In Honor of George Carlin

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I’ve only written a few memorial posts on my blog over the years: Rodney Dangerfield, Jerry Garcia, Saul Bellow, the Columbia Shuttle Crew are the four that are top of mind. They each represented to me something great and unique about humanity and George Carlin definitely qualifies in that regard.
Unfortunately, I gave my first eulogy this year and I kept that as short and sweet as possible. This is a blog though – there is no limo waiting to take me to a cemetary so this might wind up being my longest post ever. Every time I thought about trimming the length, I thought better of it. Almost everything George said was important and if I’m honoring his life, his work and his legacy, I would be remiss if I did not include as much as possible.
Carlin spoke “the truth” in such a way that I felt he was a modern day prophet, quite a funny way of thinking about him considering how strongly he was opposed to organized religion and the hypocrisy it often represents. The fact that George is not around anymore leaves me slightly quaking in my boots. I’m not sure who, or if anyone, will take up the mantle of “speaking the truth” now that he’s gone – and even if someone “replaces” the way he could call out the idiocies of this world in both a humorous and damning way, no one will be able to do it the way that he did. No one.
The one and I only time I saw George Carlin live and in person – as opposed to the 14 live performances that were aired on HBO over the years – was in the mid 90s with some friends of mine while I was in high school. There are many things that I remember from that Westbury Music Fair performance: the opening musical comedian act and Carlin’s “People I Can Do Without” bit when he got to “guys in their 50s named Skip!” (the name of a friend’s father) are two of them. The thing I remember the most however was totally anti-Carlin: it was when I chickened out of buying the tee shirt I wanted because I was afraid of my mother’s reaction.
Three of my friends bought shirts that said on the back “Simon Says: Go Fuck Yourself!” and two bought ones that read “When the Going Gets Tough the Tough Get Fucked.” I however avoided the swear word and went with the tame and lame “Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help.” Every time I wore my shirt I was reminded of how I did not do what I wanted to do because of how others, the power structure “running” my life, felt. The way I self censored myself is something I still haven’t forgotten and when I’m faced with a tough decision, I often think of the shirts for sale and how I wish I bought “Simon Says: Go Fuck Yourself.” These days, I’m proud to say that I usually do what I want and it is, as odd as this sounds, because of George.
George Carlin was born in New York City in 1937 and about his childhood he remarked, “I grew up in New York wanting to be like those funny men in the movies and on the radio,” he said. “My grandfather, mother and father were gifted verbally, and my mother passed that along to me. She always made sure I was conscious of language and words.” The thing that most people are remembering about Carlin is his incredibly sharp sense of language, the semantics of language and the way those nuances can be used as tools and/or weapons.
On his career, he said, “Standup is the centerpiece of my life, my business, my art, my survival and my way of being. This is my art, to interpret the world” and during a career that spanned five decades, he emerged as one of the most durable, productive and versatile comedians of his era. He evolved from Jerry Seinfeld-like whimsy and a buttoned-down decorum in the ‘60s to counterculture icon in the ‘70s. By the ‘80s, he was known as a scathing social critic who could artfully wring laughs from a list of oxymorons that ranged from “jumbo shrimp” to “military intelligence.” And in the 1990s and into the 21st century the balding but still pony-tailed comic prowled the stage — eyes ablaze and bristling with intensity — as the circuit’s most splenetic curmudgeon.
His second album, “FM & AM,” won a Grammy Award as best comedy recording and among the more controversial cuts was a routine euphemistically entitled “Shoot,” in which Mr. Carlin explored the etymology and common usage of the popular idiom for excrement. The bit was part of the comic’s longer routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” which appeared on his third album “Class Clown,” also released in 1972. Considering it is one of his best known (though not nearly the best) pieces of work, I’ve posted it after the jump. In case you don’t want to wait, those words are: Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker and Tits.
Another not so little known fact about Carlin was that he was the first guest host of “Saturday Night Live,” in 1975 where he said among other things, “God can’t be perfect – everything He makes dies.”
Now, onto the HBO specials, 14 of them to be exact. Probably my favorite bit “Cars and Driving” can be found in his 6th special, titled “What Am I Doing in New Jersey?” which aired in 1988. I’ve posted it below for your enjoyment:

