American Culture

Tempered in shit — a personal reflection on George Carlin

George Denis Patrick Carlin was a goddamned hypocrite, and I loved him for it.

In the latter part of his long and storied life and career, the late standup comedy legend came off as a crusty, irate, disappointed, extremely cynical bastard who freely admitted he’d given up on the hopeless human race and reveled in its plentiful fuckups and contradictions.

“It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club. This country is finished.” – GC

Offstage though, Carlin was a kind-hearted, selfless, encouraging friend to myriad pluggers on the comedy circuit. His daughter and colleagues say he was nothing like the persona he developed in the face of advancing age and frustration with the agonizing lack of progress in the nation he loved as much as he lampooned.

“Some people see a glass that’s half full. Some see a glass that’s half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.” – GC

Though he insisted that he didn’t give a shit about America anymore, he sure kept up with it. In his last HBO show, It’s Bad for Ya, he opened with an astounding rapid-fire monologue loaded with all the latest buzzwords to show how tuned in and mentally shipshape he still was, despite having endured heart surgery and hitting the big 7-0.

Plus, he read more blogs than you do.

“The day after tomorrow is the third day of the rest of your life.” – GC

I saw Carlin perform three times, the last here in Denver a few years ago in which he scoffed at the obsessively precautionary society America had become. He bragged about having swum in New York City’s filthy rivers as a kid.

“I was tempered in shit!” – GC

But he could never shake that bad ticker…

“As it stands right now, I lead Richard Pryor in heart attacks, two to one. However, Richard still leads me, one to nothing, in burning yourself up.” – GC, 1982

George was honored in November with the Mark Twain Prize, apparently the only award he saw as “legitimate.” I wish he’d a made it to the ceremony, but he was undoubtedly there in spirit. Ah, who’m I kidding…

“What’s this favoritism toward the dead? FUCK the dead!” – GC

12 replies »

  1. I saw him perform once. The only comedian who ever came close to making me laugh that hard was Robin Williams.

    I just recognized his voice in the movie Cars, too….

  2. Thanks for that profile. I still remember how fresh a voice he was when he first appeared on the scene.

  3. I always appreciated the acerbic wit. From familial experience, i’ll suggest that such wit is sometimes a defense mechanism to protect a kind, selfless, feeling person beneath.

    Mike: did you get my reply? I’m guessing not, so i’ll resend it.

  4. His kind offstage persona was apparent at books signings where he would joke and be gracious to all. I will miss him more than anyone else who died this year.

  5. I wish I’d seen Carlin, and envy those of you who did.

    He was one of the finest we ever saw or ever will. The great comedians are the ones who use their skill and the social leeway afforded to those who “joke” about things to say that which needs to be said, MUST be said about the society.

    Without Carlin I can’t help wondering whether we’d have the likes of Jon Stewart and Lee Camp….

    • I see a difference between Carlin and Jon Stewart. They both make me laugh and they both poke at society and hypocrisy. But Stewart seems to hide behind the excuse of don’t take it so seriously, it’s just comedy, whereas Carlin would say, this is serious shit but you better laugh along the way because the opposite is to cry.

  6. He changed the way I think. I might have been eight or nine, watching one of his specials, and he did the “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” and something clicked in my head, about words and transgression and questioning. I’ll never forget that moment.

  7. His “Hippie Dippy Weatherman” bit came out in the 60’s when I was in 5th grade. I went out and bought the album right away. I wore the grooves out of the album,and had the entire thing memorized. I always thought of Carlin as being somewhat of a sage, despite the fact that he skewered people like me mercilessly.


  8. He skewered environmentalists mercilessly too. My mother hated him after that, but I’ve always been humbled by his “Save the planet? The planet will be fine. The people are fucked!”

    There’s a reason I added this line to the Quotator back when we first installed it. 🙂