Mikesplaining: Why do people respect George Carlin?

Mikesplaining: Why do people respect George Carlin?

I have a serious question, and, dead serious, I’m not deliberately trying to provoke. 
Why do people respect George Carlin? -Brett F., Alberta

Carlin was the observational comic who set the mold for so many of today’s comics. Like this: “Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy. ” or “In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.” Not the absolutely most brilliant observations ever, nor the funniest. But enough of each for people to really appreciate it. His funny cynical twist was pretty ingenious at times.

“Don Ho can sign autographs 3.4 times faster than Efrem Zimbalist Jr.” In a post-Seinfeld world, this kind of off-kilter observation, which you have to think about for a second to get, doesn’t seem as hilarious as it did when nobody had heard anything like it before. And he summed up the mores of the counterculture extremely pithily, e.g. “If it requires a uniform, it’s a worthless endeavor.” “I never fucked a ten, but one night, I fucked five twos.” “Property is theft. Nobody ‘owns’ anything. When you die, it all stays here.”

I think he was the first mainstream comedian (Lenny Bruce being the first comedian, full stop) who a lot of people left his performances saying, “Hey, that guy was right.” Before him (and Bruce), you had Milton Berle and those guys. Totally different thing, they were entertainers, innocuous, not contentious social commentators. You might say Carlin restored comedy to it’s rightful job of challenging the status quo (and if you take issue with that description, think of the role of the court jesters in the middle ages, who were the only ones who could speak truth to the king. People think they’re being pithy by observing that we get our entertainment from news and our news from comedians nowadays, but truthfully, I think this is closer to how comedy has functioned throughout history than otherwise.)

Plus, I think the “Seven Dirty Words” sketch pretty much sealed Carlin’s legacy all by itself, because it was so transgressive for the time. I really think that’s the one that made him. Don’t forget, it was only 10 years earlier that Lenny Bruce was arrested for saying the word “cocksucker” on stage in one case, and for “schmuck” in another. You may not recall, a case stemming from a radio broadcast of the “Seven Dirty Words” sketch went all the way to the Supreme Court in the 70s, setting legal precedent that’s still in effect.

So any way you slice it, for better or worse, Carlin had a social impact that went beyond stand-up comedy.

BTW though I respect Carlin a great deal, I actually don’t find his stuff that funny myself. His very best stuff was great, but he was really inconsistent.

Also, must add: Lenny Bruce, not always the funniest guy, but a personal idol of mine. More than almost anyone else I revere, I think I could have been good friends with that guy.