I have never forgotten that somewhere in between “Live Free or Die” and “Famous Potatoes” the truth lies, and probably it’s a little closer to Famous Potatoes…
During his live 1996 HBO special, “Back in Town,” he raged over the shallowness of the ‘90s “me first” culture — mocking the infatuation with camcorders, hyphenated names, sneakers with lights on them, and lambasting white guys over 10 years old who wear their baseball hats backwards. Baby boomers, “who went from ‘do your thing’ to ‘just say no’ …from cocaine to Rogaine,” and pro life advocates (“How come when it’s us it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken it’s an omelet?”), were some of his prime targets.
Mr. Carlin’s obsession with language was again evident in his ”George Carlin: Doin’ It Again” special. He rattled off a list of annoying words: Lifestyle, maximize, prioritize, interface. He would have nothing to do with new age lingo, warning his audience: ”I will not share anything with you. I will not relate to you.” No caring or nurturing, and definitely no boogieing. He railed against language in government for controlling information, and language in religion for controlling thoughts.
And then there are the euphemisms. Mr. Carlin considered the evolution of ”shell shock” to ”battle fatigue” to ”operational exhaustion” to ”post-traumatic stress disorder,” pointing out how eventually the pain is buried beneath the jargon. When black slums become inner cities, he charged, it is because ”smug, greedy, well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins.” And the point behind calling cripples the physically challenged or differently abled, he said, seems to be that if you change the name of the condition, you’ll change the condition. One thing that kept Carlin fresh was his enduring anger and keen ear for the absurd.
At the end of this show, he broached the subject of aging. He cringed at hearing a phrase like ”90 years young.” “Imagine the fear of aging that that reveals,” he says. As for himself, he insists with a wicked grin that ”I’m getting old and it’s O.K.” Why? ”Because with our fear of death in this country, I don’t have to die. I’ll pass away.”
His eighth stand-up HBO special contained his views of the Persian Gulf war. “Bombing brown people,” he said, “has apparently become America’s hobby.” The only white people we ever bombed were the Germans, he noted, and that was only because “they tried to muscle into our act” of taking over the world. Carlin didn’t believe anything the Government said; he didn’t believe the news media because they have become an adjunct of the Government, and he didn’t get all choked up about yellow ribbons and American flags, preferring to “leave symbols to the symbol-minded.”
Carlin lashed out against the professional worriers, not least the environmentalists fretting about endangered species. He considered this just another instance of hopeless humans being carried away with their self-importance. “Species disappear,” he said, “that’s what nature does.” Save the planet? “We don’t even know how to take care of each other,” he said. The planet is fine, he argued; it’s we the people who have become “an evolutionary cul-de-sac, a surface nuisance.”
“This place [Earth] is eating itself alive,” he said in an interview when pressed on this point. “I like applying the entropic principle from science to this country, this civilization. I think it is slowly disintegrating. For me, it isn’t the fact of the disintegration so much as the act of it, watching it, seeing it. It is a freak show. And in this country you get a front-row seat. And some of us have notebooks.”
It was hard to imagine another comedian who could draw an audience from so many generations or one who had been as successful for as long – at least without the benefit of a long-running prime-time television series or a movie career as a leading man.
“You can’t really find somebody that has been so prolific, so ‘on the scene,’ so popular and cutting-edge as Carlin,” said the comedian Richard Lewis, who knew Mr. Carlin since the early 1970’s, when asked to comment before Carlin’s 13th HBO special. “He is the Rolling Stones of stand-up. There are a lot of comics working 40 years who might have added 10 jokes to their act over that time,” he said. “Carlin treats every HBO special like a gallery opening.”
Although some criticized parts of his later work as too contentious, Mr. Carlin defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society. “Scratch any cynic,” he said, “and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”
Still, when pushed to explain the pessimism and overt spleen that had crept into his act, he quickly reaffirmed the zeal that inspired his lists of complaints and grievances. “I don’t have pet peeves,” he said, correcting the interviewer. And with a mischievous glint in his eyes, he added, “I have major, psychotic hatreds.”
He prowled about the stage like some ever-so-slightly crazed but undeniably sharp street person, a modern-day combination of Jeremiah and Diogenes. The anger was at once real and something of a smokescreen. Behind the curtain, operating the controls, was a deeply concerned and compassionate man, more sentimental than he would ever admit. “Take care of yourself,” he would shout as he left the stage, “and take care of somebody else.” That perceived core of intense concern enabled him to connect passionately with his audiences – like me.
