No Free Passes: George Carlin Was An Equal Opportunity Offender
Left: George Carlin performing on 'Midnight Special' in 1974. Right: Carlin in 'Car Wash' (1976). Sources: NBCU Photo Bank / Getty; IMDB.
George Carlin had little patience for political correctness and smug do-gooders -- but he wasn't a fan of organized religion, guns or the patriarchy either. Carlin was a rare commentator who sat somewhere in the middle and took shots at both sides of the cultural spectrum. Once a traditional standup and sketch comedian, he transformed in the '60s (as so many people and things did), coming out as much a social critic as he was a funnyman. One of the unique voices in the grand American conversation, Carlin died in 2008 -- and some would say that one of the voices of reason left the building.
Of course, if you took offense at his comedy, you might have said something else -- like good riddance.
George Carlin, who was also an actor and an author, managed to be a hippie who saw hippies as ridiculous, and a cranky (prematurely) old man who made fun of his own kind.
A New York City Kid
Carlin came from humble beginnings. He grew up in a section of New York City that he fondly referred to as, “White Harlem.” His parents divorced when he was very young because of his father’s alcoholism. He was raised by a single mother who he didn’t have the best relationship with. He looked out for himself and considered himself to be "street smart."
Running the streets of New York City gave Carlin an insight that a person has to experience in order to understand. He was very tuned in to many of the social ills that he experienced in his youth and wanted to give them each a voice.
Catholic School Didn't Agree With George Carlin
After being kicked out of Catholic school, Carlin found his niche in drama during the time he spent at summer camp. He had won drama awards and was starting to get positive attention. This positive attention was just what he needed to realize his epic potential. Carlin was comfortable, not only on stage but in any public forum. He was politically incorrect and made no apologies. One of George Carlin’s first official jobs was as a radio station disc jockey.
The Air Force Wasn't A Good Fit Either
Carlin did a stint in the U.S. Air Force as a young man and trained as a radar technician, which didn’t last long. During his short military career, Carlin had been disciplined many times including being court-martialed. Why did he join the American armed forces? Who knows -- seems class clowns die hard.
During George Carlin’s brief military career, he had a gig as a disc jockey at a radio station near his post in Shreveport, Louisiana. During his disc jockey days, George Carlin crossed paths with another disc jockey named, Jack Burns. The two formed a comedy team and began performing at small beatnik venues. It wasn’t long after that that they took their show on the road and headed to California in 1960.
His Comedy Career Begins
Shortly after arriving in sunny California, the pair landed some gigs and recorded their one and only album entitled, Burns and Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight.
Although Carlin and Burns would part ways (professionally) not long after they hit California, they remained close, personal friends. George Carlin went on to forge his own way in entertainment history and this turned out to be no mistake. The 1960s proved to have been a very successful decade for the pop culture icon.
Carlin began accepting invitations to appear on popular variety shows including, The Tonight Show; even serving as guest host at times.
After this initial exposure, George Carlin ended up being in high demand on many popular late-night television programs in the '60s performing some of his most infamous skits. A few highlights:
The Indian Sergeant – "There will be a rain dance tonight ... weather permitting ..."
Stupid Disc Jockeys -- ("Wonderful WINO radio...") – "The Beatles' latest record, when played backwards at slow speed, says, 'Dummy! You're playing it backwards at slow speed!'"
Al Sleet, the Hippie-Dippie Weatherman – "Tonight's forecast: Dark. Continued mostly dark tonight, changing to widely scattered light towards morning."
A Free Speech Advocate
Politics, black comedy, basic, human psychology and religion were some of Carlin’s favorite subject matter. He never worried about being offensive. I mean, let’s face it… you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Instead, Carlin was on a search and report mission; meaning, he told it like it was.
The “Seven Dirty Words” bit was one of Carlin’s most notable routines. The skit listed the seven most offensive words, at the time, that couldn’t or shouldn't be broadcast on public television. This infamous skit actually played a part in a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1978 which supported “Big Brother’s” power to regulate the material able to be broadcast on public airwaves. Carlin’s words were offensive to some but just plain reality to others. The FCC hated him for challenging their authority.
Star Of HBO Specials
HBO was one of the first cable television channels to air George Carlin’s all too honest brand of comedy.
George Carlin passed away in 2008 and is no longer with us. Whether you loved him, hated him or just couldn't be bothered, he had an extremely notable career while on this earth. Many people tend to go with the “status quo” and do what they need to do to get by. George Carlin provocatively challenged individuals as well as our American society, as a whole. You may not have agreed with him or enjoyed his brand of comedy, but he was true to himself and certainly made his mark.
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