George Carlin has died at the age of 71 from apparent heart failure. (NYT Obit)
Carlin was a modern-day Socratic gadfly--a real philosopher. Like Socrates, Carlin stood in front of society and pushed them to question the way they lived. His best bits were usually about how we use words and language. He wasn't just a cunning linguist (oh, how he'd love that!); his humor brought out the personal assumptions and social implications of the words we use. He saw the connection between thought, language, and action; and that the attempt to control language is an attempt to control one's thoughts and actions.
This is of course best exemplified in his Seven Words You Can't Say on Television:
Carlin was one of the first stand-up comedians that I remember. His Carnegie hall show, that I think was on HBO in the 80s, was one of the first extended stand-up routines that I saw and it started my love of stand-up. (Along with Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy) I can still see all the chairs piled up behind him on the stage as Carlin riffed on the behavior of cats and dogs.
His humor was also a biting social criticism--often, as the years went by, at growing distance from my own views--yet still witty and funny. Carlin was a rare a talent that had the ability to piss off just about everyone: he attacked religion, politicians, feminists, and conservatives of all stripes. Carlin had no truck for bullshit of any kind and where he sensed someone trying to get away with something, he attacked them vigorously and thoroughly. Sadly, in his waning years, Carlin got much too bitter and angry; and this detracted from my enjoyment of his more recent work.
Just this Friday, I was watching several of his older bits on YouTube. (This was 'research' for my upcoming talk on "Bullshit".) They were still funny as ever. Thank you George Carlin.