talking about? If they change to become less ignorant that would be great. I just don’t see how believing in a thousands of years old fable, that is in itself based upon some other type of supernatural myth, leads to change.”

    I don’t believe that faith in Christ is the enemy here; I will say that for the most part, Christianity has done a lot of great works around the world. It is a much better world with Protestant and Catholic missionaries in the world to administer food, vaccines, and AIDS medicine (well, maybe not so much the Catholics in regard to the latter) to the nearly billion or more people in the world who are impoverished.

  45. David Says:

    Since you ask a direct question, kendali, I will try to answer it somewhat. I work with someone who is not at all someone whom I agree with on everything. She is registered Republican, along with her husband (who works in the same building), and both she and her husband are firmly against abortion. Both have been in seminary school, and both pray every chance they get (meals, etc.). But they both devote several months out of the year helping to take care of children in third world countries. They give a lot of their money to those causes. Compare that to people of the liberal yuppie persuasion who think that their major contribution to humanity is purchasing Nation subscriptions, reading and posting to blogs, or telling someone they don’t know to fuck themselves behind a safe anonymity. Well, fuck them. Good discussion, kendali.

  46. kendali Says:


    I don’t have much time here, but you are painting with too broad of a stroke about the “liberal” mindset. I live in Austin and know lots of liberals, many of which don’t read Nation and devote their time to worthy causes. I know it’s tempting to slam the people you don’t agree with; it is a real struggle for me to keep from thinking that all Christians, Muslims, etc. are fools for believing in superstition.

    I wonder if there are strings attached to the couple’s good works (i. e. becoming a convert); if that’s the case then it is mostly a self-serving gesture. If not, then good for them no matter their religious or political persuasion.

  47. Matt B Says:

    I don’t want to live in a world without George Carlin.

    Isn’t it revealing to see the true kindness of believers, perversely hoping for Carlin’s eternal torment to prove the truth of their fairy tale?

  48. richard locicero Says:

    And can we also say RIP to the incomperable Cyd Charisse who died at age 86. Was there ever a better dancer in the movies? Think “Singin’ in the Rain, The Bandwagon, Silk Stockings.” I know the movie musical is as dead as the western (what an abomination “Hairspray” was) but maybe that is because people like her ain’t around any longer.

  49. David Says:

    And add to that list as of today, costume designer Kermit Love, who created Sesame Street alongside Jim Henson, and singly invented Big Bird. PBS had a huge impact on me as a youth, and instilled in me a desire to read and learn. Here’s to you, Kermit.

  50. Mikeb302000 Says:

    I grew up with George Carlin, my generation I mean. I love that you saw him in Vegas so recently. He was a wonderful talent.

  51. David Says:

    Woody, if you thought that Carlin’s baseball/football bit was appealing, you should check out Carlin’s derisive ridicule of “liberal environmentalists” concerns in his “Jammin in New York” concert on DVD and HBO. Might be up your alley. Interestingly, it was only a few years later on his own “Life is Worth Losing” concert that he has said – hypocritically – that he always enjoys watching natural disasters occur on earth, on account of what human beings are doing to the environment. Oy Vay.

  52. RIP George Carlin | What did you mean ? Says:

    [...] videos on YouTube have seen much traffic, probably because they can’t possibly capture the rabidly pessimistic, counterculture comedian better than his actual stand-up [...]

  53. Stu DeNimm Says:

    >hard to change people who think
    >they are being ridiculed…

    Well, they say the rest of us are going to Hell. That’s pretty harsh too.

    If religious people don’t want to be ridiculed, let them stop believing such stupid things.

  54. Randy Paul Says:

    After that, he depended upon being obscene, which is a crutch for comedians losing laughs. If the profanity and obscene comments didn’t bother you or if you thought that they were funny, then it wouldn’t hurt for you to get closer to the head guy “up in the sky.”

    George Carlin doesn’t need to be lectured about obscenity by someone who refers to a triple amputee as “Stumpy,” and who then accuses those who find the term offensive of not having a sense of humor.

  55. David Says:

    Emily Elzer Says:
    June 24th, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    >[...]Respectively, Emily

    Two questions: (1)Since when has Respectively come to mean Respectfully? (2)Is this the future of Journalism? I’ll answer both questions respectively.

    One, the Dimwit’s Dictionary says, “[...]no present-day dictionary has yet suggested that respectively, once again, also means respectfully.” Two, “Quite possibly. Yes.”

    Clear language…clear thought.

    Sincerely yours,

    “Question everything you read or hear or see or are told. Question it. And try to see the world for what it actually is, as opposed to what someone or some company or some organization or some government is trying to represent it as, or present it as, however they’ve mislabeled it or dressed it up or told you.” George Carlin, 2004 CNN Interview