Unfortuntely there will not be another George Carlin HBO special, another bit movie part (like in the “Bill and Ted” movies) or another interview. I’ll just keep watching the old ones, laughing at how absurd the world truly is all the while knowing that I’m a disappointed idealist like George. I think that neatly sums up my own sense of humor – I wish the world was a better place and am completely flabbergasted that is not and by all of the bullshit that it is keeping it from being closer to my ideal.
I’d like to thank the NYT and their Decoder Blog as I’ve repurposed a lot of their fine reporting for this post. Thanks Gray Lady!
The Seven Words You Cannot Say on Television:
“I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I uh, I think is important. I I say, they’re my work, they’re my play, they’re my passion. Words are all we have really.
We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid. You know, [humming]. And, then we assign a word to a thought, [clicks tongue]. And we’re stuck with that word for that thought. So be careful with words. I like to think, yeah, the same words that hurt can heal. It’s a matter of how you pick them.
There are some people that aren’t into all the words. There are some people who would have you not use certain words. Yeah, there are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them that you can’t say on television. What a ratio that is. 399,993 to seven. They must really be bad. They’d have to be outrageous, to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you seven. Bad words. That’s what they told us they were, remember? ‘That’s a bad word.’ ‘Awwww.’ There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad Intentions.
And words, you know the seven don’t you? Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits, huh? Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that will infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war.
Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits, wow. Tits doesn’t even belong on the list, you know. It’s such a friendly sounding word. It sounds like a nickname. ‘Hey, Tits, come here. Tits, meet Toots, Toots, Tits, Tits, Toots.’ It sounds like a snack doesn’t it? Yes, I know, it is, right. But I don’t mean the sexist snack, I mean, New Nabisco Tits. The new Cheese Tits, and Corn Tits and Pizza Tits, Sesame Tits Onion Tits, Tater Tits, Yeah. Betcha can’t eat just one. That’s true I usually switch off . But I mean that word does not belong on the list.
Actually, none of the words belong on the list, but you can understand why some of them are there. I am not completely insensitive to people’s feelings. You know, I can dig why some of those words got on the list…like cocksucker and motherfucker. Those are…those are heavy-weight words. There’s a lot going on there, man. Besides the literal translation and the emotional feeling. They’re just busy words. There’s a lot of syllables to contend with. And those K’s. Those are aggressive sounds, they jump out at you. CocksuckerMotherfuckerCocksucker. It’s like an assault, on you. So I can dig that.
And we mentioned shit earlier, of course. Two of the other 4-letter Anglo-Saxon words are Piss and Cunt, which go together of course. But forget about that. A little accidental humor there. Piss and Cunt. The reason Piss and Cunt are on the list is that a long time ago certain ladies said ‘Those are the two I am not going to say. I don’t mind Fuck and Shit, but P and C are out. P and C are out.’ Which led to such stupid sentences as ‘OK, you fuckers, I am going to tinkle now.’
And of course the word Fuck. The word Fuck, I don’t really…well, this is some more accidental humor, but I don’t really want to get into that now. Because I think it takes too long. But I do mean that. I mean, I think the word fuck is an important word. It’s the beginning of life, and, yet it’s a word we use to hurt one other, quite often. And uh, people much wiser than I have said, I’d rather have my son watch a film with two people making love than two people trying to kill one other. And I of course agree. I wish I know who said it first, and I agree with that. But I would like to take it a step further. I would like to substitute the word fuck, for the word kill in all those movie cliches we grew up with. ‘Okay Sheriff, we’re gonna fuck ya now. But we’re gonna fuck ya slow.’ So maybe next year I’ll have a whole fuckin’ rap on that word. I hope so.
Uh, there are two-way words, but those are the seven you can never say on television. Under any circumstances you just can not say them ever, ever ever, not even clinically. You can not weave them in the panel with Doc and Ed and Johnny, I mean it’s just impossible, forget those seven, they’re out.
But, there are some two-way words. There are double-meaning words. Remember the ones your giggled at in sixth grade? ‘And the cock crowed three times.”Hey, the cock the cock crowed three times. It’s in the bible.’ There are some Two-way words, like it’s okay for Curt Gowdy [mis-spelled in original transcription. -ed.] to say ‘Roberto Clemente has two balls on him.’ But he can’t say, ‘I think he hurt his balls on that play Tony, don’t you? He’s holding them. He must have hurt them by God.’ And the other two-way word that goes with that one is prick. It’s okay if it happens to your finger. Yes, you can prick your finger, but don’t finger your prick. No, no.”


