George Carlin died yesterday from heart failure, seventy-one years old.
Every so often there's of those holy-shit, end-of-an-era deaths that stuns an entire industry and takes two or three generations of the field's history along with it. This is one such passing, no question, and abruptly the world of stand-up comedy (and our modern understanding of 'comedy' as a whole, really) has a gigantic George Carlin-shaped hole in it.
It's not an unexpected death, or an untimely one; he had a long history of heart problems dating as far back as the 1970s and a recent history of drug and alcohol addiction, so the knowledge that he made it to seventy-one is amazing in and of itself. Despite all of that, of course, it's still a disappointment to hear of his passing.
The obituaries on television aren't nearly going to do his career justice, of course; both the best and the most influential material of his storied career will be skimmed over, more out of deference to profanity regulations than anything else. (Occasionally loosened late-night standards aside, you still can't say the Seven Words on television.) So instead of highlighting his continuous dominance of his field, his trailblazing innovations across multiple dramatic reinventions of his material, or his influence on virtually every human being to tell jokes onstage since, the networks will spend way too much time talking about how cute the juxtaposition was that he also had prominent roles on Shining Time Station and in the Bill & Ted movies. (And fuck any station that reads his obituary over a clip from Jersey Girl.)
I spent extended chunks of my teen years ravenously seeking out George Carlin's work -- and since his long career saw him put out three bestselling books and nearly twenty-five albums, finding material to love was not a particularly difficult task. I'm a grown man now, given to ruminations on the quirks of everyday language and given to gleeful bouts of schadenfreude; it'd be foolish to claim that I hadn't enjoyed either of these activites before getting into Carlin, but it'd be outright false to claim that he had no part at all in shaping my development.
Yes, fine, and he was Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station. I know. I watched it too. Yes, yes, he was very whimsical. I'm glad you remember him.
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