Movie Trailer Remix Madness

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Have you ever seen a movie trailer, then seen the movie and wondered “how the hell did they cut the trailer because the movie is so friggen different from what I thought it was going to be?” I have, unfortunately more than once, and usually I’m pretty pissed.
Happily, I can tell you of two situations where I was pleasantly surprised when the movie was nothing like the trailer. Yesterday, my friend Steve sent me a remixed trailer that takes “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and mixes it with the “Requiem for a Dream” theme song so that one thinks that the movie is something that it is not: instead of the campy, super fun teen movie that Ferris Bueller is and that I, and so many others, love, if you never knew of the movie and just saw the trailer, you would think that it was one hell of a dark angst ridden film. Whoever did this deserves plenty of kudos – its is quite well done.
This trailer then made me remember another movie whose trailer was recut in the opposite way a few years back. Someone took “The Shining” and made the movie seem nothing like it was: the trailer promises a fun, uplifting comedy which, if you’ve seen or read “The Shining” could be nothing further from the truth. Red rum! Red rum! All work and no play makes Homer go something something…. (yes, I just worked in a Stephen King and Simpsons reference back-to-back – I could not resist).
My buddy Chris posted about this Shining trailer almost three years ago and I’m surprised I haven’t seen more remixed trailers since then. I guess you really need a lot of time on your hands in order to make this magic happen. My friend Joergen then linked to a NYT article about this Shining trailer in a post on Chris’s site which is an interesting read – I never saw it and only read it just now. Gotta love the memory jog – even years later something new pops up.
So, in the guise of a “Happy Friday” post, please see the two trailers below. One is a happy movie pretending to be dark movie and the other is reversed: it’s a dark movie pretending to be happy movie. Enjoy!
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” meets “Requiem For a Dream”

“The Shining” as comedy:

Via Steve (for FBDO) and others (for The Shining)


Huge Moon Rising

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Tonight if you look up you will see the Solstice Moon – a low, horizon-hugging Moon which produces a strong Moon illusion where the moon will look abnormally huge. This is due to the rapidly approaching summer solstice which is happening in two days. Pretty neat, huh?


Where's the Beer?

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I was recently at Ryan’s Irish Pub in the East Village enjoying a nice cold post-work Guinness when my friend Steve pointed out that the pint I was drinking was not truly a pint. Over the past decade since I returned from living in London, I’ve gotten used to the size of an American pint, which is 16 ounces, while a real pint in my opinion is 19.2 ounces – the way they serve it in Britain. In the UK it’s technically called an an Imperial Pint and has been a government-regulated standard for several centuries. I’ve never seen that size of a pint in the States unless it was at a “real deal” Irish pub, like Kinsale Tavern in the UES (which is where I watched a lot of both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups – if you are a footie fan, this is the place for you, that is if you do not want to go to Nevada Smiths).
So, I was shocked when Steve showed me that the my pint, which I thought was 16 ounces was actually less – it was only 14 ounces!

Through a cute use of glass blowing, the outside of the glass is the same size as the 16 ounce glass except the inside contains less liquid. This allows a bar to sell less beer while still charging the same amount of money, thereby making more per keg while screwing the customer in the process. And here I thought that Ryan’s was a “real deal” pub….
While I’ve seen ketchup bottles and other commodities engage in this type of consumer trickery, this is the first time that I’ve seen bars display this type of method to squeeze more money from its patrons. Its one thing that a 750 ml bottle of Belvedere vodka is much larger than the 750 ml bottle of Reyka vodka – they are still both 750 ml. Its quite another thing to order a “pint” and not get one. I hopefully will not be going back to Ryan’s in the future – if I need a great pint of Guinness, Molly’s Shebeen is just up the block.
Via Steve


Something I Will Not Be Doing

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ManBabies is one of the most ridiculous web sites I’ve seen in a long, long time. The concept is simple: using Photoshop you manipulate a picture that has a father and child in it by swapping their heads. The result is often not only funny but sort of disturbing – like the one below: - Dad?
As some know, I became a father for the first time last week. I solemnly promise that you will not be seeing any pictures of me and my girl on that site any time soon.
Via Bonnie